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Seven Magical Tans
Tangrams are geometry made into 3D, creative fun! Print off some paper tangrams or make your own from craft foam. How about tangram toast for breakfast? Then put on your visual-spatial thinking cap as you discover how to arrange the tiles to make animals, people, or objects.
Put away the math workbook and play with tangrams for your math lesson tomorrow. Demonstrate that you understand math vocabulary by manipulating the seven tans.
Tangrams are rather mysterious as no one know exactly how they came to be. We do know that tangrams originated in China. So playing with tangrams can be a nice hands-on activity for a unit study about China.
What Good are Tangrams?
Why play with tangrams? Besides being an entertaining diversion for a few minutes, what are the educational benefits of these seven shapes?
Tangrams are physical objects that children can use to experiment with geometric concepts. Children are concrete learners until around age 12. Using manipulatives such as tangrams is the best way to teach math to children from preschool to age 11. Flipping pieces and moving them around gives learners real experience with the properties of the shapes. Merely looking at a shape drawn in a textbook is not nearly as effective.
Manipulating tangrams stimulates the visual-spatial powers of the mind. Children who are already very skilled in visual-spatial tasks may find great success with tangram activities.
Lots of mathematical concepts are explored through the play with tangrams: congruency, symmetry, area, perimeter, and geometric shapes. Look at this list of 12 advanced mathematical terms that can be taught through the tangrams. (See page205 of the PDF.) Tangrams are not just for small children!
Free Printable Tangrams
- IDEAS -- Tangram PDFs
Several choices of tangrams -- black outlines, colored shapes, small or large, and even some pages of designs to create.
- Tangram Patterns in B&W
These small and large tangram patterns are simple black outlines in PDF. These are great for templates for making your own tangrams out of craft foam or cardboard.
- Super Duper Big B&W Tangram Pattern
The biggest tangram pattern I can find online!
- Tangram PDF from PBS Kids
This tangram page is different in that the pieces are patterned (black and white) and are scattered on the page instead of in the typical square formation.
Rules of Tangram Play
Use all seven pieces
Lay them flat without overlapping
Each piece must touch another
But feel free to break the rules in your math explorations!
The Warlord's Puzzle - a fable of the origin of the tangram
This book is recommended by LivingMath.net as a living book for math study. Although not based on historical fact, The Warlord's Puzzle delves into the math concepts of the tans in an engaging story.
Pelican Publications shares a free PDF educational guide for this book that includes comprehension questions and activities. (Look a the bottom right of the page for the link.)
In China, a beautiful ceramic tile lies shattered on the ground, and the artist who dropped it is sentenced to the land's worst punishment. The fierce warlord will execute the artist unless some wise person can put the seven pieces back together. That person will then be invited to live in the castle. Both locals and strangers from far away wait their turns for a chance to solve the warlord's puzzle.
After learning why these people are waiting to enter the castle, a peasant boy convinces his poor but wise father to join the line. This little boy starts them off on the first step to solving the puzzle-entering the contest.
Virginia Walton Pilegard wrote The Warlord's Puzzle as part of a teaching unit that uses informal geometry to strengthen students' visual learning abilities. Mrs. Pilegard studied elementary mathematics and completed both a B.A. and M.A. in Education. She then went on to teach elementary grades and in juvenile correction schools.
--- notes from the Publisher
Tangrams are Interdisciplinary
Math, art, and language arts get mixed up when you play with tangrams!
Here are photos from an hour of tangram exploration. We used tangram patterns, printed small, to make ATCs (Artist Trading Cards). Sprite even created a series of cards to tell a story about a knight who rides a horse to save the princess from a dragon.
Images of Tangram ActivitiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Make Your Own Tangrams
- Craft Foam Tangrams
A nice tutorial for making your own tangrams with craft foam.
- Tangram Directions -- an Advanced Math Activity
This is not for babies! A thorough knowledge of mathematical vocabulary is necessary to follow the directions in order to tear a sheet of paper into a tangram set.
- Diagram for Making Tangrams by Folding and Cutting
This is not a printable template but a set of directions with clear diagrams.
Making Tangrams Tutorial
If you prefer a visual demonstration, try this video. With just paper and scissors you can use folding to make a nice tangram set.
Print out some of these puzzle pages and let your children try to solve them by making the same shapes using the seven tans of the tangram.
Later, let them create their own animals and people, trace them onto paper, and test each other.
Printable Puzzles to Solve - with Tangram Tiles
- Rabbit Tangrams
Three rabbit puzzles to solve. This PDF includes a basic tangram template as well as the solutions to the puzzles. Great for springtime tangram play!
- The Tangram Zoo
Goats, birds, a polar bear, a camel, and even a huge rocket!
- Cleave Books Tangram Booklet
This is a nice all in one PDF with background information, templates, and puzzles to solve. Just print the pages you need.
- The Tangram Print and Play
This is a great starter PDF with a green tangram to cut out, a page of puzzles, and a page of solutions.
Three Pigs, One Wolf and Seven Magic Shapes
An early reader that incorporates the use of tangrams to tell the tale. Visit Mathwire for some printables to go along with this book. And see Almost Unschoolers for some photographs of a lesson using this book.
Tangram Activities - beyond just making pictures
- Tangram Notebooking Pages
These free printable notebooking pages from The Notebooking Fairy are perfect for writing about the math you learn during tangram play.
- Write Tangram Inspired Stories
This site offers dozens of examples of student work. Show a few of these to your children, and they are sure to run off, inspired to write their own tangram stories. The illustrations for the story come from images made from the tangrams. Simply tra
- Tangram Worksheet
This is a good introductory activity to the tangram -- a list of seven questions to answer about the tans.
- Area of Tangram Pieces
Solve the area of all the tangram pieces with this middle level math activity.
- Tips for Manipulatives -- Tangrams
This one page PDF has 15 questions that you could assign your students to answer as they work with tangrams. The skills addressed go from basic to advanced math.
- Tangrams - A Way to Visualize Fractions, Geometry, and Algebra
Mr. L shares a 4 page PDF with tangram activities including fractions, decimals, percents, geometry, algebra, and language!
- Primer of Industry
This book in the public domain has a section on Tangrams, beginning in page 26. For internet users in USA, this book is available for full preview and download.
A great activity for workboxes or enrichment -- cards show a shape to create with the tangrams included in the set.
Tangram Patterns to Solve
This book is filled with hundreds of tangram patterns to solve with your own tangram pieces (not included).
Tangram Living Book
In this picture book, the setting is China, where tangrams were invented.
This fun tangram looking font comes from Dave's Free Fonts; he calls it Litebrite 1975.