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How to Make a Tangram Square: The Chinese Puzzle Game

Updated on August 15, 2017
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Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of contexts.

Tangram Shapes

The shapes of the Chinese tangram game are always the same - but they can be made any size.
The shapes of the Chinese tangram game are always the same - but they can be made any size. | Source

What are Tangrams?

Tangrams are the most popular of all the Chinese puzzles. It is a kind of puzzle that was invented in China a long time ago. It is made up of seven flat shapes known in Chinese as "tans".

The seven tangram pieces always have the same shapes, but the puzzle can be made any size.

The shapes are:

  • 2 large triangles
  • 1 medium triangle
  • 2 small triangles
  • a square
  • a parallelogram

The aim of the game is to take the jumbled-up shapes and fit them together to make particular images or silhouettes.

Some of the puzzles are quite easy and some would have made Einstein scratch his head!

Let's learn about the history. Then we'll look at how to make a tangram puzzle game. Finally, there are videos of popular tangram puzzle shapes for you to try and cool resources if you want to find out more.

Who Invented the Tangram Puzzle Game?

Nobody really knows who invented the tangram puzzle game.

It is certainly very old indeed and may even have its origins in an ancient form of "divination" or fortune-telling.

The first historical mention of the game, however, is in a book from the nineteenth century. There is an old Chinese painting that shows two people playing tangram that dates back to the 1700s and the name of the game in Chinese could be as old as the fourth century before Christ.

But whoever invented it must have been pretty smart as it is still as popular today as it was all those years ago - and just as much fun!

Rules of Tangram

Like all games and puzzles, there are some rules that you have to follow to make it work.

The rules of the Chinese tangram game are very easy to learn.

The rules are:

  • to solve each puzzle, you have to use all seven shapes
  • each shape must touch at least one other shape
  • the shapes must not overlap

It's as easy as that! But like a lot of games with simple rules (such as chess or backgammon) it can still be quite a challenge to figure out!

Make Your Own Tangram: Step-by-Step Instructions

You can buy tangram sets complete with books of puzzles to accompany them from stores.

But it can be fun and satisfying to make your own, too. It isn't difficult and you can usually find what you need around the home.

Once you've got these things together, you are ready to make your own tangram game!

Things You Will Need

To make your own tangram you will need:

  • a piece of thick cardboard
  • a ruler
  • a sharp pencil
  • a pair of scissors
  • paint & brush (optional)

Skills Developed by Making a Tangram

You can develop some useful skills making a tangram game, such as

  • understanding instructions
  • making accurate measurements
  • understanding geometric shapes
  • working through logical steps
  • safe use of tools

Step One

Using your ruler and pencil, measure and mark out a 16 centimetre square on the cardboard.

Be as careful and as accurate as you can.

Step Two

Plot out the shapes as shown on the diagram below. The measurements are:

A = 16 cm B = 5½ cm C = 8 cm

You might have noticed that not all the sides are given measurements. That is because you only need these measurements to make the template work. If you want a special challenge, you could think about why. But don't worry; you can just draw it out if you like!

Special Hint

If you find drawing this out too difficult just now and you have access to a printer - you are welcome to print a copy of the template and trace it! ;)

Safety Tips

  • When using scissors be careful to keep them pointed away from you.
  • A young child should always be supervised.
  • Have a band aid ready just in case.

Tangram Template

Use this template to make your own tangram game. Be sure to measure carefully! If you can't draw it out, this is a printable tangram template.
Use this template to make your own tangram game. Be sure to measure carefully! If you can't draw it out, this is a printable tangram template. | Source

Step Three

Once you have got your template marked out on the cardboard, the hardest part is over.

Don't worry if it took you a few tries to get it right that's fine and all part of the fun!

Now you have everything marked out, the next step is to cut the shapes out with the scissors carefully.

Again, be careful and make sure you don't cut over too far.

When you've cut your pieces out, make sure you've done it correctly by putting them back together to form a square. Well done! You've also solved your first tangram puzzle!

How to Make the Tangram Square

One way to put the tangram pieces together to make a square.
One way to put the tangram pieces together to make a square. | Source

Step Four

This is optional, but traditionally the tangram pieces are painted black.

So now you can paint them.

Of course, you can paint them any color at all. Paint them all the colors of the rainbow if you like. There are seven of those, too!

Easy Tangram Puzzles

Well done making your own tangram puzzle!

It is thought by mathematicians that there are over 10,000 different combinations of the tangram shapes. But no one has ever tried to work out what they all are.

Tangram puzzles can be simple shapes such as squares and rectangles or more complicated silhouettes of people, animals and objects.

You can get books with thousands of puzzles in them. Or you can make up your own.

Here are a few simple ones to get you started.

Each of these videos shows you a puzzle, gives some time to work it out, and then shows you the solution. If you need more time, just pause the video. Good luck and have fun!

* after the last video you will find a fun quiz to check how much you've learned and some great resources if you want to explore the wonderful world of tangram further.

Tangram Tangents

Once you've made one tangram, you can experiment with making them different sizes.

How about a tiny one?

Or a humongous one that you could do outside!

Famous Tangram Players

Did you know that there have been some very famous tangram players?

The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, loved to play tangram when he was on military campaigns. You can imagine that he had the sort of logical mind that was good at developing problem-solving strategies.

On the other hand, the British writer, Lewis Carroll (the author of Alice in Wonderland) also enjoyed the tangram game. Certainly a good visual imagination can help to solve the puzzles.

Tangram Horse

Tangram Swan

Tangram Heart

Tangram Rocket

More Difficult Tangram Puzzles

If you found those quite easy to do, here are some more challenging tangram puzzles for you to solve!

Tangram Lady

Tangram Bear

Tangram Sitting Person

Educational Benefits of the Chinese Tangram Game

The tangram is lots of fun but it also has all kinds of positive educational benefits. There's no need to be explicit about that with your children, although you can be, too.

  • Just playing freely with tangram games can help kids to develop a range of mathematical, vocabulary and confidence skills.
  • It can help kids overcome the fear of math and geometry that many experience.
  • It can aid them in learning to name and classify shapes.
  • It can help them develop their spatial awareness.
  • It can help them understand geometric relationships.
  • It can help them understand and assimilate vocabulary such as 'congruent' 'pattern' 'flip' 'rotate' and 'symmetry'
  • Social skills, communication and co-operation can all be encouraged by kids working together either with you or each other on solving tangram puzzles.
  • And it's not just math: letting kids just play with the tangram shapes can develop imagination, empathy and role-play, too.

I hope that you've enjoyed finding out about tangrams and that your kids will love it too. Mine did and still do!

© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

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    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 23 months ago

      Hi Alun and thank you so much for your lovely comment.

      It is heartening, I think, in the light of what you say, to realize that these simple but effective educational games endure through the years despite competition with those push-button technologies you refer to. Even more heartening to see how readily children will still become absorbed in them and how smartly they will set about solving the problems such games present and expressing their own creativity.

      The responsibility of parents and teachers is to give them the opportunity to try these things, rather than the tendency to think, "Oh, these are 21st century kids, we'd better turn everything into a computer game..." which is rather prevalent in educational circles at the moment.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful contribution, Alun.

      Bless you. :)

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 23 months ago from Essex, UK

      Never heard of tangrams before Amanda, but simple ideas are usually the ideas which work best and last longest (chess, jigsaws, Lego - to name a few very different kinds of games and toys), and so I can well understand the appeal of making shapes out of pieces of card like this.

      I do believe everything should be done to encourage children to diversify their interests away from button-pushing electronic games to physical activity such as sports, or creative and educational activity. And that is where tangrams come in with the creative or educational benefits you mention. The videos incidentally are very good.

      Oh, and congrats - only 2 years late - on the Hub of the Day Award! :) Alun

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 2 years ago

      Hi pstrabie48!

      I'm glad that you also appreciate the wonder of the tangram game!

      Bless you :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Love tangrams. And kids do too. I have a hub on here about using them with kids of all ages.

      Some of my hubs are under reconstruction right now so it might not be in the feed right now.

      Thank you for show casing this amazing 'tool'...so many cool creations can be made from them. Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • stuff4kids profile image
      Author

      Amanda Littlejohn 2 years ago

      Hi paxwill!

      Thanks for your comment and contribution. You're right, there is another similar puzzle, frequently made of wood, in the form of a hexagon and composed of interlocking rhomboids and triangles. It is known as a 'Trirhomboid Puzzle'.

      Manufactured Trirhomboids are rare crafted items - you won't find them on Amazon for example - but an internet search for 'Trirhomboid Puzzle' should bring up a store that you can get one from.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      Bless you :)

    • profile image

      paxwill 2 years ago

      There's a variant of this game where the shapes are cut from a regular hexagon. The pieces are equilateral triangles and rhombuses. I saw it a long time ago in an upscale toy store, but I've never been able to find it anywhere else!

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 2 years ago

      Hi Donald!

      Thanks for your comment. I'm so glad you liked this - tangrams definitely are really neat! And if you want to make a tangram, you have all the instructions here. Let me know how you get on. And if you need any help, just ask!

      Bless you :)

    • profile image

      Donald 2 years ago

      Really really neat. I want to make one!

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      Hi Sam!

      Thanks for your comment. You know, popular as it may be in Australia (I've never been there) I think we have to say, in all fairness, that it is an ancient Chinese thing, don't you?!

      Glad you enjoyed being reminded of the Tangram - bless you. :)

    • SimilarSam profile image

      Sam 3 years ago from Australia

      I also remember playing with these in school! Must be an Australian thing ;)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      Hi ilikegames!

      Then you had a more interesting and fun school than I did. :)

      Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      Bless you :D

    • ilikegames profile image

      Sarah Forester 3 years ago from Australia

      I remember doing these in school!

    • stuff4kids profile image
      Author

      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      Thank you so much, FlourishAnyway!

      I'm delighted that you enjoyed this and you are very kind to share it so widely. I hope it bring people lots of pleasure as well as testing their mental and spatial abilities - it's great fun.

      Bless you :D

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      What a great educational hub for building young minds and older ones too! This can certainly enhance spatial intelligence. I like all the options that you provide, the ease of the template, and the engaging videos. Voted up +++, plus sharing and pinning this gem.

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thanks Toytasting for a comment from an expert in puzzles and games!

      Have a great day, Bless you :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Kathryn, thanks for leaving a lovely comment. Happy to have introduced you to something new! The tangram is great fun, mentally stimulating, elegant and relaxing - in my opinion.

      Enjoy!

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi tebo!

      Thanks for your cool comment. Sure, it's easy enough to make one and if you don't feel confident with the measurements, just photocopy the template, stick it on the cardboard and cut it out! easy.

      Enjoy it. Bless. :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hey Kawika, thanks for your comment!

      It is a real brain-teaser, the tangram but as you say, helps keep the 'grey matter' in trim - a kind of mental work out but relaxing, too!

      Bless you :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thank you ComfortB!

      I'm really pleased that you enjoyed it. Have a great day and bless you :)

    • Toytasting profile image

      Toy Tasting 4 years ago from Mumbai

      This is a very interesting hub. Thank you for expanding my horizons on Tangram Puzzles. Congratulations on HOTD. Cheers!

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      This is creative and different. I have never heard of these, but they look fun and stimulating. Thanks for sharing this with us, and congrats on winning HOTD!

    • tebo profile image

      tebo 4 years ago from New Zealand

      I really enjoyed learning about the tangram, and I think I already have some shapes that might be the right size which I will check out otherwise I might have to have a go at making some. Thanks for sharing.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Our family loves puzzles of all kinds - it's helps the thinking processes stay in tack... Nicely done, great writing! Congrats on HOTD!! Upvoted/interesting/following. Peace. Kawi.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      This is my first time hearing of Chinese Tangram Game. Glad I read this hub. Great tutorial and very interesting.

      Congrats on the HOTD award.

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thanks DzyMsLizzy!

      There's no doubt that the tangram IS a challenge and certainly requires a definite kind of thinking to solve - particularly the harder puzzles. I think that's one of the reasons why kids benefit so much from it - and find it easier than we more, er... mature people. Hey, let me know how your daughter's kids get on with it.

      Thanks for the votes, too! Very kind. Bless you :)

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!

      Most interesting, indeed. I've never been particularly good at these kinds of puzzles, for I tend to forget which combination I already tried, and get 'stuck' trying the same thing again several times before I realize my error.

      I"m going to share this with my daughter, for her kids--the eldest is 11, and just about the right age for an interest in this.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi sarifearnbd!

      Thanks for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. Have a great day!

      Bless you :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thank you pinto2011 I'm glad that you are learning lots of new things. Isn't that great? Take care and keep enjoying hubpages!

      Bless you :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi RTalloni!

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I love the tangram and find it to be as relaxing as it is taxing. I hope you enjoy it.

      Bless you :)

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Hi stuff4kids with this hub you have made me belief that I am learning so many things being associated with you people and this site. It is a very nice, interesting and fun to do idea. Thumbs Up!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      I did enjoy learning more about tangrams. Very nicely done and congrats on your Hub of the Day award!

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi mylindaelliott!

      Thanks for commenting. If you love puzzles you'll surely love the tangram - but be warned it can become quite addictive!

      Bless :)

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      It sounds like a fun puzzle. I love puzzles.

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Nickpetrou!

      Thanks for your very kind comments. I love the tangram, too and even after years with it, I'm still finding new puzzles to solve!

      Bless you :)

    • Nickpetrou profile image

      Nickpetrou 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      I love all sorts of puzzles and tangram of course. Thanks for sharing such an excellent and well written hub with the rest of us!

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi peachpurple!

      It certainly is worth a try. The trick is to take your time and do one step at a time - then it becomes quite simple to make a square. The tangram books and videos have puzzle problems in them to suit everyone from children through to math professors, too.

      Thanks for your comment. Good luck with it!

      Bless you :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      looks pretty complicated but worth to try

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Redberry Sky!

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, Tangram is amazing, really. But be warned, once you get going it can become highly addictive! And with over 10,000 combinations you could get lost in it for quite some time.... :)

      Bless you :)

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      Wow - I remeI didn't know it was so intriguing *gets the scissors out and starts cutting* :)

    • stuff4kids profile image
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      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thank you Mary!

      I'm happy you found this inspiring. I love the Tangram and have ever since I discovered it. Me and the kids have made a few but my favorite is the wooden one I bought. I find it challenging and relaxing at the same time. I hope it helps with your insomnia!

      Bless you. :)

    • profile image

      Mary Sachs 4 years ago

      Fabulous - just what I was looking for! I think I will be buying one but I will make one too. I got lost in this the videos are so intriguing. Marvellous to find something so good to pass my insomniac nights away but still be doing something good for my brain. It is an amazing puzzle. I will be the first to find all ten thousand! Maybe. lol