Friday, October 07, 2005

Teaching Chess to Kids, Part II

Thursdays have become my big chess day. At night, of course, I attend the Kenilworth Chess Club (now starting at 7:00 p.m. with lectures by NM Scott Massey on the ending or FM Steve Stoyko on the opening). And from 4:30-6:00 p.m. I teach chess to fourteen 6- to 8-year-old boys (up from a dozen two weeks ago).

The chess teaching is fun, but (as you can imagine) keeping that many young kids focused on chess can be quite a challenge. I have a greater than ever admiration for grade school teachers now! So far, both of our meetings have ended by letting the kids go out to play kickball.

I have decided upon some pedagogical principles to make things work: (1) start simple and add complexity one lesson at a time, (2) make sure there is both instruction and active participation at every meeting, and (3) give them homework but make it optional (with the hope that competitive instincts will drive them to study on their own, when they learn that "knowledge is power").

I'm sure nothing that I'm doing is new, but it has been effective, so I'd like to share it. In our first lesson, I covered all of the pieces and we ended up playing "Sumo Kings" (where the object is to use the opposition to force your way across the board or stop your opponent from doing so) and "Pawn Battle" (basically eight pawns versus eight pawns). This time I showed them some King and Pawn endings and it was "King and Pawn Battle."

diagram King and Pawn Battle.
Whoever SAFELY Queens First Wins.

I entertained them first by setting up my laptop on a projector and demonstrating with Fritz on the big screen. We started with how pawns queen and I showed them the "square" in which a pawn can be captured by the King or not. Then we did a simple K+P v. K ending involving the opposition. Then I introduced "King and Pawn Battle," using the "New">"Set-up Position" feature of Fritz to set up the Kings and the Pawns as shown above. I then had two of the better players try their hand one at a time against Fritz while the others watched and kibitzed (extensively and excitedly). I was amazed at how quickly Fritz could win these games! What I most wanted to demonstrate to them is that the most powerful piece on the board is the King--not the pawns! So move the King like Fritz moves his!

We then had a "King and Pawn Battle" tournament, with winners playing winners and losers playing losers, until we had an undefeated champion who won a prize (a beginner's chess set with explanation cards). Since we have not yet reviewed Q+K delivering mate to lone King (next time perhaps), I said that the goal of the game was to make a Queen. I should have said that the goal was to make a Queen that you can keep and which is not immediately captured, since a couple kids later misinterpreted the rule to mean that simply queening, whether safe or not, wins. I obviously am still learning!

Next time I will review and talk about Bishops and Knights, then play "King, Pawns, and Minor Pieces Battle," allowing them to choose two minors for their army (B+B, B+N, or N+N). And, if time allows, we will learn the mate with K+Q vs. K.

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