Have you been thinking of how you can start a chess club? Two years ago, I inherited our school’s chess club, and panicked. I knew nothing about chess, truly nothing; not what the pieces were called, how they moved, nor the objective of the game. I definitely did not have a clue how to teach or how to run a chess club.To make matters worse, the students, I’d be working with, had been playing for years under an excellent teacher.
I had no idea how I was going to pull it off, but luckily I found out before summer break, and spent the entire summer poring over all things chess and trying to figure out not how to start a chess club in my case, but how to run and teach a chess club. I read, joined online chess communities, and played daily for at least an hour. I also looked over the notes of the teacher I was replacing and tried to determine how she started the chess club, how she ran the chess club and how she taught chess. She had been so good at running the chess club though, that she had not recorded much I could follow, so I realized I would need to come up with my own ideas on how to run and teach the chess club.
I became very obsessed with chess, even though I lost consistently for weeks and months. I loved the challenge of not knowing, the steep learning curve and the competitiveness of trying to out think the other person. I played against the computer, on the lowest level of difficulty of course, and I played against players from several different countries.
I took notes on opening strategies, end game strategies, skewers, forks, the Queen's Raid and many other chess tactics and strategies. I tried to learn as much as I could about how to teach children the game of chess, the best resources to use and how to provide meaningful experiences with chess.
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What is Chess?
According to Lexico.com, chess is a game of strategy and skill played by two players on a checkered board that alternates between dark and light colors. In chess, each player starts the game with 16 pieces. Those 16 pieces are then moved according to detailed rules and procedures to capture and attack the opponent's pieces. The goal in chess is to place your opponent's King in check (make a move that attacks your opponent's King) and then checkmate (a move where the King that has been attacked has no escape).
When the school year started, I took a deep breath and took on the mantle of being my school’s chess club sponsor/coach, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my educational career. When I took over our club, I had no clue what I was doing, especially not how to run or teach the chess club and we had about 20 consistent members in grades 3 to 5.
Today, I am a well oiled machine and know intimately all the details of how to start, how to run and how to teach in a chess club and we have approximately 70 members in grades 2 to 5. Our team, initially, only played against each other and participated in an annual school level chess tournament, but this past school year, we competed outside of our building and hosted our own chess tournament as well. I have also been able over the last 3 years to help other teachers learn and walk them through how to start a chess club, how to run and teach their chess club as well.
Several of our players are students who didn’t belong to any other group in the school, and struggled, before chess club, with a wide range of school issues such as limited social interactions with peers and staff, behavioral problems, and poor grades. Now, they look forward to coming to chess club, actively monitor their behavior, and work hard to maintain their grades, so that they can continue to be a part of our team. Chess has the potential to transform students in your school, and here are the top 5 reasons why you need a chess club:
1. Chess Provides STEM/STEAM Experiences
If your school is like most others in the country, they are working to include STEM/STEAM opportunities, and a chess club checks that box in a major way. Learning and understanding about the chess board and how pieces move will develop mathematical skills. Students gain exposure to mathematical terms and spatial reasoning as they become exposed to all things chess.
Chess can also be used to teach additional mathematical skills such as geometry, multiplication, numeracy and calculation. There are many researchers and articles that explore the relationship between Chess and Mathematics. Unsure of where to start and what lessons to teach in a chess club ? Here is a sample of lessons on how to use chess to teach mathematics.
2. Chess Helps to Develop Problem Solving Skills
Trying to arrive at, and avoid check and checkmate provides a high level of exposure to problem solving. Students learn to be flexible and adjust under pressure, think multiple moves ahead of where they are in the game, anticipate and plan for their opponent’s tactics, and all in a fun and positive environment.
Everywhere you look, nowadays, there is an emphasis on teaching skills that will empower students to be prepared for unknown future careers. The skill of problem solving is typically at the top of the list. Merriam Webster defines problem solving as the ability to solve issues through a specific process.
Chess nurtures the skill of problem solving through the constant back and forth of attacking and defending and trying to out think the person sitting on the other side of the board. It is especially efficient at nurturing that skill in the end of game strategies to find and execute checkmate.
3. Chess is Inexpensive
Chess is also an excellent experience to offer since it is relatively inexpensive, and doesn’t come with the hefty price tag most other clubs, especially STEM start-ups, do. You can start a club with a few boards and chess pieces, some tables, and chairs. As far as teaching materials go, there are numerous ones to choose from. Your school library will probably have some offerings.
Personally, I like Steve Schneider because his materials are well written, simple, and again, cost effective. They give detailed information on how to teach in a chess club. If there’s absolutely no room in your school budget to purchase these items, check out Donors Choose or your PTA/PTO.
Later on, or in the beginning, if you’re able, you may want to consider items such as chess clocks, chess notation pads (individual sheets can be printed for free online), and a demonstration board, but they are not immediate necessities.
4. Chess Teaches Sportsmanship
Chess cultivates sportsmanship in a non-traditional and non-“athletic way.” Students learn that you can compete with someone mentally, and discover how exciting it is to try to out think or outmaneuver an opponent. They learn to have a positive attitude, irrespective of a win or a loss, because each game, even those that end in a loss, helps them improve their game play.
In my club, sportsmanship is a critical factor in how I run our chess club. We do a handshake and say something positive like “Good game” after every game. The awesome part is they actually mean both. Even students that lose consistently have a positive attitude because with each loss, they discover new approaches and become determined not to lose in that way again.
5. Chess will Diversify the Clubs at your School
The last reason your school needs a chess club is one I alluded to in the beginning, to diversify your school’s club offerings. For many students, especially in elementary school, they’ve never been exposed to competitions that required anything other than athletic skill.
In recent years, schools have worked to offer reading bowls, art clubs, bands, spelling bees etc., and a chess club would be a great addition to whatever other offerings you currently have in place.
All a student needs to join their school’s chess club is a desire to learn. I hope you step out on a limb, like I did, and enter a world of pawns, knights, and kings. You won’t regret it, and your students and school will thank you.
A Chess Club Description
Now that I've completed the hard task of convincing you to start a chess club at your school, let's dive into learning about a chess club and how to start one. Additionally, we'll talk about how to run and teach a chess club one on your campus.
A chess club is a group of people interested in the game of chess who come together to learn about the game and to play it together. Chess Clubs can be formed for all age groups and skills levels. In my school, our chess club is split into two groups. I have a novice group and an advanced group. My novice chess club members meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, before the school day begins from 7:45-8:15 to learn the game of chess.
The novice class is made up of students who have never played the game before or are unfamiliar with the pieces, but have a desire to learn about chess and how to play chess. Sometimes it will include children with very spotty knowledge of chess or who have learned incorrectly and need to be properly educated on the rules of the game.
My advanced chess club members meet on Thursdays and Fridays, also at the beginning of the day, from 7:45-8:15. This group's members are students who went through my training in the novice group and learned all the chess pieces, how they move, rules of the game and tactics and strategy. Some of the these students were correctly taught by parents, grandparents or other family members as well.
How to Start a Chess Club
If you've made it this far, you're not wondering how do I start a chess club. This can have a variety of approaches, but here are my suggested tips on how to start a chess club:
1. Start reading about chess.
2. Join an online community or use online lessons. ChessKid.com is perfect for beginning adults or students. It contains lessons on each piece and has opportunities to play and practice.
3. Obtain permission from your administrative staff to locate a space in your school, to source or solicit supplies and to determine if you have enough student interest.
4. Send out interest letters to see how many students are interested.
5. Decide on a time of day to host the club and a start date.
6. Fund raise or ask for donations to purchase supplies (board, pieces, bags at minimum. You can also add notation pads, clocks and a display board and pieces, if funds allow).
7. Create rules to govern your chess club and decide how you want to run each chess club meeting.
8. Create a roster of students.
9. Decide on your method of instruction. I follow the outline in Chess Basics Scholastic that can be found on Amazon.
10. Take a deep breath and have fun teaching children an amazing game that will enrich their lives for years to come.
How to Run a Chess Club
Some of the essential items that I use to keep my club afloat and how I use them include :
1. An updated roster: students sign in for each club meeting and this allows me to keep up with the size of the club and needs as far as supplies.
2. Assemble a cart with all our chess club supplies: Our club has drastically grown over the years and has had to be relocated from my classroom to our data room and now finally to our STEM lab. Keeping all our chess club supplies on a cart has been very helpful as we have transitioned from room to room.
3. Establish chess club rules up front on how you want to run your chess club and review them often: I introduce our club rules with a Google Slide presentation. This slide covers how students enter, where they put their supplies, signing in, preparing for that day's lesson, getting materials to begin playing and rules of sportsmanship and behavior while in chess club. i revisit it at several times during the year to make sure all students know how our chess club is run.
4. Identify Junior Officers: Junior Officers are students who exemplify the expectations and behaviors I want students in our chess club to exhibit. Each year I select 2-3 Junior Officers to assist with our chess club. These students, who are chosen to become Junior Officers (I send home a permission form to gain parent consent), help to teach novice students, monitor game play and assist in setting up and breaking down the chess club before and after each meeting. I literally could not run our club without them.
5. Allow as much time as possible for students to touch and engage with the chess board and pieces. Let's face it, they are not there to listen to you lecture or show videos or any such thing. They are there to learn to play chess and to play chess. Yes, it's important to teach students how to play, but chunk your lessons carefully, depending on how long you have for meeting times to ensure students are able to learn something new and then try it out.
For example, while learning about the pawn, students are allowed to start playing after a quick mini lesson with just pawns on the board, so they are engaged and getting to touch pieces.
Where to Start a Chess Club?
Are you wondering where you can start a chess club? Honestly, the answer is wherever you'd like. A chess club would be perfect at your school, in your church, in your community and even on a small scale in your home.
My son was two when I started teaching him how to play chess. He recognizes most of the pieces and knows some basic rules like pawns in front of each other are blocked. I've also taught and play with my husband, so I guess we are a family chess club.
I truly hope you decide to begin a chess club at your school and in any other location you believe would benefit. I will be posting more detailed, follow up posts on all the steps, letters and other resources, including my rules presentation that I utilize in my chess club.
I'll also share how I host our annual school chess tournament with the members of my school's chess club, how I raised funds for us to compete at a tournament last year and how, last school year, I also hosted our first annual external chess tournament, where other schools and students came to my school and competed against my team.
Don't forget to pin and or share this post with others who could benefit from having a chess club in their school.