Rods and Silence
based in Barcelona, Tim Hahn is a freelance teacher and trainer.
He has co-authored several cousebooks for secondary and adult
students and is a contributor to a number of professional
magazines. He is closely associated with Pilgrims and has
led training courses for them and for the British Council
in the UK, and throughout Spain and eastern Europe.
Tim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
As Alistair said in his Teaching Tip of November 27th, silence
can be golden.
Think a bit about
There are times
when we it's natural to keep silent. No one teaches us to
go quiet when we listen intensely to someone or something
that has caught our attention. Depending on our culture silence
may or may not be called for in different situations. When
we are in the wrong and someone is berating us or stating
their point of view we many times fall silent. Our mood often
affects our silence. A common reaction of people who are angry
or upset is to go silent purposefully and refuse to speak.
Some games or contests require silence as well.
Since in life we
often use silence for an effect, it follows that it can be
a very powerful tool in the classroom. For many teachers "keeping
them busy and quiet " is a relief. But silence can be useful
when we learn to apply it to specific ends. Teachers who rush
to correct or answer questions they've posed can help themselves
and their students by keeping quiet for a short time. This
gives the learners space and time to formulate their answers
or to correct their statements.
Of equal importance
to the silence of the teacher is the acceptance of student
silence. It's a matter of encouraging and inviting participation
without forcing it. This allows people to participate when
they are moved to do so and not when it's their turn. Many
are the individuals who want to be sure before speaking, many
are they who gloat silently when the class loudmouth gets
something wrong. Many are those who've decided that they are
not as bright as their classmates or on the contrary, cleverer.
Many are the reasons for not speaking up. Too many to enumerate.
When the game is such that one participates on one's own terms
and when one is ready those who have been labeled (or who
have labeled themselves) as slow or dull, can flower and often
come up with the correct response just when everyone else
has given up on finding the solution.
rods are a very useful tool for creating situations in which
creative silence becomes an integral apart of the learning
activity. In the activities outlined below the teacher's input
can be minimal. When this is so, the teacher gives the learners
the space and time needed to work things out on their own,
which if you stop and think about it is what learning is all
THE CUISENAIRE RODS
- THE FIRST TIME
Introducing the rods as a classroom tool; the colors; the
definite and indefinite articles; basic singular and plural
forms of nouns in English; ONE/S used as substitutes for a
previously mentioned noun.
more than 15-20 minutes.
Write the following words and letters on the board:
ROD ORANGE BLACK
BLUE WHITE BROWN PINK RED DARK YELLOW -S GREEN A AN LIGHT
1. Hold up the box and shake it till you get the group's attention.
Be careful to make this amusing and mysterious rather than
aggressive or bossy. After all it's a learning game.
2. Put the box
on an empty table or desk and look at it. Take the lid off
slowly and dramatically and tilt or hold the box up so the
group can see inside and say "The rods". Invite the group
3. Stand the lid
up in front to block the students' view. Take out one rod
and say "A rod". Repeat the action with a different colored
one and indicate silently or through words that you want the
group to say "A rod" each time you hold one up. Continue doing
so with all ten of the colors.
4. Repeat the above
process indicating that you want individual students to say
"A rod" each time you hold one up.
Have students modify each other's pronunciation when necessary.
You're not looking for instant correct pronunciation, but
rather a close approximation to a neutrally accented one.
If you choose to use this as a warmer or energy raiser stop
here and ask if the group has any questions or problems. With
most groups you'll find someone who wants to know what "rod"
means. If you speak the students' native language ask them
for their own translations and accept them all as possible.
If you don't speak it there's not much you can do but shrug
your shoulders and point to the rods. In fact the rods are
for many teachers and learners the only noun they use for
the first few hours of class and the meaning is not all that
important. Leaving it open and ambiguous can add to the mystery
and help keep the level of concentration high.
page 2 of 3
Back to the
the cuisenaire rods illustration page that accompanies the
December 2000 newsletter
To a lesson
plan that incorporates the rods