The Game of Chess as a Class Motivator

7 09 2009

The game of Chess is a great motivator in the classroom. Today after a tournament a teacher colleague were discussing mutual benefits of chess with lessons taught in the regular classroom.  We mentioned ideas like paying attention, planning ahead and cooperation.  But two points stood out in our discussion.

1.  Many student play chess like children play in a sandbox.  When young children play they exhibit parallel play in that they activity does not show interaction, proactive strategic thinking, and responding to the previous move of the other player. They make a plan and try to carry it out with the flexible “jazz” thinking that involves, responds to, and interacts with the other person.  Perhaps game playing is parallel to the maturity of a child who grows more aware of his place in the community of human interaction.  We see this in the classroom when a student does not see how his or her actions effects and benefits others and that interacting with other people could be helpful in learning.

2.  When asked why a student should take notes of their game many students thought it was a dead end assignment in penmanship or writing ability and when asked to review these notes they thought it was to please the coach.  I had to explicitly teach that winning a game would make me happy and losing would make me happy.  But what I like the most is when students learn from their mistakes and upon reviewing their game seed how they can improve and grow.  Here a mother who was listening in mentioned that this is like her child who now just understands the connection from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn.  Just as in life there are lessons we can learn if we keep our mind in gear.

I have been chewing on these ideas and want to expand upon them but for now here are some more general benefits of chess.

Christine Palm of the New York City Schools Chess Program says:

Chess instills in young players a sense of self-confidence and self-worth

Chess dramatically improves a child’s ability to think rationally

Chess increases cognitive skills

Chess builds a sense of team spirit while emphasizing the ability of the individual

Chess makes a child realize that he or she is responsible for his or her own actions and must accept the consequences.

Chess teaches children to try their best to win, while accepting defeat with grace.

Chess allows girls to compete with boys on a non-threatening, socially acceptable plane.

Chess teaches the value of hard work, concentration and commitment.

Ron Wallace of Hill Street Public school in Corunna, Ontario says:

What can chess teach our students?


-long range planning

-predicting outcomes

-drawing conclusions

-memory skills

-quiet activities can be fun

-importance of controlling numerous variables

-analyzing situations

-spirit of true sportsmanship

-value of changing one’s point of view to find solutions

The National Scholastic Chess Foundation says that Chess education is extremely effective with children because:

Chess involves all levels of critical thinking (knowledge, comprehension, analysis, evaluation)

Chess requires forethought and cultivates visualization skills

Chess improves problem solving skills

Chess encourages children to overcome the fear of risk-taking

Chess teaches concentration and self-discipline

Chess enables children to assume responsibility for their decisions

Chess rewards determination and perseverance

Chess raises self-esteem and promotes good sportsmanship

Chess encourages socialization skills that extend across cultures and generations

Daniel Brown inventor of PI Chess says that most of a child’s most enduring lessons come from playing games and interacting with others.  He lists these as the skills and the values that can be developed from playing chess and especially PI Chess (a way to extend Chess to multiple players).

-Problem-solving-establishing an efficient step-by-step method that can be applied to all situations

-Critical Thinking- analytical, deductive and inductive reasoning

Recognition and Evaluation of Choices and Options- comparisons of alternatives, relative values

Evaluation of the Results of a Decision-recognition of consequences and avoiding futures errors

-Partnership and Teamwork-learning to work as part of an effective team

-Non-violent conflict resolution-working out disputes by discussion

-Recognition and respect for Rules and Codes of Behavior in a Social Group-society

-Impulse Resistant-impulsive or angry moves are always a mistake

-Decision making and having the courage to ac decisively

-Goal Orientation-sometimes with multiple and simultaneous goals.

-Patience and Self-control-sitting still and quiet while others are thinking

-Personal Discipline-self-restraint and internal rather than external control

-Perseverance-even in the face of setbacks-determination to succeed

-Positive Social Values- friendship, honesty, fairness, justice, integrity

-Respect for others-both teammates and opponents

-Politeness, courtesy and manners-social conditioning to get along in society

-Civilized and socially-accepted behavior

-Coping with success (with magnanimity and grace) and failure (with fortitude and perseverance)

– Developing communication skills – communicating ideas with confidence in one’s abilities

-Tolerance- learning to inter-relate with others of different backgrounds and abilities

Chess Spells STRATEGY

S – Safe environment

Chess provides a safe environment to practice decision making, problem solving skills, and new tactics.                                                                                                                                                       Did you try something new?

T – Thinking skills

Chess teaches efficient methods in thinking by managing impulsivity and acting with forethought.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Did you take your time?

R – Rules

Chess teaches respect for rules of behavior.                                                          Did you play by the rules?

A – Adeptability

Chess gives opportunities to demonstrate competence. This builds confidence in ability to correct mistakes and improve performance.                                                                                                                        Did you improve?

T – Taking risks

Chess gives occasions to risk and to learn the consequences of choices. Chess provides opportunities for courageous decision making.                                                                                                                                              Did you show initiative?

E – Everyday applications

Chess applies habits of many everyday activities such as planning ahead, decision-making, setting priorities, and dealing with people with different goals.

Can you apply these skills at home or school?

G – Gracefulness

Chess teaches sportsmanship. Chess gives opportunity for winning and losing gracefully.

Did you practice good sportsmanship?

Y – Yardstick

Chess enables children to experience the gap between what they think they know and what really is accurate.  Chess acts as a yardstick to measure this self-discovery.

Did you learn something new?

In this way, Chess spells STRATEGY and teaches students how to think.

Chess—Chess Helps Every Student Succeed