Tangram Tales

Storytelling and mathematics merge when students discover that by arranging and rearranging a set of seven geometric tiles they can create images of people, animals, boats, and buildings. Combining their images with their classmates’ inspires storytelling!

  • 1.

    Introduce the lesson by discussing the role storytelling plays in many cultures. Then share the Chinese legend of the tangram or read the class Ann Tompert’s book, “Grandfather Tang’s Story.” Although the true history of the tangram is unknown, several Chinese legends claim that it was discovered when a wise man accidentally dropped a beautiful tile that shattered into seven geometric pieces. As he attempted to repair the tile he found that he could make many different shapes with the pieces and each reminded him of a story.

  • 2.

    Give each student a square of cardboard. Show them a diagram of a set of Tangrams to demonstrate how the square can be divided into seven separate geometric figures. Have students use rulers and scissors to separate their squares into similar pieces.

  • 3.

    Demonstrate how pieces can be arranged to form various figures. One online resource for images is the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching at www.cimt.plymouth.ac.uk/resources/puzzles/tangrams/tangsol3.htm.

  • 4.

    Allow time for students to experiment with their tangram pieces. Invite each student to trace a favorite figure onto plain white paper and color it using Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils, Crayons, Washable Markers and/or other materials to more clearly define the image. Encourage them to add textures and specific details such as feathers or facial features.

  • 5.

    Invite students to join several other classmates to create stories integrating all their images. Remind them that every story needs a beginning where a problem is established, a series of events or the rising action, and a climax followed by a resolution of the problem. Once they have developed a story, ask them to write it down and display the story and images in the classroom or a nearby hallway where everyone can enjoy them.

Standards

  • LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own.
  • LA: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
  • LA: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • MATH: Draw, construct and describe geometrical figures and describe the relationships between them.
  • SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.
  • VA: Identify and apply visual organization strategies to clearly present information.
  • VA: Relate how creative skills developed though artmaking transfer to other aspects of life.
  • VA: Collaboratively create visual documentation of places and times in which people gather to make and experience art, craft and design in the community.
  • VA: Design a plan for a narrative art exhibit and display within a defined space.

Adaptations

  • Encourage interested students to do additional research into the connections between tangrams and storytelling and report back to the class.
  • Create a classroom storytelling game using student made tangram images as props. Put all the decorated tangram images into a box. Set the box up high and invite a student to come up and blindly select one image. That student will begin telling a story incorporating that image. The next student will pick another image and continue the story begun by the first student while incorporating the new image and establishing a problem. Continue in this way until each student has had a turn contributing to the story. Remind the last student that he or she should end with some kind of conclusion.
  • Challenge students to experiment with other geometric shapes to see which can be combined into interesting storytelling images.
  • Invite groups of students to create storytelling mobiles by combining their tangram images.