For about a year now, I’ve been volunteering at a local elementary school to teach chess to kids in the 2nd through 5th grade. Over that time I’ve come to realize that teaching young children is not at all like teaching an adult. I could tell you that a knight moves either two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally, jumping over other pieces during the move, and only capturing on the last square. You might need me to repeat that once or twice, or perhaps show you one example, but then you’d remember the move and be ready to move forward in about a minute’s time. You’d pick this move up quickly, but most kids need a lot of repetition and practice to remember a move as complicated as the shape of the letter “L.”
There are loads of chess curricula and lesson plans available for purchase that can help you teach the moves and strategies of chess, and they usually come at a pretty steep price; First Move, for instance, charges more than five hundred dollars per classroom for their clever ideas. I tip my king at that kind of expense personally, and the school at which I’m volunteering isn’t that resource-rich. Todd Barstow’s Teaching Chess in the 21st Century is a more affordable guide (at about $15) with handy strategies for incorporating mathematics instruction, but even with this book and Murray Chandler’s charming Chess for Children, I still find myself looking for more ways to help kids who are eager but a bit more slow on the uptake practice their moves.
Today I gave the kids a game I’ve drawn up called Chess Bingo. It’s a pretty simple exercise, but I found it to be effective. Each student gets a sheet of paper with a chess board printed on it, complete with the letter-number system for identifying ranks, files and individual squares. Click on the thumbnail for a sample:
Just as different regular bingo boards contain different sets of numbers placed under different letters, so different chess bingo sheets have different chess pieces placed in different locations. As an instructor reads out the positions of individual chess squares (“a4″… “e7”), students cross out those positions if the chess piece (or pieces) placed on their board could move to that position in one turn. A student wins the Chess Bingo game by crossing out all the positions to which the pieces on his/her board could possibly move in one turn. (In the sample sheet above, that set of positions is a4, b4, c4, e4, f4, g4, h4, d1, d2, d3, d5, d6, d7, d8.) When a student calls out “Bingo!” play pauses for the instructor to check the student’s work for accuracy and completeness. To turn this into a learning moment for the whole class, reproduce the student’s sheet and responses on a demonstration board (or by using an opaque projector) and ask the rest of the class to evaluate it.
By playing Chess Bingo, students practice three chess skills: referring to positions by location, learning the moves of pieces and … learning that as in life, chess is not fair. As more and more students win Chess Bingo and share their work with the rest of the class), smart students will object: “Tina didn’t have to fill in as many squares to win as I did!” Turn the outrage into insight: what pieces tend to have more squares to which they can move? These are the more powerful pieces (think Queen). When pieces are placed on what squares do they tend to have more possible destinations? These are the more powerful locations (think middle of the board). Students will learn that in chess power comes from opportunity, that power can be quantified, and that it’s unevenly distributed. Chess starts to sound like a PoliSci class, which isn’t surprising considering the origin of the game.
If you find yourself working with an elementary chess club in a resource-poor school, I hope you find this Chess Bingo exercise to be of some use. Below are some links to some Chess Bingo sheets in png format:
Chess Bingo sheet 1
Chess Bingo sheet 2
Chess Bingo sheet 3
Chess Bingo sheet 4
Chess Bingo sheet 5
Chess Bingo sheet 6
Chess Bingo sheet 7
Chess Bingo sheet 8
Chess Bingo sheet 9
Chess Bingo sheet 10
Chess Bingo sheet 11