Tangrams: Tell A Story

As part of a folktale unit in the early grades of an ESL classroom, I've incorporated Grandfather Tang's Story by Ann Tompert. 

Content Objectives:

  • Students will learn about how ancient Chinese culture conducted story telling.
  • Students will make connections with geography to locate China in a globe/world map.
  • Students will make a connection with mathematics by cutting geometric shapes to create their own tangrams.
  • Students will present their finished work. 

Language Objective:

  • Students will be able to use key vocabulary across the curriculum (Math, English, Culture).
  • Students will create a plot triangle that represents a story.
  • Students will listen to each other during presentations.
  • Students will be able to exchange and discuss information.
  • Students will be able to write a story about their own tangram character.

Key Vocabulary:

rectangles, squares, trapezoids, triangles, half-circles, and quarter-circles, frightened, transform, scramble, arrange, tragic, puzzle, amusing, fierce, rivalry.


Grandfather Tang's Story by Ann Tompert (ISBN#: 978-0517885581)

World Map or Globe

Tangrams @ 1 per student - preferably in color paper and laminated

Tangram samples @ 1 per student

Scissors per student

Adhesive for all students

Zip lock bags for every student

Construction and loose leaf paper @ 1 of each per student

Graphic organizers: Plot Triangle & Story Elements @ 1 per student

Passports @ 1 per student

The learning goal, which should be posted, is "Can we learn about a different culture through folktales?"  For the "Do Now" students may choose one of the following: A)"Using your passport, could you locate China?".B) "What is your favorite childhood story?" and who told you it?" After 5 minutes have lapsed, the teacher will ask students to share their answers to the Do Now aloud. 

Practice and application:

The teacher will project the list of key vocabulary words (with pictures and brief descriptions) on the smartboard and will review them. Students will repeat the word 3x after the teacher. Next, the teacher will begin to read Grandfather Tang's Story aloud emphasizing and clarifying key vocabulary as she reads. At the end of the story, immediately ask students to explain what a tangram is. After some students volunteer to share, the teacher will clarify and inform the students with factual information about tangrams. For example, The earliest references of tangrams date back to the beginning of the 19th century, China. The puzzle consists of 7 geometrical pieces called "tans". One MUST use all seven tans in order to create a character/figure. One can rotate or flip the pieces as one wishes, however they cannot overlap. 


Students are now each provided with a laminated tangram puzzle pattern, sample tangrams, scissors, construction paper and loose leaf. The teacher explains that each student will now cut their own tangram and he/she will model this procedure. After all 7 geometric shapes have been cut, they must place them in their individual zip lock bag to avoid missing or mixed up pieces. After selecting a character from the sample sheet previously provided to each student, the teacher will inform the students that they must write a story about their tangram so that we may learn something about their cultural masterpiece. Students should be reminded that in ancient China, during the 19th Century, stories were told through tangram puzzles. 

Review and Assessment:

Once their individual stories have been submited for revision, students are then expected to create their character with the tangram and adhere it to the construction paper. The teacher will also take this opportunity to review the plot triangle with details from Grandfather Tang's Story. 


Students will be required to complete the plot triangle with information from Grandfather Tang's Story. Students are reminded and urged to use key vocabulary words. 

Differentiation of Instruction

Students with disabilities should be accommodated in front of the classroom. The size of the tangram puzzle and the sample sheet may be maximized or enlarged to accommodate visually impaired students. This population may also be given the opportunity to review the book before and after reading it in class. Tangram shapes may be pre-cut and provided in a zip lock bag for these students as well. 

Download: tangram.pdf

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