How to Make Your Own Tangrams

There is nothing better than a really good hands on activity in math.  It beats worksheets every time.  It has taken me several years to figure out how to make hands on learning meaningful, not just hands on activities for the sake of not doing a worksheet.

One thing I’ve tried out is having students make their own tangrams.

How to Make Tangrams

All you need to make your own tangrams is paper and a pair of scissors. (Oh, and a little patience.)

The first year I did this, I will not lie to you, it was HAIRY.  Really bad. Like…kids cried because they were so lost during the steps.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to help. It was terrible and I vowed never to do it again. Then YouTube happened to the internet…and my world was opened to the idea of using video to help me teach how to make them. In addition, I have them sit in groups so that they can help each other when they are stuck on a step. Things have improved dramatically.

Here are two videos that I’ve used in the past for my third graders. I personally like the first one better, but it’s a bit long.  The second one is short and sweet and to the point.

After we make the tangrams, I have them set all the pieces in front of them and set the timer for five minutes.  I tell them that they have five minutes to put them back together into the square they started with.  ONE third grader in the last 7 years has been able to do it in five minutes! Of course every year it is very dramatic since hardly anyone belongs to that Hall of Fame.  When I start the timer the room becomes so silent, you could hear a pin drop. It is instant engagement.

My favorite part is that during the process of making them, they find shapes they know and you hear them shout things like “trapezoid!”, or “parallelogram!”. This all leads perfectly to the next activity, which I will talk about in my next blog post where I take them a bit deeper.


Elementary Architects: Free Math Project – January 25-27th

I am going to preface this post with a note about me.  I am not at all a person who self promotes or constantly mentions things I’ve created in blog posts to sell them to everyone. I don’t use cutesy clip art or decorative borders. My cover pages for the things I create are always pretty straightforward with real photos of students doing real math. The units I write are meant to take students to a deep level of understanding, with research based practices.

In addition, I want this blog to be all about teaching tips, reflections on the best ways for our brains to learn math…not a non-stop promotion of myself.  The whole idea of putting items up for sale took me a full year to actually agree to do, and only because the staff members in my building kept on pressing and encouraging me to share to the world what I had created for all of them.  My hopes and dreams are to raise enough money that I can design an online math fact fluency program that is all in my head and just waiting to happen.

With all that being said, I did join an event called a Facebook free-for-all. I joined because there are people out there that are just like me, they want their ideas spread because our primary focus is not about making money.  We know that the more we share, the more we’ll learn about becoming better for our students. I have been going through the “map” and am amazed at all of the things that other teachers have created and are giving away for free. It’s truly remarkable.

If you go to my Facebook Page and click on the tab right under my cover photo that looks like this:

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It will take you to my free resource, Elementary Architects. The reason I linked this to my facebook page, is because there is a map that you can use to find other people who are participating in this same event (you’ll see on the picture it says “click here to find more”.  If you don’t have facebook, hate facebook or really hate the whole idea, you can still get Elementary Architects for free in my TPT store.  It’ll be free until January 27th!

In Elementary Architects, students design a space, calculate the area of that space and then figure out the cost of flooring.  It is sort of cool because it differentiates naturally, and it requires LOTS of precision. I pay my students with classroom dollars if they get everything perfect on the specification sheet which is very motivating to them.

Here they are at work!

photo 2 (12)


photo 1 (15)


What I like best about this project, is the structured days leading up to the actual work that they do.  They learn little bits at a time, and I can even introduce the distributive property as a third way to calculate area. I hope you find it useful, and would appreciate any feedback you can give to help me get better!