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A Day in the Life: Chess Class at Halls Ferry Elementary

By Jonathan Israel, Scholastic Chess Instructor


Just under a week after Valentine’s Day, I was very surprised to receive Valentine’s Day cards from two of my 4th grade students, Christa and Jessica.  I teach at a few schools, but have never received something like this!  It was very sweet, and it made me realize that I had a bigger impact on the students that I teach than I thought. Teaching at Halls Ferry, along with many other schools, has made it clear to me that I love what I do.  Although my main job is to teach the rules of chess and prepare students to compete in tournaments, I understand now that I must also show just how much work, creativity, and passion goes into achieving success in whatever they choose to do.


We as a Chess Club provide the necessary resources, instructors, and curriculum to schools interested our program.  However, Halls Ferry Elementary really shows how much they care about their students – bringing in teachers, computers, and whatever resources they can put into our program to foster a strong learning environment, and I couldn't be more grateful.  The school wants their students to grow and improve not only their chess ability, but, more importantly, help students improve their visualization, calculation, and problem-solving skills as they grow into young adults. Halls Ferry meets twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Fifth and sixth grade meet both days, while third and fourth grade meet Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. In the Fall of 2018, another instructor, Ian Baar, who was the main teacher the previous year, taught on Tuesdays; whereas, I taught on Thursdays. We both went over the rules, but then split our teachings from there.  Mr. Baar taught the students opening principles, as well as some basic tactics. I taught all grade levels basic checkmates, such as with a queen and rook, two rooks, and then just one queen. I believe learning to checkmate (and not stalemate) with a queen is the most important checkmate, since when you promote a pawn you get a queen; so, I like to teach the Dancing Queen, where you follow the enemy king's movements as he corners himself.  Depending on my mood, I might also play the 1991 Abba song in the background, only for a kid to shout at me to stop since it's distracting.


This second semester, I have used websites such as and in order to help explain more advanced concepts and tactical ideas.  I have even gone over some of my own tournament games. We also do some of the puzzles generated on lichess that illustrate how these tactics occur in actual games.  By the end of the year, I hope to provide students of each grade level with the resources to compete in an actual tournament, just as if they could compete in any other sport.


It is getting close to the end of the year, and I am wanting to host some unofficial tournaments, as well as teach how to take notation in their games.  I am hopeful that next year we might have a more advanced class, along with a regular one, and maybe even get our Halls Ferry students some actual tournament experience!