Saturday, August 3, 2013

50 lesson beginner curriculum

        I've been working on laying out sequentially what I do in the first year of a beginner "shop class." It's on google docs here. (you have to actually download it, rather than view it, to see more than the first page. You can do this with the download arrow or the shortcut ctrl-s.) It's written for sixth graders who I see 3 periods a week for a school year, although obviously could be speeded up, slowed down, or started in the middle for other situations. I find if I don't have some kind of sequence planned out, then I start the year very enthusiastic rush through a number of topics, but by February, I'm panicking every morning, "omg, what do I teach today?" and then at the end of the year, I kind of realize that the lower 30% of the class doesn't find mate in one when it presents itself in their games. This curriculum is designed to take all the planning out of teaching, kind of a Chess Instruction for Dummies, so that even the laziest and least prepared teacher has a coherent, paced, unit-based study plan. I hope it helps!
      As you already know, I'm obsessed with Jeff Coakley, so references to the green book are to his Winning Chess Strategy for Kids, and to the red and orange book are Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids, Books 1 and 2. I also refer to my 6th Grade Curriculum.
     I'm presenting this at a professional development in about a week and I'm still revising it, so comments please! Also, if I reference anything else that you'd like/like more info about, email me (


Dan Schmidt said...

These documents are really great, thanks for making them public.

I'm curious whether kids get antsy having to wait ages and ages before they can actually know all the rules to chess. Are the sub-chess games on the way sufficiently entertaining to keep them motivated?

I'm also curious about how you keep the kids who already know a bit about chess from being bored at the beginning.

Luis Esquivel said...

Hello i just triying to send you ane mail. But i dont see any email address here. Please can you give me ur email? my email is



Elizabeth Vicary said...

Hi Dan,
I like the beginner games a lot, but if kids are impatient or older, you can also teach rook bishop and queen together and then they're playing something pretty close to chess by week two.
I generally give a mate in 1 sheet to the kids who claim to know how to play, and if they really do know, I either let them play (silently, in the back) for the first few weeks or do some puzzle checkmate programs on the computer.
Luis-- my email is there.

Nick Olivier said...

Hi Liz,

I'm a 26-yr-old engineer who just learned the rules of chess 2 weeks ago. I played a few amateur games online and lost decisively. So I went looking for chess books and found this:

I really appreciate your thorough review of the books. I worked through the examples you listed, but wasn't able to solve all of them. That's troubling given that these are problems intended for middle-school kids. Do you think that adults can learn the game?

I design complex logic circuits, but somehow that experience with logic/geometry isn't helping at the board. It may be because I don't visualize. Do you have any experience with non-visualizing players? Do you have to visualize to play well?

I'd like to give chess a try but am concerned that my age and inability to visualize might make it impossible. What do you think? Thanks for your time.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Hi Nick,
Don't compare yourself to kids-- or really to anyone-- but especially to kids who generally can learn chess faster than adults (it's like a language). You can get good at chess, but it's hard and will take time and while you're doing it, it's pointless to beat yourself up with "am I good enough yet?" questions. Just try to enjoy it and the skill will come. Avoid hanging out with competitive assholes who ask you what your rating is and how many points you have in the tournament.

I'm terrible at visualizing too, btw. Unless I can already see it, in which case I'm awesome.

Nigel Hanrahan said...

Elizabeth, I notice that you arrange things in the usual way, quickly showing how all the pieces move, introductory mates, etc. in quick succession, and so on. However, there are other approaches. I am currently reading "The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids" by Richard James. He advocates a very different approach, more typical for continental Europe, and provides his reasons. Basically, the learning process is prolonged to make it more profound and deeper in content. Full chess games are delayed especially for younger children. Actually, he quoted you a few times in his book.

Could you comment on the differences and whether you see any merit in this other approach to teaching chess?

Nick Olivier said...

Thanks Liz. That's a good point about how quickly kids learn languages. I'll stick with it and not get hung up on the rating system. For now the best option is probably book exercises, and some practice with Chessmaster v10.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I can't actually comment since I haven't read the book, and really only know the premise insofar as you've described it. (What does he quote me as saying??)

However, I guess I would say I think a lot depends on the context of who and in what situation you are teaching-- I'm usually working with larger (28-32) groups of older children, a portion of whom start with some degree of knowledge, so a) they are impatient to play a full game and b) it 's logistically more complicated to have a classroom of multiple levels of chess knowledge for a longer period. Also, when I started teaching, I'd have each class for only 16 weeks, 45 minutes per week, so I didn't have time to dawdle.
But I'm sure you can do very nice things instructive teaching more slowly.

Nigel Hanrahan said...

Richard James quotes you in regard to the character traits that are important for chess success. He's talking about non-cognitive skills. "Elizabeth Spiegel ... believes that these character traits (perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control ... are what he means) are more important for chess success that having a high IQ, and that chess is an excellent way of teaching and developing these traits." p. 20

That's where he quotes you. I don't know if I can do him justice, but here's another quote. "Whereas here in the UK children are taught the moves at home so that they can join a chess club, in other countries
children join a chess club so that they can be taught correctly right from the start. Very often children learn the moves
slowly, taking a year or more to learn all the moves, while at the same time learning how to look at a chess board, and
understanding the underlying logic of the game. Without these skills, children will do little more than play random moves."

He seems to be addressing more the question of teaching children chess, and what age is best, and how to ensure they won't abandon chess due to frustration at lack of progress, and so on. His introduction to "Journey Through Chess" is helpful.

I can certainly relate to your observations about children being impatient to play a full game (I vary things with bughouse for fun) and the difficulty of multiple levels (or differentiation as my Education profs call it). With 28-32 students there's only so much range that is workable. I run a club myself, a new one, and if i get a dozen i'm lucky. For now, i have the luxury of being able to have the many levels you mention.

Enrique said...

After reading about your class in "How children succeed" and seeing the movie "Brookyn castle", im glad to be able to download some of your lesson plans. Im very much interested in teaching chess to middle school kids in El Salvador who only know of Checkers as a board game

Anonymous said...


My 7 year old just started a few months ago and wants to get better (and win trophys). Based on this blog, I got her the Coakley books, the green and the red and been working with her, her rating is 455 after 2 kids tornaments. I used to be 2100 but never played "real" openings opting for the colle and the modern. Would love your advice on how to guide her and what books and advice you can give me. My e-mail is

Adrian Meli said...

Just stumbled across a story on your class-fascinating-I enjoyed reading about your method of feedback. Congrats on the baby!