Cuisenaire rods as visual aids in storytelling

This week we have a guest post by Armenian English teacher and teacher trainer, Ani Aloyan. I met Ani in Armenia about 2 months ago when I was running a storytelling course for teachers, organised by British Council Armenia. In this post Ani discusses some great techniques for demonstrating and checking meaning when storytelling. She’s just about to deliver her own storytelling course for teachers in a different region of Armenia now.  Thanks for the post Ani and thanks too for sharing the Palestinian story of Jbene with teachers and children in Armenia. 


In this post I am going to write about how you can use Cuisenaire rods, or any other things to hand  (board markers, pens and pencils, rubber etc.) in storytelling to make it even more engaging. Although I am a newbie in the field of storytelling, I am excited to share these tried and tested techniques for you to help your learners use their imagination and creativity, further develop their listening skills and most importantly keep their attention throughout storytelling.

I have used Cuisenaire rods (the real ones) for vocabulary teaching and setting up contexts during my English language classes and I am really impressed how effective they can be when it comes to presenting vocabulary and drilling it with your students if used correctly. I have learnt the technique in a teacher development webinar by Jo Gakonga. Here is the link to the video/webinar , so you can check this out and see how they work when teaching vocabulary.

During one of training sessions on storytelling with Nick Bilbrough, our group had a task of telling a story to kids in an engaging way. The idea of the rods crossed my mind and I thought that I would try the technique out with storytelling, but I didn’t have any rods in hand. (I guess they are not even available in the market in Armenia). So I decided to use whatever is available at that time – markers, highlighters and coloured pencils.

When you teach vocabulary with rods, the focus is on the target vocabulary itself (conveying meaning and drilling pronunciation) but I decided to add my tweak to this as well. Our group chose to tell “Jbene” as an output of the training session, and as the story was not very heavy with lots of unknown words, I decided I would put the focus on content rather than on vocabulary.

I started the first line of the story which is: “There lived a married couple who had everything they wanted”. While I was telling the line, I showed the students two pens and told them that one was the husband and the other one was the wife. Once I finished, I went backwards and asked content checking questions such as – Who were they? Did they have everything? Students answered my questions correctly as they had attached meaning to these pens without which I would hardly be able to ask questions and get sensible answers from kids.

So, I told the whole story bit by bit, going backwards after every small bit and asking these content checking questions. By the end of the story students were able to convey the content of it with some language mistakes which didn’t impede comprehension.

You can watch the video here:





11 thoughts on “Cuisenaire rods as visual aids in storytelling

  1. Hi! Thank you for the very interesting post. Actually, I wondered, at the beginning, how such wooden blocks would help tell a story. I find it a bit strange to change a purely mathematical tool
    to a tool of learning or teaching a language. And, I bet that most of my students may find it a very childish way to introduce a story. However, on second thoughts, I think it’s a very creative idea to apply in teaching different areas of any language. Typically, I thought about teaching comparatives and superlatives, adjectives, shapes and colours, of course. But the fact is that there’s a list of various ways to use Cuisenaire rods in teaching. We just need to use our heads 🙂

    Something else, I think the title of the post doesn’t fit properly with the content, Nick Bilbrough. Find something as attractive as the colours of these Cuisenaire rods!


    1. Hey Amal 🙂 Thanks for your comment. Yes, indeed rods were originally created to teach maths but they are quite fine with teaching English as well. Re childish – for some, may be, depends on which setting students come from (businessmen, lawyers or culture etc). However, I have tried this with students of different backgrounds and they worked really nicely. You can experiment with your students – set up the context or present the vocab without rods and then with rods, let them decide which method was effective in terms of memorising the words. Tell them it is an experiment, and if they don’t like it – no harm in trying!


  2. Hi Amal, Thanks for your comment. When I saw the video that accompanies this post I noticed that it demonstrates lots of useful storytelling techniques – not just using cuisenaire rods – so I changed Ani’s original title so that it was broader. But you’re right (as always 🙂 ) and I think the title as it was didn’t really reflect the content of the blog post. So I’ve changed it back to the one Ani wrote originally.


  3. In the video it’s quite hard to see the effect of having the rods because we can’t really zoom in on them, but I’m sure the effect is there. I’m also sure of this because I’ve seen you demonstrate this great technique face to face Ani. I’m wondering whether storytelling with cuisenaire rods might actually work even better through zoom. The children would be able to focus very clearly on the rods and on your face, and this, for many, might be more effective than screen sharing pictures, which unfortunately leads to the size of the webcam of the storyteller being diminished substantially. What do you say Ani? Would you like to become the Hands Up Project’s first Armenian volunteer? You’ve got a great storytelling style and the kids in Palestine could really benefit from hearing your stories.


    1. Unfortunately yes, it is quite hard to see how they work, but if you check out the link you will habe a clearer idea. I really wish we could zoom in and out from time to time to show the beauty of these rods. Re – as for doing this through zoom, yes they could work very nicely. Sometimes better than pictures not only for the size, quality, but when you show them rods, they create their own image in their minds relevant to their background or education rather than the picture we are imposing on them. I am not saying it has no value, this is just my personal preference. Re – volunteer, yes, I think I can be a volunteer for the Hands Up Project 🙂


  4. Storytelling is one of my favourite ways of teaching. It’s so engaging and kids love it. If you connect it with CLIL method, you’ll get an amazing lesson scenario.


    1. Hey, thanks for the comment. Would you please elaborate on connecting storytelling with CLIL? How do you do that?
      Thanks in advance.


  5. Of course ‘no harm in trying!’ I think it’d be better to introduce the rods very early at the beginning of the school year, while students are still getting used to their teacher’s way of teaching. This will help them accept rods gradually later and they won’t find them strange afterwards.

    Thanks again for the beautiful post and for urging me to think of ways to use cuisenaire rods.
    How much time would it take me to learn the correct spelling of this word? 🙂


    1. Hi again Amal 🙂 Yes, indeed! Try and see how they work and if they are accepted by your students 🙂 The spelling 😀 OMG will take a while 😛


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s