At the Chalkface

On Thursday I finally did my first classroom chess lesson on behalf of Chess in Schools and Communities.

In fact I was using my own personal curriculum, which is rather different from the original CSC curriculum I wrote a few years ago. You can see what is, in theory, the first lesson here.

I was taking a Year 3 class of about 30 7-year-olds in a primary school in Hounslow, an ethnically diverse West London suburb close to Heathrow Airport. Their class teacher was in the room delivering the lesson with me and there were also two teaching assistants present.

After I was introduced to the class I spoke first about games of luck and games of skill, and asked them to tell me games they played in each category. Most of them had some understanding of the difference. I explained that you win games of skill by making good decisions, and how making good decisions is important in life as well as in games. I then showed them the different pieces, telling the children their correct names. We also talked about the chess board, what they saw on it and how many small squares there were.

I asked their class teacher about coordinates. He said that it was something that Year 3 usually studied in Summer Term, but that some of them would have had some previous experience of the subject. It wouldn’t be a problem for them, and was great because it linked up with both Maths and Geography. He then took over to explain the names of the squares on the board.

The children were sitting in pairs with a board (the right way round) between each pair. We then asked them to find a white pawn and place it on e2. When they’d done this we asked them to place a black pawn on c7. This took some time as the children were talking excitedly while doing this. We then explained that the pawn could move one square forward. On its first move it had a choice of moving one or two squares forward. We told them they were going to play a game called ‘Capture the Flag’. White would play first and the winner would be the first player to get a pawn to the end of the board. They spent 5 minutes or so playing this game, swapping colours when they’d finished, while we went round the room checking that they understood the rules. Quite often they were moving pawns two squares on their second move, or moving them backwards. After they’d finished the exercise we asked them who they thought should win the game and why. Some of them had worked out that it was a race and White could win by moving the pawn two squares on the first move.

Once they’d mastered this we moved onto the second game in which the pawns start on e2 and e7. I explained another rule: that if it’s your turn and you can’t move you lose. Again they played this game for some time. Once they seemed to understand we got them to stop play and again asked them what the result would be. Some of them, but probably only a few, had worked out that Black could win by copying White’s move.

The form teacher was very impressed with this game. He said it was just the sort of thing he was looking for and would use it in other maths lessons. He told the class that while it was great if you knew your times tables off by heart, maths was also about making statements and testing them out, learning to make general rules, learning to see patterns, learning to make predictions, learning to make choices, learning to think ahead. He saw all of these in this simple game and was eager to use it in his other maths classes. He added to me that he had intended to teach his young son chess by showing him all the moves in one lesson, but now he’s going to use our methods instead.

By now the hour was nearly up so the form teacher summarised the lesson and got the children to put the pieces and boards away.

Next week we’ll be introducing the pawn capture and adding a few more pawns to the board. It’s probably going to take 5 or 6 weeks to complete the work on pawns and move on to other pieces.

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.