Guest Blogger

Building Spatial Awareness in Story Times Through the Use of Tangrams

Cover photo of When Sophie Thinks She Can'tA few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a galley of Molly Bang’s upcoming book When Sophie Thinks She Can’t (anticipated January 2018). I immediately rejoiced at Bang’s creative highlight of Tangrams. As anyone who has heard me speak about tangrams in the past, there are not enough picture books to tie in with this fantastic Chinese puzzle.

In almost all our libraries you can find a tangram set. No matter what, you can locate printable tangram templates on the internet. (A tangram set consists of seven shapes: 2 large right triangles, 1 medium sized right triangle, 2 small right triangles, 1 small square, and 1 parallelogram). To many, the use of tangrams is something to keep the kids busy rather than an intentional and useful activity that helps students develop their spatial awareness and creativity skills.

According to Yi Ling Cheng and Kelly Mix, students who performed a series of tangram-like mental tasks performed better on a pencil-and-paper math test immediately after using tangrams for forty minutes. Crossword puzzles, however, did not have that affect. (Cheng and Mix 2012)

What does this mean?

Tangram TemplateTangrams deliver important educational benefits and increase a student’s math performance. Researchers believe tangrams offer important educational benefits such as helping students classify shapes, develop positive feelings about geometry, gain a stronger grasp of spatial relationships, practice spatial rotation skills, acquire a precise vocabulary for manipulating shapes (i.e. rotate, flip, etc.), and learn the meaning of “congruent”. Researchers also have argued that tangrams increase a student’s creativity and storytelling skills.

To use tangrams intentionally with your students, approach activities involving tangrams in two ways:

  1. Print off outlines, or silhouettes, of tangram shapes (you can find them on the internet) and have students attempt to recreate the shape using their tangrams.
  2. Have students create their own shapes / animals / etc. using their tangrams and tell a story about their creation.

I also have a flannel set of Tangrams that I use in story time to tell stories or lead a guided tangram activity.

Remember- students learn best through play and experience. Encourage students to “play” around with tangrams! You are helping to create the next generation of mathematicians (or at least math-literate citizens)!


Headshot of guest blogger, JoAnna Schofield
Photo courtesy guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Jo Schofield. Jo is a children’s librarian at the Warrensville Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library (OH). She is passionate about exciting youth, families, and coworkers about mathematics. She is the mother of three beautiful children: Jackson (7), Parker (6), and Amelia Jane (4). When not chasing her kids, she can be found painting, reading, and evaluating materials for the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award.  Email her at

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

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