Try Zentangle with your Students

I don't usually ever write about art, but recently a friend introduced me to Zentangle. I thought it was fun, so I ordered some materials and when my soon-to-be step daughter came over the next weekend, she was thrilled because she had learned to tangle from her fifth grade teacher. So, I thought some of you might want to try it with your older students.*

Before you run away screaming, the first thing you need to know is that it is not nearly as difficult as it looks. In fact it is fairly easy to make some really cool designs while learning about patterns, lines, and shading. This activity would be great for indoor recess, free time, read-aloud time (if you allow students to draw), and possibly even to calm down an agitated student as it tends to be a calming activity. 

I am going to give you the basics here, but if you want to really get into it, there are several books and many websites to help you along the way. There are tons of ideas for patterns (and how to draw them) or you can just make up your own. 

So here are the steps. 

The easiest way to draw a Zentangle is to make it in a 3.5 x 3.5 inch square. Use decent paper so that your pens don't bleed or show through on the other side. And speaking of pens, these ones work really well and are the ones that the Zentangle folks recommend. 

Begin by making four dots in the corners of the paper and connecting them to make a square. Don't use a ruler. Zentangle is not about being perfect. The Zentangle folks say to use a pencil for this part, but I was taught to use a pen and I still prefer it that way. But a pencil might make you feel more comfortable with the process.

Next, draw some lines to divide the square into sections. These lines are called a string and they are freeform. Here is one I drew: 
Then start filling in the sections with designs or patterns. You can get ideas for patterns from books and from the web. This site has a ton of patterns with step-by-step instructions for drawing each one. Or you an just make up your own or a combination of both.

Here is the same one with all of the spaces filled.

When you have filled in all of your spaces, you will want to use a pencil to shade parts of your design to create some depth.

Simple, fun, and kind of addicting. Give it a try, either for your own sanity or with your students! Looking for a place to start? This book will tell you everything you need to know.

*Please note that I am not a licensed Zentangle instructor (yes, they exist) and in fact am only a beginner. There is a whole 11 step process that the creators of Zentangle advocate. This is just a little starter course for those who might be interested. It is all you really need to create Zentangles, but if you want to go deeper, get a book or take a class. 


TheElementary MathManiac said...

I am not very artistic but this looks like something I could manage!

The Math Maniac

Heather W said...

It's so funny that you posted this! About two months ago we had a student teacher introduce zentangle to my 6th grade class. They.are.OBSESSED! Seriously! Any chance they get to Zentangle, they are! They absolutely love it! Some of the girls even did Christmas zentangles, which were awesome in their own way! Such a great, easy to follow post. I will be sharing! :)

Melanie Miday-Stern said...

Head some about Zentangles then, I looked it up. It is pretty interesting. Wanting to do this myself to destress!

Jen said...

Can I use fine tipped Crayola markers? I can't afforded to buy enough packs of the fancy markers but don't want to spoil the effect.

Krista said...

I would love to do this, but do not have time to do anything extra that is not connected to curriculum. Ideas?

Lisa Blacksten said...

The funny thing is that I have done this since I was very little. I never knew it was something that actually had a name! I even taught my children to do this when they were young--just to doodle and be creative.

Rachel L said...

Jen - I would just use whatever you have available. Anything is better than nothing. I just did it for a group art project on big pieces of clothe with fabric pastels and it was fine. Maybe use bigger squares.

Krista - If you spend half an hour teaching it, kids could do it at indoor recess, during read-aloud, or just for fun at home.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

Fantastic! Thanks for posting this. Just placed an order with Amazon!

Anonymous said...

This is such fun and so easy. It is so easy to pick up to work on when time permits. Lovely pastime and thanks for giving me the basics to get started!

Diana said...

Krista asked about curriculum connections - I fit in a lot of math art while imbedding some math skills that we need to cover. We do line designs and students have to mark all the quarter inches on the ruler first and check a partner's work. Then they are allowed to do the cool design. We do starburst drawings and measure the angles with a protractor before coloring. You could probably use some geometry skills with this too. It's a very cool idea!

Dawn of DBA said...

Just wanted to note that the frame and string, when following the traditional method, should be done in pencil. These lines are guides. The artist is therefore not confined to them as you are once they are entered in ink. You will find tiles that are pre-strung. Those strings are "penciled" in if you will in a light gray. This. allows sections to be combined if desired. Children catch on to this quickly in my experience.

Dawn Jackson, CZT

Dawn of DBA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dawn of DBA said...

Oh, I also meant to mention that there is as special kit & curriculum available through a CZT or directly from a Zentangle, Inc. at

Kenya Weary said...

Is the black and white for effect? I was wondering if anyone had ever used the black against colored paper.

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