I taught an elementary school chess club for two months [#62]

It was a really rewarding experience in many respects.

I taught an elementary school chess club for two months [#62]

I started playing chess over 10 years ago. Since then, I've become pretty good at the game: I have a 2000+ rating (99th percentile) on chess.com, I've played in about a dozen USChess national tournaments, and I can reliably beat all of my friends even with 5:1 time odds.¹

But I always thought chess would just be my hobby. I didn't know my chess expertise would help me land a job that I absolutely love.

I got the call from MacKenzie in late March. I know MacKenzie well — she has two daughters, both of whom I'm good friends with — and she's involved in many aspects of Alpha, the school I attended.²

She asked whether I could lead & teach an after-school chess club for the young grade schoolers at Alpha. I'll be honest: I was initially a little hesitant! If I accepted the job, I would teach chess to 5-8 year-olds for 75 minutes every Monday afternoon for seven Mondays. And I know that kids in that age range are typically not easy to teach effectively.

But I decided to accept MacKenzie's offer. I knew I wouldn't have much schoolwork in the spring, and I figured it'd be a good chance to improve my leadership skills and earn some money.

My decision to accept MacKenzie's offer and teach chess club for the young kids was a great decision for three reasons:

  1. I was pleasantly surprised by the money I made. I earned considerably more money per hour teaching chess club than I would at a minimum-wage job. I won't mention any numbers, but the pay was excellent.
  2. I got to add the work experience to my resume! As a soon-to-be college student, I'll be applying to internships very soon. The more work experience I have under my belt, the better.
  3. Most importantly: I had an awesome experience teaching. Sure, it was sometimes exhausting to deal with the limitless energy that 5-8 year-olds have, but I taught them so much about chess. I've seen them improve their game considerably, which makes me super happy.

I also learned it's hard to maintain the attention of those young kids throughout an entire 75-minute long chess club! So I used two main strategies to keep them interested:

  1. I never lectured for more than 20 minutes at a time, because otherwise the kids always zone out. So I split a 75-minute club into four sections:
    1. 3:30–3:50pm: I taught a basic concept (like piece development, not making blunders, K + Q vs. K mate, etc.) for 20 minutes.
    2. 3:50–4:00pm: I let the kids play a "minigame" based on the concept I just taught. For example, when I taught the kids the classic K + Q vs. K mate (in the first section), I had them perform the mate against each other in this section.
    3. 4:00–4:20pm: I taught another basic concept or just did introductory checkmate/win-material puzzles with the kids.
    4. 4:20–4:45pm: I let the kids play games for the rest of the time. That's always what they look forward to, so that's why I put it last.
  2. I always took the opportunity to ask kids what they thought. For example, I would often ask "What do you think is the best move here?", "Why do you think that?", "Who do you think is winning: White, Black, or is it even?", etc. I've found that kids pay more attention when chess club feels more like a conversation, rather than a lecture.

I hosted the seventh (and final) chess club session today. It was a lot of fun — I gave the kids tips on how to improve their chess over the summer, and then we just played a ton of games. I ended up playing six games simultaneously versus the six kids present. I didn't go too hard on them (obviously!) and we had a ton of fun and laughs.

I'm gonna miss the elementary school chess club! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to teach & be a role model for the kids. Special thanks to MacKenzie, Gaby, and Ben for helping chess club run smoothly.


¹ "5:1 time odds" means I play with 1 + 1 (1 minute + 1 second increment) and my opponent plays with 5 + 1 (5 minutes + 1 second increment). Most chess clocks allow you to set the time unevenly like that.

² "Attended" is in the past tense because I graduated on May 24, 2024!