Sunday, July 10, 2016

Exploring Tangrams with Google Drawings

At some point in your life, probably in school, you have had the chance to play with a tangram puzzle. If somehow you are not familiar with this, a tangram is a popular Chinese puzzle made up of:

  • 2 big right triangles
  • 1 medium right triangle
  • 2 small right triangles
  • 1 square
  • And 1 parallelogram

The object of tangram puzzles is to create an image by moving, rotating, and flipping the pieces as needed. Common images to make include animals, boats, people, objects, letters, and such.

In schools, tangrams can be a great way for students to learn and explore:

  • Problem solving
  • Spatial reasoning
  • Geometry transformations - moving (translation), turning (rotation), flipping (reflection)
  • Fractions
  • Creativity - when making their own tangrams

There are lots of ways for students to explore tangrams from physical blocks you can purchase, to virtual tangrams online. One great tool for creating, solving, and exploring tangrams is Google Drawings. It makes it easy to create shapes, and then move, rotate, and flip the shapes as needed.

See below for everything you need to get started using Google Drawings for tangrams. This includes a free blank template with all the tangram pieces already created, a dozen pre-made tangram puzzles to solve, and detailed directions on how to manipulate the shapes using tools in Google Drawings and create your own tangram puzzles.

Tangram Shapes Template

To save everyone time, I have already created a template with the seven tangram shapes. Each shape is properly sized and separate so they can all be moved around as needed. You can get your own copy of the premade tangram shapes below.

Once you have your own copy of the tangram shapes, you can move, rotate, and flip the shapes (explain further below), create your own images, and even make puzzles for other people to solve (also explained further below).

Sample Tangram Puzzles

To start out with, you may want to begin by trying to solve some premade tangram puzzles. I have created a dozen sample puzzles to try out. Simply click on any of the puzzle titles below to get your own copy. Once you have your own copy you can move, rotate, and flip the shapes (explain further below) to try to replicate the image.

Click the title of any puzzle to get your own copy:

Moving, Rotating, and Flipping Shapes

Google Drawings provides many options for you to move, rotate, and flip the tangram shapes. You can use your mouse, or your keyboard, or even a combination of both to manipulate the shapes as needed. See below for a full list of the options.

To move a piece:

Free Move
Click and drag shape with mouse
Arrow keys
Nudge one pixel
Shift + Arrow keys

To rotate a piece:

Free Rotate
Click and drag blue rotation circle
Rotate 90 degrees clockwise
Click "Arrange", then "Rotate", then "Rotate clockwise 90 degrees"
Rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise
Click "Arrange", then "Rotate", then "Rotate counter-clockwise 90 degrees"
Rotate 15 degrees clockwise
Alt + Left arrow
Rotate 15 degrees counter-clockwise
Alt + Right arrow
Free Rotate by 15 degrees
Shift + Click and drag blue rotation circle
Rotate 1 degree clockwise
Alt + Shift + Right arrow
Rotate 1 degree counter-clockwise
Alt + Shift + Left arrow

To flip a piece:

Flip horizontally
Click "Arrange", then "Rotate", then "Flip horizontally"
Flip vertically
Click "Arrange", then "Rotate", then "Flip vertically"

Creating Your Own Puzzles

In addition to solving pre-made puzzles, and creating your own images for fun, you can also save your images as puzzles for other people. Here’s how:

  • First, use the Tangram Shapes Template to get the shapes and move them around as needed to create your own custom image.
  • Make sure the shapes are lined up as well as possible with no gaps in between or offset edges or corners. You can use the zoom feature to zoom in to check on your edges and make detailed adjustments. Just click View and then Zoom in or Zoom out as needed.
  • When done, delete everything else in the Drawing such as textboxes, so all you are left with is your tangram image.
  • Next, select all the shapes (Click Edit then Select all, or press Ctrl and "A", or click and drag a selection box around the shapes).
  • Now fill in all the shapes with black using the Fill Color (paint can) menu icon. 
  • Your image should now be solid black with no gaps. If not, zoom back in and make small adjustments as needed.
  • If you want you can also resize the canvas to fit your image better by clicking and dragging the bottom right corner of the canvas.
  • Now save your creation as one single image file by clicking File, then Download as, then PNG image.

You will now have a solid black version of your image saved that can be used as a puzzle for other people as follows:
  • Make another copy of the Tangram Shapes Template.
  • Add your saved PNG image by clicking Insert, then Image, then Upload your PNG image.
  • Move the image around as needed to position it in a blank area of the Google Drawing.
  • To let people put the colored tangram shapes on top of your black image you will need to push your image to the background. Select your image then click Arrange, then Order, then Send to back.
  • You will now have a Google Drawing that has the tangram template shapes, as well as your solid black image.
  • Rename the drawing as needed, and share with others as view only so they can make their own copies and try to solve your tangram.


What other ideas do you have for using tangrams in schools? Share your ideas for activities in the comments below. Also, if you make any tangram puzzles, please feel free to share links to your "view only" puzzles, so other people can make copies to solve.
Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Just a thought. If you made this on Google slides you can also make the background the image/shape that students are to create and the background doesn't move, only the tangram shapes so it becomes much easier to maneuver. Unfortunately Google Drawings does not allow for changing the background to include an image yet.

    1. Great suggestion! So much with Drawings also applies to Slides, especially in this case. Thanks!

  2. This is great, I have been "practicing" tangrams again! Can't wait to share with my peers!

  3. Thanks for sharing this Eric! This is awesome :)