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Cuisenaire Rods and Silence
by Tim Hahn

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A1. With the lid blocking the students' view of the inside of the box, take out one rod and hold in up for the group to see. What you want at this point is to work just on the colors. If anyone says "a black rod" respond by saying something like "Good! Now, let's just work on the colors!" Hold up all the rods one by one eliciting the name of the color each time. Review the colors by repeatedly pulling out the problem ones (black, white, light green and dark green are the most problematic for the students we've worked with) again and again and revise them all by holding up the rods quickly and varying the order in which they appear to the students.

A2 Use student to teacher dictation for more practice by telling the group that you will hold up any colored rod they want as long as it is pronounced "correctly". Do not call on individual students to say the colors. Leave it open to their initiative.

A3 Ask who's having problems or is confused and invite them to take your place as the others in the group call out different colors. Ideally they should decide if the pronunciation is correct. However you may want to stop them from taking a rod if the pronunciation is really off.

Likewise, if the student taking the rods is about to make a mistake by taking a wrong color you have essentially two choices. One would be to stop the person from taking the wrong color in as non-threatening a way as possible. The other is to tell the student the game's over for them because they've made a mistake. Many people are momentarily upset by the second option. If you observe throughout the remainder of the class that they've "dropped out" and are no longer participating you could speak to them individually after the class is over and encourage them to keep trying. You should probably avoid the second kind of intervention with people who react this way for a couple of class hours.

B1 Place ten rods on the table in front of the box in order of size. Ask for a volunteer to help you. Explain that you're going to guess the color of the rods without looking at them. The volunteer puts the rods one at a time in your hand and you "guess" the color by feeling the shape and size of each. (If you have time practice this beforehand, if not, use the rods on the table as a guide.) Have the group correct you. You feel a rod, say the color and the group says yes or no. When you get the color right you put the rod down in front of you and look at it. By doing this you're providing a model for the learners to follow.

2. Put the students in pairs or threes and give each group ten rods. Tell them to do the same as you. Younger learners (and some adults as well) will tend to cheat, so monitor this activity carefully to avoid bickering. If you see that an individual's having major problems with guessing the color, point to the rods on the table in the front of the class and tell them to look at the different sizes when guessing.

With the lid blocking the students' view of the rods hold up or place a rod in front of it and say "A black rod." Continue with different colors remembering to revise the previous ones. The orange rod requires the article "an". If no one in the group realizes this the first time you hold it up, indicate that there's a problem and give the group a chance to correct the mistake. Only say it yourself if no one supplies the "an". You should give even beginners the chance to produce the correct color and the "an" by remaining silent for up to twenty or even thirty seconds* after holding up the different colors.

Merely pointing vaguely to the words on the board is usually enough to clue the learners in to the possibilities. If you refrain from giving the correct answer you'll be giving the group an important message: They can do most of the work themselves as long as they focus their attention on the activity and use everything that's available to them.

*Twenty seconds seems like a long time especially in a classroom where we are the center of attention, but by using the rods as a focal point we can absent ourselves a lot. The learners look at the rods and we can look at the learners, learning ourselves a lot by watching how they work. I've found it extremely useful to silently count out the seconds the first few times to give myself something to do to fill the silence and to give the group enough time to realize that I'll wait for them. By doing this I'm giving the group the message that I believe they can solve most of the problems I present with the minimum of help from me. This waiting or silent time decreases quickly for two basic reasons: students do not feel comfortable keeping silent and once this teacher's waiting has been established as standard procedure learners soon learn that it's generally up to them to break the silence even if it's with a wild guess.

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