Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


5 Activities for World Language Clases with Tangrams and Cuisenaire Rods

HANDS ON ACTIVITIES ARE A FAVORITE, both of mine and more, importantly, of my students. When I found a set of tangrams free for the offering a few years ago I grabbed them, along with free cuisenaire rods a year after that- and I am so happy I did! I use these all the time, especially with my younger students, but find even my fourth graders love to have opportunities to use them. I particularly love that they allow for a lot of individuality and creativity on the part of my students, while also providing language use in context. Below are five ways I use them in class-I would love to hear how you use them, too! Share in the comments below :)

ORGANIZATIONAL NOTE- In a normal year, I divvy up the tangrams or cuisenaire rods in containers that kids share amongst themselves. This year, due to covid restrictions, I have had to give each student their own small amount of materials, which are random, meaning they don’t all get the same exact set of tangrams or rods. I then spray those with sanitizer at the end of class. 

1) BUILDING CHALLENGES: My students can not get enough of these! The simplest way to do this is to instruct them to stack a particular number of cuisenaire rods on top of one another- for ex, stack 5 cuisenaire rods. I usually start easy-stack 2 or 3, then get a little harder. Depending on the cuisenaire rods they have or use, it can get challenging quickly, especially for little hands (which is kinda the point!). You can mix it up by having them stack vertically instead of horizontally, which is much harder! You could also give the prompt ‘make the highest structure you can’ or ‘build the lowest structure you can using all your rods’ etc.
You can also instruct them to stack to a particular height, as seen in the photo above where I had them stack 8 inches-they could stack any way they wanted, they just had to reach the height requirement. 

2) DRAWING CHALLENGES: I call these “drawing challenges” simply because they need to create a shape with either tangrams or cuisenaire. This is such a fun way to practice listening comprehension! Provide students with a set of tangrams or rods, then tell them a vocabulary word that they then need to form, such as ‘make a sun’ or ‘make an elephant’, etc. I learn so much about kids watching them create these shapes! Once a shape is made, I have them pick them up and we start again with a new form. You can also have them make numbers or letters, too!

3) MAKE A ____ : This is a take off of the above, but with the idea that kids will not just make something, but then tell you what it is. So, instead of telling students to make a specific form, give them a category, like ‘make a fruit’ or ‘make an animal’. This provides more choice on their part-once they’ve finished their creation, they can take a photo and write about it, record themselves telling about it, etc on a 1:1 device, or of course, they can tell you verbally. 

4) USE SHAPE TEMPLATES: There are a number of tangram and cuisenaire shape templates available online which are commonly used in math classes in the homeroom which can also be utilized in world language. Some have all the integrated shapes outlined, while others only have the larger form printed. Provide students with a set of these templates for them to complete. I love having these on hand as a fast finisher activity! NOTE: You can find our very own PRINTABLE Tangram Template & Shapes in FOUR languages here! (Spanish, French, Russian, and German)

5) FREE CREATE: This is just as it sounds- kids are given a set amount of time and can create whatever they want with the materials. This year I have had all my classes at 50 minutes long, which is an eternity for my Kindergarteners in particular. One strategy I found to be very effective was to have the tangrams or cuisenaire rods at their seats when they entered, and they had 2 minutes to create whatever they wanted before we started. It was a good way to transition-I circulate and comment in the target language on their creations, providing bits of input as I go. I might them transition into one of the above activities, or even have them put away the materials and we would move into other activities. 

How do you use materials like these in class- tell me in the comments!

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