Activity Cards

If you’ve ever taught in primary school chess clubs you’ll be aware of the problem – or at least one of the problems.

Two kids finish a game with, say, 10 minutes to go before the end of the session. They don’t have time for another game so they start chatting or interfering with other games which are still in progress. What do you get them to do?

Sometimes I’ll have some puzzle sheets with me. As most of the children in primary school clubs play to a very low standard these will need to be simple one-movers to give them the chance to get some of them right.

I’ve recently invested in a laminator which enables me to produce laminated activity sheets which I can take from school to school. There are lots of possible activity sheets you could produce. I’ve started with checkmate skill sheets, covering the basic checkmates: two rooks, king and queen, king and rook, two bishops and bishop + knight. There are also endgame challenges: these include king and 8 pawns each along with various positions where White has to exploit a material advantage. Then, mainly for less experienced players, there are Capture the Flag games: positions without kings where you win in one of three ways: a) you get a pawn to the end safely (capturing the flag), b) you take all your opponent’s pieces or c) you stalemate your opponent. The positions I use include 8 pawns each, queen against 8 pawns, rook against 5 pawns and bishop against 3 pawns. In each of these activities the players are expected to set the position up and play them out over the board.

Some of the more simple skills here are what children should really be doing before joining a chess club. Others are vital for children wishing to play competitive chess outside their school club.

There’s much else that could be done – and will be done when I get round to it. Simple chess variants, for example losing chess or Scotch chess (White plays 1 move, Black 2 moves, White 3 moves and so on). Simple problems or endgame studies for more advanced players. Puzzles such as the Knight’s Tour and the Eight Officers Puzzle (place eight men on the board so that none of them are on the same rank, file or diagonal). Opening cards with the first few moves of a popular opening variation. Puzzle sheets with several tactics or checkmate puzzles on them (perhaps with the answers on the back).

Already, after only the first week of using these, several children have asked me if they can take one of the cards home. The answer is ‘no’, but I guess I could have non-laminated copies of some of the activities available to hand out. I’ll also, at some point, make them available for download on one of my websites.

There are other ways in which they could be developed. I’m considering putting a difficulty rating on each card (for instance the two rooks checkmate might have a difficulty rating of 1 while the bishop and knight checkmate would be 9 or 10) so that children can find activities appropriate for their level. I could possibly use the back of each card to give further information, and, in the case of some of the endgame challenges, a sample game.

As always, the trick will be to get the parents involved. If children play chess at home with family members they could be doing these activities at home as well as just playing games.

If you’d like copies of what I’ve done so far, or have any ideas about how these cards could be developed further please feel free to contact me via one of my websites or on social media.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.