Cuisenaire rods are an aid in teaching arithmetic. They were invented by Georges Cuisenaire, who was a primary school teacher in Thuin, Belgium1. He published a book called "Les Nombres en Couleurs" (Numbers in Color) in 1952 in which the rods were introduced2.

The Cuisenaire rods themselves are wooden sticks that are 1 cm wide and between 1 and 10 cm long. They differ not only in length, but also in color. They have the following colors 3.:

  • White: 1 cm
  • Red: 2 cm
  • Green: 3 cm
  • Purple: 4 cm
  • Yellow: 5 cm
  • Dark green: 6 cm
  • Black: 7 cm
  • Brown: 8 cm
  • Blue: 9 cm
  • Orange: 10 cm
Cuisenaire rods hence make it very easy to see which number belongs to which rod, as they differ in both length and color: while the difference in length between a 8 cm rod and a 9 cm rod might be too small to immediately see if they are not directly compared, the difference between Brown and Blue is. In this respect, they are superior to using blocks of one color, which is how I learned arithmetic.

Cuisenaire rods can obviously be used to teach addition, subtraction multiplication and division. For instance, take a purple stick, take a yellow stick, make a "train" of them, and note that is exactly as long as the blue stick, which has value 9. The only thing left to remember now is that blue equals 9. However, it gets better. fractions have been the bane of elementary school children and adults alike: how, exactly, do we add up 2/5 and 3/4? With Cuisenaire rods, this can easily be done. A different rod is used for the numerator and the denominator. For instance, in representing one half, the red rod can be used for the denominator, and each white rod now represents one half, with two whites on top of one red representing 1. Next, one can add two of these two-white, one-red combinations and see that they are equal to one purple rod. In other words, one is equal to two halves and four quarters, and one half is equal to two quarters. This principle can be used to make any kind of fractions, and bring them under a common denominator to add them.

Cuisenaire rods have proven to be even more versatile than that. They are also used in the Silent Way 4, a way of teaching a language that involves little teacher intervention. This way of teaching a language was invented by Caleb Gattegno, who met Cuisenaire 5. The Silent Way involves using the same color to represent the same sound. The rods are used as props 6, and form the basis of a common vocabulary

In summary, Cuisenaire rods are colored rods that are used to give a concrete representation of abstract concepts such as numbers. As such, they are used in teaching arithmetic. Furthermore, they can also be used in teaching language.


  2. .htm
  3. w/swengcharts/rods2.htm
  4. w/swprese.htm

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