Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Colour coded grammar - Cuisenaire Rods

Ever since IH filled my head to bursting point in Hastings on my Cert. TEFL course oh so many moons ago, I have failed to exploit my Cuisenaire Rods properly.

I had to use my very ex-girlfriend's connections in Sheffield to source a decent set made of wood; it seems in England if you are not a 'real' teacher you can't buy 'real teachers' stuff.

I wanted to colour code words for my girls this evening, because they've been getting a bit confused lately using their ~ing endings (actually not the endings but the "be" part). I really wanted to avoid L1.I found the exercise invaluable. In pairs, I asked my girls to represent each word (from the 'grammar model' in their books) with a particular rod - coloured ones help a lot, as length alone can mis-represent the importance or length of words.

We'd "done" the book work. Homework looked OK too. I found through this that they were not actually aware of what they were doing; inverting subject & "be". Nor that the subject & verb had to be consistent.

In vivid colour, the pattern became obvious: I did not want to explain (nor could I) in Japanese. Watching them work together (important - creates a dialogue you can monitor, even if they use L1, because they have to 'label' the blocks.

Graphically, my girls saw they were doing two things "wrong". First, they were using /'s/ twice, and then that they were ignoring the subject & just using "is" all the time.
Tasking them back to their books, pointing & showing I was not 'happy' yet, they really targeted the grammar (their choice!) and ended up teaching each other what their varied colours/lengths of rod represented.

Books closed, "read your rods". This the fine tuning, & group check stage. There's a tendency for this to happen in L1, but if you can't monitor confidently, insist on English. Of course, a great class would want to do this in English first anyway.
From this I realised my girls had the same problem I did at school; I didn't understand the (grammatical) words being used (in either language). Colour coding took care of that: not meaning but order - not rule but consistent pattern.
In our case:
Q: purple'white red green light-green
A: red'white brown light-green
Translated =
Q: What's he doing?
A: He's eating.
Loved the way this task migrated from book to table, heads down to heads up, mystery to accuracy. An internal struggle with 'abstract' grammar, to a co-operative vocalisation of "this is what I have figured out so far" dialogue (easier to monitor!)

This is analog digital. When the lights go out, we will still have twigs, right?