Legend has it that there once lived a man in China called Tan who was carrying a tile to show his Emperor. Unfortunately, Tan tripped over, dropped the tile and broke it into seven pieces: one square, one parallelogram and five isosceles triangles varying in size. Tan tried in vain to reunite the pieces into a square again although he did succeed in creating different shapes such as birds, dogs and cats.
Tangrams don't just have to be seven pieces of a square. Any shape can be split into tans, although a square is a good starting point. For example, you could split a square into two rectangles, one square, two isosceles triangles and one trapezium. How about splitting a square into four smaller squares and seven right-angled triangles? Another variation could be one triangle, one parallelogram, one trapezium and one square.
Challenge children to create their own tangrams for friends to solve, with their own legends too. Different shaped tangrams can then be used to develop and explore the concept of conservation of area: children making many different shapes. This is one lesson which will leave you and the children in pieces John Dabell is a numeracy consultant and teacher trainer