James Madison
QA76 Chess Club System
Materials for Grade School Chess Clubs

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Volunteers
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Welcome!  These materials get you started in running a grade school chess club.  It is based on my own experience teaching kids in grades 3 through 6.  You are free to use it as you wish.  All recommendations for improvement welcome.  For more information, please email me at madjim@bigfoot.com.

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Homework

  • #1. Points for Pieces - Kids quickly get the idea of points and can understand their performance in the game based on point as one consideration.

  • #2. Grid Reading - Grid reading can be a bit tricky, but we need it for several of the upcoming homeworks, and any self-training they do will use the grid system.

  • #3. Castling - Castling is important to do early in almost every game. Even the basic notion of how and in what order to touch the pieces is inportant.

  • #4. Stalemate - Stalemate is a painful way to tie a game when you're ahead, which kids do with surprising frequency. We want to avoid that disappointment.

  • #5. En Passant - Kids have a brutal time understanding and working through this uncommon move. But they have to work through it and know what it is.

  • #6. Undefended Pieces - Just keeping your pieces protected is a basic chess tactic. Kids love to move pieces with undefended abandon. This tries to give them focus.

  • #7. Queen Checkmate - Well matched kids can often come down to kings and one queen--then they chase each other around the board forever. This tries to teach them bring the game to a close.


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Volunteers

  • Coordinator Guide - The various ways a person assisting in the chess club can help make it a smooth and productive learning experience.


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Rating

  • Elo Rating Calculator - Chess rating calculator using the Elo system. Enter the game outcomes after each club meeting to give the kids an accumulated rating within the club.


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Learnings

These are things I have learned in running a grade school chess club that relate to managing 3rd to 6th graders as they play chess, versus the core of the game of chess itself.
  • Give them ratings! - Track their games and give them intra-club ratings.  You can use the Elo Rating Calculator available on this site if you don't have a more preferred way  When I tried to run the club not doing this, things seemed to just be adrift.  With ratings, the kids are exicted every week to see where they stand.  And oh boy, do they know where they stand--the competitive little buggers.  Yet at the same time, I've had little issue with those with low ratings being upset.  And I won't tolerate anyone bragging about how they're better than anyone else, so we've had no issue there.  Rating the club gives an energy and focus that is core to its operation.  I highly recommend it.

  • Manage the touching of pieces - Grade schoolers need the very simple notion of how they touch pieces spelled out for them and monitored.  I found this surprising when I started teaching this age.  Not being able to take back a move once you take your hand off a piece is commonly known, and this is true in chess too.  That's easy enough.  But chess also has a rule that once you touch a piece, you must move that piece.  This catches many kids off guard, but I feel the need to enforce it in case they ever go into a tournament.  When teaching castling, I've had to physically hold one arm so they learned to castle with one hand.  Unguided, they love to just grab the rook and the King and start hopping them around--which gets very confusing for me as the coach if they get it wrong.  As of this writing, I have not introduced the notion of having to say "adjust" before adjusting your own pieces.  I've also had to ask repeatedly that they keep their pieces cleary within the square.  I've had a number of disputes where I wan't sure where the piece actually was.  I'm ready for that one to not be used often and jumped on often by the opponents of the ones who forget.

  • 20 minute time limit - When I started, I would let games go until someone got checkmate.  But young kids who are learning have a hard time getting checkmate.  The idea of "boxing in" the king, while also not actually taking it, is a bit conceptual.  I would find games dragging on and on with the kids just chasing each other's kings around the board.  I then implemented a 20 minutes time limit.  That is about the time it takes for one of them to win if they are going to at all, or for one of them to have a clear advantage over the other.  At 20 minutes, most games are not done, so I go around for the remander and declare the winner, or a draw if their game is balanced.  The result is that we avoid the boredome and frustrating that comes from the long games, and they are both happier and better behaved.

  • Between game exercises - Kids will finish their games at different rates.  As they wait between games, they can get impatient, bother other kids, get noisy, and so on.  To address this, give them challenging between game exercises that keep them focused and help them learn important techniques.  Stay tuned, I'll be publishing a document for this purpose.


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