Graphic illustrating the tangram rocket


The class will play a game together to create a large class rocket made from geometric shapes, or tangrams. When the rocket is complete, students will color and cut out their own set of tangrams and make their own rocket.



Before doing the lesson, prepare the materials:

  1. Using a computer projector, project the tangram rocket pattern with interior lines onto the wall and hang the vinyl tablecloth so the projection appears on it. Adjust the size of the projection to fit the tablecloth.
  2. Trace all the exterior lines using the permanent marker. Trace interior lines depending on the skill level of the students.
  3. Place construction paper on the projection and trace the shapes onto the construction paper. Cut out the shapes. Make one extra of each of the shapes. Laminate, if possible.
  4. Create a tangram die from the box by securely taping the box closed using the packing tape. Then, tape or glue the extra shapes you cut out, one onto each face of the tangram die.
  5. Locate an open space inside or outside the classroom for the game portion of this lesson. A circular area approximately 20 feet in diameter works well. If this amount of room is not available, make a smaller die.


The 36.328 NR, Terrier-Black Brant sounding rocket launches from Wallops Island, Virginia, on September 7, 2018

The 36.328 NR, Terrier-Black Brant sounding rocket launches from Wallops Island, Virginia, on September 7, 2018 carrying the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research and Experiments (ASPIRE) payload. | + Expand image

NASA uses rockets to launch spacecraft. The shape of rockets determines how well they will fly. Most rockets can be viewed as composites of geometric shapes that are easily discernable for young students, especially when they are represented in two dimensions; nose cones are triangular (conical in three dimensions), the body of a rocket is rectangular (cylindrical in three dimensions) and the fins are triangular or rectangular. The unique shape and size of a rocket’s nose cone, body and fins contribute to its ability to transport a spacecraft to its final destination.

NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, is a rocket that will allow for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. When complete, SLS will be the only rocket capable of sending an Orion crew capsule – the exploration vehicle that will hold the crew – and cargo to the Moon with a single launch. SLS may also create new possibilities for robotic scientific missions to places like the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.


  1. Review shape names using the enlarged tangram pieces.
  2. Encourage students to notice that these shapes are “flat” and lie in two dimensions (as opposed to solids in three dimensions).
  3. As a class, note the colors of the tangram pieces and count the number of squares, triangles and rectangles.
  4. Ask students what shapes are not included. There are no circles, diamonds, trapezoids, hexagons or ellipses.
  5. As a class, note that the triangles are not all the same. Have students describe differences among the triangle tangrams. Encourage them to describe overall shapes and sizes in addition to color differences.
  6. Show students rocket pictures. Look at different shapes that comprise the rockets.
  7. Show students the large tangram rocket outline on the vinyl tablecloth and demonstrate how the large tangram pieces fit the various outlines.
  8. Show students the die and explain that the class is going to play a game to build a rocket from tangrams.
  9. Place the vinyl tablecloth on the floor and have students gather around at a distance, making a large circle around the rocket.
  10. Spread out the large tangrams on the floor so that all of them are visible.
  11. Demonstrate how to gently roll the die across the floor.
  12. Students roll a die to choose a tangram piece to place inside the rocket

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  13. Have students say what shape is “up” on the die.
  14. Have a student select the matching tangram piece and place it on the vinyl tablecloth in the correct spot. To take the pressure off the volunteer, have other students direct the volunteer toward the correct piece and spot on the vinyl tablecloth.
  15. Have a student roll the die.
  16. Repeat steps 12-14 as a class until all the tangram shapes are placed and the rocket is built.
  17. For more advanced students, use a tangram rocket without interior lines and play the game again.
  18. After class play has ceased, have students return to their desks. Give each student a copy of the tangram pieces and an envelope.
  19. Instruct them to color the shapes as they please (or as instructed by the teacher). Have younger students color all the squares one color, the rectangles another color and the sets of identical triangles other colors. Provide examples of this on the board using the large tangram pieces.
  20. Instruct students to cut out their colored tangram pieces and place them in the envelope.
  21. Once all the pieces are cut out, have students recycle their trash and practice making their own tangram rockets with either the rocket diagram with interior lines, the rocket diagram without interior lines or no diagram at all (free-form creation).


  • Ask students to point to a specific shape and evaluate it for shape recognition.
  • Evaluate students’ ability to orient shapes to fit on the tangram rocket.
  • Evaluate students’ ability to color shapes.
  • Evaluate students’ ability to use scissors to cut out shapes.


  • Have students use their tangram pieces to create something besides a rocket. If they need prompting, ask them to create a car, human, dog, etc.
  • Have students take their tangrams home and encourage family members to work together to build a rocket. Have students trace the family creation and bring it back to class to share.
  • Introduce or review the concept of symmetry. Ask students to determine if the tangram rockets have symmetry. Look at individual shapes on the rocket. Decide if they are symmetrical. Look closely at the triangles. Only one is symmetrical. In looking for symmetry in squares and rectangles, encourage students to think of different ways to divide these shapes in half. Find objects in the room that are symmetrical.
  • Read a book as a class about building rockets. Examples include “Rocket” by Mike Inkpen, “Ritchie’s Rocket” by Joan Anderson, and “Mooncake” by Frank Asch. Ask students to identify the shapes used to build the rockets in the books. Compare these shapes to tangram shapes.
  • Ask students what two-dimensional shape is most related to the die. Help them see the relationship between the two-dimensional square and the three-dimensional cube (equal sides).