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Te Kotuituinga Mātauranga Pura o Aotearoa

Teaching Tactile Interpretation of 2-Dimensional Shapes, Pictures and Maps


Child's hands on wooden board with 2-D shapes

Figure 1 Identifying tactile 2-D shapes

James is an 8-year-old braille user who is in a mainstream setting at his local primary school.

Sue Fletcher, BLENNZ Resource Teacher: Vision, describes how she introduced James to tactile drawings, maps and diagrams using a Sewell Drawing Kit. In figure 1 James is identifying tactile 2D shapes.

The purpose of the programme was to extend James ability to interpret 2-dimensional images to assist his understanding of maps and of maths and science diagrams used later in secondary schools.

What is happening now?

James hands locating shapes on 2D wooden board

Figure 2: James locating shapes and naming the position

James is working on identifying shapes in a given position on the page and on naming the position when the shape is named, e.g. “What shape is at the top left of the page?”

The student must be able to name shapes and simple pictures even when they have been rotated 900 or 1800.  He must be able to name and describe the shape or picture that he is feeling.

In figure 2 James is locating shapes and naming the position.

Prerequisite skills

James hands moving figure to the left

Figure 3: James is turning left and right on a map

The student needed to be able to scan a page efficiently with 2 hands and be able to recognize a variety of 2-dimensional geometric shapes and pictures.

James needed to understand the concept of right and left and be able to locate right and left on a person or mannequin facing them.

Figure 3: turning left and right on a map

Possible next steps

  • Extend student’s ability to follow, and move his hands along a simple tactile map.
  • Extend knowledge of whether he needs to turn left or right on a horizontal map to find a named location.
  • Introduce graphs; bar graphs and pie graphs.
  • Develop an understanding of more complex maths diagrams including dissected circles, squares and triangles, and aiming the fraction of a shape that is shaded.
  • Use a tactile map in a ‘real’ setting.
  • Use tactile drawings to solve maths problems.

Teaching methods and strategies

  • The understanding of tactile shapes began in pre-school with toy animals, vehicles and plastic attribute blocks.  James quickly learned to identify and orientate these items correctly.
  • After hearing Prof B. Marek’s workshop at the 2013 SPEVI conference I began to use the Sewell Drawing kit in school to ascertain whether James could consistently identify 2-D circles, squares, triangles, hexagons etc.
  • I asked James to draw a pirate ship, a tree and a dragon on his tactile drawing board (a wooden board covered by a metal mesh.  When a student draws on paper on the mesh, with a crayon, it forms a tactile image.)  This showed me that he understood how to represent individual parts of a whole item and how to join the parts to create a drawing.
  • I then moved onto the stylized drawing of a person and determined whether James could tell me what the person in the picture was doing.  We discussed how we can tell in a drawing whether the person is standing, walking, hopping, etc, and how to tell which way the person is facing.
  • I next presented a page with several drawings on it and asked James to tell me what was at the ‘middle – right side’, or the ‘bottom – left side’.  He was also asked to tell me the ‘position’ of a specific drawing.  I used a drawing of a placemat, plate, spoon, fork, cup, sausages, peas and chips to describe where specific items were on the mat.
  • The next step was to check whether James could locate left and right on a person facing him; James did not have that concept established so we worked on that with another adult and then with a small doll with moveable arms and legs.  This concept is not yet consistent.
  • When I introduced a simple map as in figure 3 James was able to follow the map to locate named items but could not tell me whether he was turning right or left at each corner; this then became our first major teaching point.

Learning adaptations

I chose to use a Sewell Drawing Kit (a firm rubber board onto which you clip a thin plastic sheet. When you draw on the plastic with a ball point pen you form a tactile image), as this was already available in James’ school. This kit allowed me to create immediate images and add to the images as issues arose during our discussion. The plastic pages are readily available from the Blind Foundation.

The tactile wooden drawing board used with a crayon was another option; both of these items are cheaper and more immediate than the PIAF machine and swell paper. I also used a small boy doll with moveable head, hips, knees and shoulders, and a 20cm mannequin with all joints moveable.

These models were used to practice locating left and right on another figure, and to place the model in a variety of positions and then to imitate that position with James’ own body. This helped his understanding of the various shapes our body can make.


This teaching programme was developed from first listening to and then reading articles by, Professor Boguslaw Marek.  He states that the purpose of teaching tactile graphics is to develop “the ability to interpret spatial relations between objects, as well as the relation between the child and surrounding objects” and “the ability to interpret the relation between three-dimensional objects and the two-dimensional representations.”

Assessment of this programme is largely by recording observations as we move through each stage.

Useful Links

Learning resources

Sewell Drawing Kit with ball-point pen
Small doll or mannequin with moveable joints

More information

Email us at BLENNZ Online for more information about this subject. We will link you up with either the author of this post or another BLENNZ colleague with whom you can continue your conversation.

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