Cracker Tangrams

In this lesson, children will use crackers with geometric shapes to form larger shapes on homemade pattern cards.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning and geometric modeling to solve problems

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Sorting crackers by shape
  • Copying patterns
  • Using simple cracker shapes to form larger shapes

Cracker Tangrams

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Assorted cracker shapes such as circles, rectangles, squares, ovals, triangles and/or hexagons (e.g. Saltines, Ritz crackers, Cheez-Its, graham crackers, etc.)
  • Bigger bowls to hold crackers before they are sorted
  • Smaller bowls labeled with individual cracker shapes for sorting (one for each cracker shape)
  • Homemade pattern cards made from tagboard pieces (to scale for cracker sizes)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Make simple pattern cards before introducing this activity. You can use the pictures in the book, Mouse Shapes, as an example. For example, you can draw a tree with a triangle the size of a Triscuit Thin Crisp for the leaves, a rectangle trunk the size of a Club cracker, a house with a square frame the size of a Saltine, small square windows the size of Cheese-it crackers and a roof the size of a Triscuit Thin Crisp. Have fun and be creative. Make enough cards so that each child and each adult has one to work with.
  2. Put some of the crackers of different shapes together in big bowls before you call the children to the table.
  3. Read Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh.
  4. Say: “We are going to make pictures like the ones in the mouse story. But the shapes in our pictures will be made of crackers. Later today, we can eat our pictures for snack! First, we need to wash our hands, since we will be working with food.”
  5. Place the big bowls with the assorted crackers on the table.
  6. Put out as many smaller bowls (each labeled with a different shape) as you have shapes of crackers.
  7. Say: “Before we can build our cracker pictures, we need to sort our crackers.”
  8. Show the children each bowl, one at a time, and ask them if they recognize the shape picture on the bowl. If they cannot name the shape, name it for them.
  9. Say: “Put the circle crackers in the bowl with the circle, the square crackers in the bowl with the square, etc.”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Say: “We are going to use shapes to build pictures just the way the mice did. But we are going to use shape crackers to make our pictures. Everyone can pick one cracker to eat before we get started. Then we will have to wait until snack time to eat the crackers that are in our pictures.”
  2. Pass out one pattern card to each child.
  3. Ask each child to name the shapes on their cards before you get started. If a child does not know all of the shapes on the card, see if one of the other children can help the child name the shapes.
  4. Place the bowls with the sorted crackers on the table.
  5. Say: “Look at your picture and see what shapes you will need to build your picture. Take one cracker at a time to build your picture.”
  6. Move the completed cracker pictures to another location until snack time. You can take a photo of each completed board to show the children later.


Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Triangle: A pointy shape with three sides and three corners (e.g., a slice of pizza is a triangle)
  • Square: A shape with four straight sides that are the same length or size and four corners
  • Circle: A round shape that has no straight edges or corners (e.g., a wheel is a circle)
  • Rectangle: A four-sided flat shape with straight sides with interior angles that are all right angles (90°) and opposite sides that are parallel and of equal length. (e.g., a square is a special type of rectangle)
  • Oval: A stretched-out circle that is shaped like an egg
  • Hexagon: A shape with six straight sides and six corners (e.g., a stop sign is a hexagon)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Want to eat many crackers
  • Need very simple pictures with only two or three shapes
  • Need to eat the crackers in their pictures right after making them
Child care providers may:
  • Give the children the crackers that they will need for their picture cards
  • Make the pattern cards very simple, with two or three shapes
  • Let the children eat their pictures right after they make them
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Need more complex patterns on their cards
  • Want blank cards to create their own pictures
Child care providers may:
  • Make complex pattern cards
  • Give each child a blank card to create his/her own pattern or picture

Suggested Books

  • Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh (New York: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007)
  • The Shape of Things by Dayle Ann Dodds (St. Louis, MO: Turtleback, 1996)
  • Grandfather’s Shape Story by Brian Sargent (Chicago, IL: Children’s Press, 2007)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Bring out the giant wooden pattern blocks and let the children combine the shapes to make new shapes. Younger children may combine random shapes while older children may use the blocks to build pictures like they did with the crackers.
  • Cut out shapes from construction paper that are the same size as those used with the cracker pattern cards. Let the children sort the shapes in the shape bowls and use the shapes on the pattern cards. They can also use the shapes to create their own pictures on blank paper.

Web Resources

Comment on this lesson