How do I keep pandemonium from breaking loose in my chess class?
February 8, 2006 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I've just started teaching chess to a group of eight 8-year olds. For the first 40 minutes or so this usually goes swimmingly, but then pandemonium breaks loose. Can you suggest any tactics or tricks to keep their attention on chess and not on antagonizing each other?

A number of things:

I'm usually by myself, though every once and so often I get an assistant.

I've thought of reading to them, but opinions differ as to whether that would be effective.

I'm in a classroom, and I can't take them anywhere except on field trips to the town library, which would take up the entire class.

It's an afterschool program.

"End it early" and "death" are not options.

I don't have a big, mean-looking but actually quite sweet dog to bring to class.
posted by Kattullus to Education (26 answers total)
Bring other stuff for them to do when they get bored with chess? Coloring books, other board games, playing cards etc.

I think 40 minutes is about all you're going to get from 8 year olds.
posted by fshgrl at 5:20 PM on February 8, 2006

40 minutes is a long time for a group of 8 year olds to stay focussed on playing chess. You should be patted on the back for just that. I agree with fshgri, maybe bring some other activities for them to increase their "thinking skills." Or just give the kids a break to do what they want to. I mean, they just went through a day's worth of school.

Try not to make them dread their after school activity. It should be fun for them.
posted by nickerbocker at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2006

Have some reward schtick towards the end. Like, you play them all blitz and they beat you.
posted by unSane at 5:50 PM on February 8, 2006

This is more strategy than tactics, but if you wait another ten years you'll probably have better luck...
posted by kindall at 5:52 PM on February 8, 2006

40 minutes is more than your likely to get from the average group of 8 year olds. When i was teaching middle school, conventional wisdom (and experience) held that you shouldn't stick with any activity for longer than 20-30 minutes. I would guess less for younger kids.

Since your kids are, I assume, there voluntarily, you will automatically get more focused time out of them. I think that a good way to get through an hour would be to break it up. 20 minutes of chess or chess instruction, ten minutes of less focused discussion or activity. Allow them to do something that stretches their legs; Heads Up Seven Up or some such game. The internet is full of activities for any age group. Find something you think you can handle. Find a few things. You might even find chess related activities. When you try something the kids like, they will ask to do it again. Then you have a motivator. "When we finish this_______, we can do _________." Kids love goals. After 10 minutes of alternate activity, go back to chess. Then you can switch back to another alternate (or the same) activity at the end of the session if you need to, or they want to. You'll still get 40-50 minutes of chess in, and the kids will appreciate the chance to move around.

If you have the space, you may want to make a large chess board with large paper pieces and have the kids work in teams to decide what to move and where. Sitting still can be very difficult at that age, especially if they have spent the day in school being forced to learn stuff directed at high stakes testing. A big game of cooperativevchess might be cool.

Hope that helps.
posted by Seamus at 5:52 PM on February 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

End chess after about 30-40 minutes and spend the rest of the time doing logic puzzles and games. They make books for all ages, and rewards of reasonably healthy snacks (fruit leather is delicious) would go over well, and keep them interested. The critical thinking skills they learn from this will help them with their chess game.
posted by Loto at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2006

Or bring a big basket of amazingly yummy-looking candy, and put it on the desk, then put it on your desk and say nothing about it for the entire class. At the end, pelt reward the quiet ones with candy, and announce why they received it. Rinse, Repeat.
posted by bkudria at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2006

I might be wrong, but most schools don't teach 8-year-olds for more than 40 minutes at a time. Heck, in secondary school, we only went for 50 minute stretches.

So why not have 15 minutes of warm up -- maybe some more games and activities that pick up on chess concepts but ease them into sitting still. Then teach for 30 minutes. Then have them pair off to have free play at chess for 15-20 minutes. Then 10-15 minutes of other games or math activities or writing about chess or reading chess books or something related.

I think the key is to make chess the core, but not necessarily the only thing. You should also consider different kinds of learning -- auditory, kinetic, visual, etc. Mix it up.

Some lesson plans:
posted by acoutu at 5:55 PM on February 8, 2006

You are a success for getting 40 minutes.
Find something else chess related to do.
Or age-appropriate brain teasers, something fun but still making them think. Or even projects that require some thinking (like the egg srop pro
Or just spend sometime getting to know them.
Or how bout a snack (I suggest pepperidge farms' chessmen...har)
Or light stretching excercises (stretch the mind, stretch the body).
You could probably do something different everytime and they would love it.
posted by TheLibrarian at 5:57 PM on February 8, 2006

Look for products aimed toward gifted and talented teachers. We used to do logic puzzles, tangrams, tests like these, analogies, etc. Maybe combine a few different ones so that kids with no word type skills won't get bored while the visually inclined enjoy themselves, etc.
posted by MadamM at 6:05 PM on February 8, 2006

I also was going to chime in that 40 minutes is actually pretty good!! Especialy for chess, you must be a great teacher! :)
What's the total time you teach them? Maybe break it up in half and let them run around and you know, be kids.
posted by like_neon at 6:05 PM on February 8, 2006

I think the other posters are on the right track, 40 minutes is already a long time for 3rd graders to pay attention to one activity, find something else to do for part of the time. Since you're teaching chess, I'd look for alternate activities that you can defend if a parent asks how they are related to chess. In particular, since spatial reasoning is important to successful chess playing, find activities that are known to exercise this skill in a child. There are lots of games that emphasize spatial reasoning, some of them have already been mentioned earlier in this thread. For that matter, music is thought to be related to spatial reasoning. You might consider incorporating music or music-related activities into your class.
posted by RichardP at 6:07 PM on February 8, 2006

You could try ending with a session of "Knightmare Chess". It's chess with the addition of cards which change the roles of the pieces, make new rules, etc. It might make things different enough to keep their attention without being too non-chess related.
posted by true at 6:47 PM on February 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

40 minutes is pretty good. They must really like chess/you must be a pretty good teacher. Break up your 40 minutes a bit with some different activities. With breaks, you could probably get in much more than 40 minutes of chess.
I wouldn't worry too much about defending your choice of break activity with parents: they'll understand that no eight-year-old can sit still and focus for 40 minutes straight. A healthy snack, and some kind of exercise is perfect: Horses, Knights and Cavaliers, Darling If You Love Me, Musical Chairs, Capture the Flag (maybe you need some more players), et al. are great for this sort of thing.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:57 PM on February 8, 2006

(5-10 minutes) Start off with a "warm-up" exercise. This should be a fun, kinda' easy logic puzzle, mind bender, or chess-related thing they can work on with a partner. Lead a discussion of the warm up and pelt those who participate with candy. Be funny.

(5 minutes) Devise chess-related kinesthetic exercises. Get the kids moving. My math teacher in 3rd grade had us do division karate, where each step in long division had a psuedo-karate move. Maybe something like this as a mnemonic device for how each piece moves? Break this out whenever the kiddies get restless.

(20 minutes) Now get to the actual chess-playing, teaching of chess playing, etc.

(5 minutes) do the karate thing again, then have a wrap-up session on what you accomplished that day. Pelt candy at participants
posted by lalalana at 6:59 PM on February 8, 2006

More ideas:

Oh yeah... maybe play a tag-type game where the kids have to wear something indicating which chess piece they are and only move according to the rules? You can make something cool up, I'm sure!

Do not hesitate to show a chess-related movie from time-to-time. You can even show 15 minutes of the movie everyday for a certain length of time.

8 year olds are not above art projects. Maybe make-your-own chess board of some kind? This, too, can be worked on a little at a time.
posted by lalalana at 7:02 PM on February 8, 2006

You don't say how long the total session is, but perhaps thinking about it in segments would make it easier: 20 minutes of regular chess, 10 minutes of blitz chess (where you run around playing against everyone), 20 more minutes of regular chess, then 10 minutes of a version of speed chess (say, you announce "move" every 20 seconds, and if a player isn't moving or has moved a piece by the time you announce "move", they simply forfeit that move).

Or some of the other variants that were suggested for the (suggested) two ten-minute sessions: instruction, chess variants, jumping jacks, puzzles, or whatever.
posted by WestCoaster at 7:02 PM on February 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chess Boxing. Winner gets a gold star.
posted by Hildago at 7:35 PM on February 8, 2006

Definitely a break in the middle. Keep it constructive and engaging, perhaps more active, and you'll find them more refreshed when they're ready to focus on the chess again.
posted by thejoshu at 7:36 PM on February 8, 2006

Don't know how many kids you have, but you could try 'lifesize' chess, where the kids are the pieces, they stand on a 'chessboard', and then they physically move when told to. Maybe have the kids discuss the game while they're being moved around. (I think it's called that, anyway.)

It'd be activity, and kinesthetic, yet still chess.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:57 PM on February 8, 2006

Just to chime in. Getting forty minutes of attention from a group of eight year olds is an amazing feat. You shouldn't be asking questions you should be giving lessons (father of two).
posted by Carbolic at 9:00 PM on February 8, 2006

The human brain uses over 20% of a human's oxygen and energy. After 40 minutes of a high-concentration task, the kids are worn out, just as much as if they'd spent the time doing wind sprints. Give them a break and feed them sugary stuff.
posted by orthogonality at 11:59 PM on February 8, 2006

Some things which would be good to know -- how many 8-year olds are you dealing with? How long SHOULD you be teaching them? Are the kids travelling to your class, or does it take place in their school? Do they have a chance to run around before beginning the class, or do they pretty much go straight there after finishing regular lessons? Any snack or food offered? When do the parents pick them up?

I've worked with kids a lot, and the one thing I can say is that they get pretty cagey and rangy at the end of the day. Your best bet may be to give them a 7-minute break in the middle of the lesson where they are free to run around and be crazy, but where they are expected to sit down and continue with what they were doing before the break. Just make sure you have a good consequence situation that you are willing to follow up on (i.e. kids who settle down right after the bell rings at the end of break get a sticker, 5 stickers equals a prize from a box or somesuchthing; kids who don't settle down have to complete a worksheet to earn their next break or earn their sticker.)

Really, the best thing might be just giving them a 7-minute break with snack or juice -- they are overtired after 8 hours in class, and their brains need some nutrients. And actually, depending on the kids (only you can figure this out), letting them run around may not be a good idea -- they may never calm down. But a break to have some crackers and juice may just be the thing. Don't get them too riled up (unless you know they settle down easily), but let them rest a couple minutes and just talk, and you may just find they make it through their after-school class.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:58 AM on February 9, 2006

Thanks, all of you. The answers have been extremely helpful.
posted by Kattullus at 5:05 AM on February 9, 2006

Instead of focusing on the whole game, structure your class on end game and chess puzzles.

Using chess puzzles, end game drills, and the great chess match replays, alternate activities so that the kids aren't doing one thing for more than 5-15 minutes.

There are lots of good drills like mate with queen and knight, mate with two rooks, king and four pawns v/s king and queen, that kind of thing.

Don't go for non-chess puzzles. Chess is hard enough that you can always find a new way to study it.
posted by ewkpates at 5:58 AM on February 9, 2006

You might find Chess mazes sufficiently different from chess that they make a nice change of pace, yet still develop chess skills.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:51 AM on February 9, 2006

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