Teaching a class with children with different skill levels can seem quite daunting. Chess coaches facing this challenge have devised interesting tricks over the years to stimulate inexperienced students while keeping the advanced ones focused. Here are some ideas and activities that you can use to keep your classroom buzzing.
- Focus on activities that allow those of different levels to learn different things (e.g., the Pawn Game and Domination – In the pawn game, beginning students focus on how the pieces move and capture and advanced students learn about pawn structure. In Domination, both groups improve their board visualization skills).
- Present the entire group with an activity, but introduce challenges for more advanced players. Here are some activities with specific examples to illustrate:
Introduce a time constraint:
Domination: Players can use a clock with only a minute or two for each side or less time for a more advanced player.
Make the activity more difficult in some other way:
Pawn Mower: Give more advanced students puzzles with more pawns on the board.
Checkmate and other puzzles: You can give more challenging puzzles to some students or just provide puzzles with a range of difficulty. More advanced students will zip through or skip the easy ones and slow down when they hit puzzles that provide the right amount of challenge.
- Use peer-learning. Peer instruction is a time tested approach. It’s well documented that students often learn best from those who are just a little more advanced than they are. It’s important not to overuse this approach or advanced students will feel that they aren’t getting what they need and beginning students can start to feel ‘one-down’. However, mixed in with other activities, this can be a powerful technique. To use, pick something specific that you want the advanced students to teach others and provide detailed instructions. To be most effective, it should be a planned activity, not something general like “teach them how to play”.
- Assign students different roles during activities. This concept can be applied to many activities. Here is one example:
Relay: Divide the class into teams with roughly equal total chess ability. Each team decides on each move together. Team members take turns making moves on the main board or less experienced students can be assigned the role of making the move. This will allow them to get experience seeing and making good moves and hearing the rationale for each move discussed. More advanced students will get the advantage of playing against the best moves of the other team. You can add opportunities for more beginner roles by setting up three boards: one in the center for all of the main moves and then one on each side for each team to use to analyze their next moves. The various roles can include making moves on the main board, making moves on the team boards, taking notation, keeping track of who has taken a turn, etc.
- Do some activities where other skills are more important than chess level. A few examples include: reading a book and make an edible chess set, doing a chess craft such as having students making their own chess sets, performing academically related activities like this chess-math activity, or watching a chess-related video. These types of activities have the added benefit of helping students build confidence in the classroom by emphasizing different strengths.
- Use stations in your classroom – Using stations requires some advanced planning but can be a fun way to make sure every student gets a chance to have tailored learning experiences. To do this, you will set up different areas of your classroom for each activity. You might choose to have a puzzle station, a lesson station, a craft station and a station to play games. Kids then rotate through each station in leveled groups, so that each activity can be tailored to the skill level of the students in each group. See this blog post for more detailed instructions.
- Have students analyze each other’s games. Anyone who knows how to play chess and notate games (click to read about how to and why) can find an interesting move or blunder in another person’s game. You may want to encourage students to look for three good moves and one thing they could have done differently to structure the activity. Advanced students can provide more detailed feedback in written format or by using chess software (an additional learning opportunity).
To heighten the benefits, provide instruction about how to give and receive feedback productively and follow up with a discussion about how that part of the activity went.