EL Support Lesson

Composing Shapes

Students will love composing and decomposing two-dimensional shapes using tangram puzzle pieces. Use this plan alone or to frontload key vocabulary and concepts taught in the lesson plan **Know Your Shapes.**
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Terrific Tangrams! lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Terrific Tangrams! lesson plan.

Students will be able to use basic shapes to create composite shapes.


Students will be able to describe the attributes two-dimensional shapes and the steps to create composite shapes with content-specific vocabulary using hands-on materials, visuals, and peer support.

(5 minutes)
  • Ask students to give you a thumbs up if they have ever done a puzzle. Show a few examples of different puzzles.
  • Tell students that today they will be using pieces from a special type of puzzle called a tangram. Define tangram as an ancient Chinese puzzle that uses shapes to create different pictures. Explain that "ancient" means that these puzzles are very old, and were created a long, long time ago. Display the tangram Vocabulary Card.
  • Instruct students to turn and talk to a partner to name as many different shapes as they can. Tell students that some of those shapes are part of a tangram puzzle.
  • Tell students that today they will practice being "shape detectives" who search for shapes hidden within other shapes.
(10 minutes)
  • Cut the entire tangram puzzle out of the Color a Tangram Template. Show students the back of the puzzle so that they can not see the lines that divide the individual pieces. Ask students what shape they see.
  • Explain that a tangram puzzle is a square divided into smaller shapes. Distribute a copy of the Color a Tangram Template and scissors to students, and instuct them to cut out the large square, and then wait for further instructions.
  • Tell students to watch as you fold the square diagonally. Ask students what shape they see now, and begin to create an illustratated word bank by displaying the triangle Vocabulary Card.
  • Have students cut their puzzles in half as you model cutting along the diagonal line.
  • Ask students how many shapes they have now (two), and what shapes they have (triangles).
  • Show students that each of the triangles is divided into even smaller shapes. Have them turn and talk to a partner about which shapes they see within the triangle.
  • Choose student volunteers to describe the smaller shapes. One triangle is divided into two smaller triangles. Model folding the paper and cutting out the triangles as students follow along.
  • Show students the other half of the puzzle. Model folding the triangle in the corner back, and prompt students to identify the hidden shape. Add the trapezoid Vocabulary Card to the illustrated word bank. Model cutting out a triangle to leave a trapezoid.
  • Continue by identifying the remaining shapes (two triangles, one square, and a shape that looks similiar to a diamond).
  • Add the Vocabulary Cards for square and paralellogram to the word bank, and discuss the defining attributes of each shape.
  • Point to each of the shapes, and instruct students to repeat after you.
  • Assess student understanding of shape names by calling out different shapes that are included in the tangram pieces, and having students show you those shapes.
  • Have students record vocabulary in the Glossary (optional).
  • Allow students to name other two-dimensional shapes to add to the word bank (e.g., rectangle, rhombus).
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students to point to each shape from the puzzle as they count the total number of shapes (seven).
  • Challenge students to work with a partner to put the seven pieces together to remake the original square.
  • Tell students that they may need to flip pieces over. Instruct students to flip a piece over as you model.
  • Tell students that they may need to spin or slide pieces back and forth as students follow along.
  • Give students time to reassemble the puzzle. Allow students time to work with their partner. Try not to intervene, and encourage students to try different things to solve the puzzle independently.
  • Model the solution on the document camera. Ask students which shape they composed or built (square).
  • Model composing a few other shapes on the document camera. For example, ask students to compose a shape with the two large triangles. Model the steps to build a square as you think aloud, "First I put my triangle here. Next, I flip my other triangle so that the sides form a diagonal line. Now I made a square!"
  • Use the sentence frame, "I used ____ to make a ____." Model, "I used two triangles to make a square."
  • Show students a few more examples, building a rectangle out of two triangles and a square, and a parallelogram and a triangle to build a trapezoid. Ask if there would be other ways to build a trapezoid, and allow students to share ideas.
(18 minutes)
  • Allow students 10 minutes to freely explore the shapes with their partner. Show a few examples from the Tangram Pattern Cards, such as the boat, house and bird. Tell students to use their imaginations to flip, spin, and slide the shapes to build their own pictures.
  • Bring the class back together and review the shapes in the illustrated word bank. Tell students that they will now use their shapes to practice building the shapes from the word bank.
  • As students work together in pairs, they should show one another their shapes and describe the shape using the sentence frame.
  • Challenge students to build the same shape as their partner using different pieces.


  • Work in a teacher-led small group to build composite shapes using the tangram pieces.
  • Partner students at various levels of English-language proficiency. Group ELs with supportive peers with more developed English-language skills.
  • Define shape names in students' home language (L1).


  • Prompt students to explain the steps they followed to create the composite shapes using content-specific vocabulary, transitional words, and prepostitional phrases. For example, "First I put the square in the middle. Next, I put a triangle to the left and a triangle to the right of the square to make a trapezoid."
(5 minutes)
  • Circulate as students work and prompt them to name the triangle, square, and trapezoid. Ask students to explain how they know which shape is which.
  • Check that students are able to form composite shapes from the tangram pieces. Check that the shapes they build are recognized geometric figures, and that the shapes they build include those listed in the illustrated word bank.
  • Prompt students to describe the steps that they followed to build the composite shapes.
(2 minutes)
  • Remind students that today they used the different shapes that are part of a tangram puzzle.
  • Tell students that they can be "shape detectives" looking for shapes hidden in other shapes.
  • Allow students to keep the tangram pieces inside a plastic bag. They can reuse the pieces during future lessons on composing shapes, or with the Tangram Pattern Cards as part of a center activity.

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