03 The Magic of Chess
With the final film in our Lesson Plan on Identity, we are revisiting the ideas that we’ve touched on so far, including self-acceptance and perseverance, this time with a non-fiction film. You will have the opportunity to examine the ways that a documentary is different from the previous three films. In this guide, we also share prompts and activities to encourage thematic connections and conversations about the film.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read the Note to Teachers—you’ll find tips for watching short films with your class and helpful resources for inquiry-based discussions.
Get your students ready to thoughtfully watch a film by sharing this sample introduction, followed by some warm-up questions.
Sample introduction: Today we’re going to watch a short film. A short film is a lot like the films (or movies) that you might watch at home or at a movie theater, but it’s shorter! Have you been to a museum before? Just like the art that you see at a museum, films are made by artists, called Filmmakers. Filmmakers create films to tell a story, to share an idea or a feeling, with us, the viewers. The film we’re going to watch today is a documentary.
- In just a few words, have students describe the short films they’ve seen so far and what they were about.
- Were the films fiction? Or were they nonfiction?
- How could you tell that they were one or the other?
See the Glossary + Film Terms for definitions of these terms.
- We’re going to watch THE MAGIC OF CHESS by Jenny Schweitzer Bell.
- The film is 5 minutes long. Since it is so short, it’s important that we are quiet and don’t talk while the film is playing.
- Unlike the previous films we watched, THE MAGIC OF CHESS is a documentary which means that it is nonfiction. We’re going to see and hear from some real children about their interests and their experiences.
- We will watch the film again later in the lesson.
Watch the film together and gather initial reactions using open-ended questions.
Follow the film screening with a moment of pause for the group to gather their thoughts. Ask the open-ended questions below and record students’ answers. Have students support their observations with evidence by asking, “What did you see that makes you say that?”
- What did you see? What did you notice about this film?
- How would you describe this film in just a few words?
- What was your favorite part of this film? Why?
- In what ways was this film similar to the other films we’ve watched? In what ways was it different?
- Be sure to point out that not all films or tv shows with real people are nonfiction.
- Was there anything in the film that you didn’t understand or that you might want to know more about?
- You can watch the film as a group by sharing your screen, and selecting the “optimize for video sharing” option. Make sure all participants (including yourself) are muted while the film plays.
- Consider using Breakout Rooms for smaller group discussions.
If you need a link to share this film with your students, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Closer Look
Select a question to ask in advance of watching the film again to promote active viewing.
The film THE MAGIC OF CHESS includes interviews with 23 young chess players competing in a national competition.
Ask the questions below, taking a pause to give students time to think about their answers.
Encourage them to support their answers with evidence from the film.
- Is there someone in the film you could relate to? Why is that?
- Does anyone in the film remind you of anyone you know or have met?
- What are some things the kids in the film have in common? What are some ways that they are different from each other?
- Were you familiar with the game of chess before seeing the film? Did the film change the way you think about chess? How?
- In the film one of the young players says: “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how small you are. Chess is a game for everybody.” What do you think they meant by that? Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
- Describe a moment in the film that showed you something you did not already know.
- Use still images by pausing the film, to help students notice new details and jog their memories.
The Bigger Conversation
- What are some lessons you learned from the kids in the film that you think can use in your own life?
- The kids in the film talk about strategies that help them deal with being nervous or getting upset when they don’t win (i.e., taking deep breaths). What are some strategies you use to help you when you feel nervous?
- Have you ever lost or won a competition? How did that make you feel?
- In the film, the students share the benefits of learning how to play chess. Is there a game you play or an activity you participate in that helps you with other things in your life? What skills have you learned from it?
- Learn more about Tanitoluwa Emmanuel Adewumi, a Nigerian-born chess player who lives in New York City. Tanitoluwa won the 2019 K-3 New York State Chess Championship at the age of eight and is featured in THE MAGIC OF CHESS. Use language that celebrates Tani’s dedication, skills acquisitions, and “deep thinking,” as he puts it.
- Read this article about his story or watch a video of Tani featured on CBS News.
- Read My Name is Tani and I Believe in Miracles, a book about this young chess player’s journey to becoming a champion.
- What can chess teach us about the gender gap? Share stories like that of Lisa Lane’s with your students and discuss how girls and women still face challenges with equality in chess.
Find resources below and see the Additional Resources page for more.
- A Brief History of Chess – Ted Talk with Alex Gendler
- Chess for Kids – Episode 1: Getting to Know the Game | Kids Academy
- About the U.S. Chess Federation
- Four ways to teach gender equity in your classroom
Behind the scenes
To make this film, Jenny Schweitzer Bell had to make a lot of decisions. The questions below will help students think about some of the different choices a filmmaker has to consider.
Pose the questions below before showing the film once again.
- What are the different kinds of images you see in the film?
- What are the different kinds of sounds you hear in the film?
- Why do you think Jenny Schweitzer Bell might have chosen to make this film about kids and not adults? Or how would it have been different if it were about adults?
Explain that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions.
- Why do you think Jenny Schweitzer Bell might have wanted to make this film?
- Why do you think Jenny Schweitzer Bell might have chosen to make a documentary film to tell this story, instead of making a fictional film?
- Everything we heard from the kids in the film was a response to a question that the filmmaker asked. If you were making this film, what questions would you like to ask?
Jenny Schweitzer Bell is the director of the film THE MAGIC OF CHESS, for which she interviewed 23 chess players. She lives in New York City where she works as a filmmaker. She primarily creates nonfiction and documentary short films, like THE MAGIC OF CHESS. She has also created a 10-part series of short documentaries about NYC subway musicians. She first learned to be a photographer at the Rhode Island School of Design, and then learned about filmmaking at New York University.
Let students know that while the filmmaker might have had a message or idea in mind, we are all welcome to interpret the film in our own way.
How did you become interested in filmmaking?
I was interested in art from a very young age. During my early childhood you would find me experimenting with drawing and painting during all of my free time. When I went off to high school I began making photographic images. At that time, you had to develop your film and your prints photochemically, in a darkroom. It wasn’t as immediate as it is today, with digital cameras and computers. Because the process of creating imagery was more demanding of time and cost, photographers had to be more deliberate when making photographs. I think this taught me a lot about composition (or how you position the subjects of your frame) and lighting. As I got older, I became interested in writing short stories. Shortly after, I decided to become a filmmaker, as filmmaking would allow me to integrate image making and storytelling.
What was your experience like making THE MAGIC OF CHESS?
I worked as a one-woman-band, meaning to say, I direct, shoot, produce. I had one assistant. I knew that I would need to capture an enormous amount of material to make the film work, including interviews and the b-roll imagery. The tournament (in the film) is scheduled over three days and you’re working between the timing of the chess rounds. I had to be on point to capture all of the elements going into the edit. Since this was a scheduled, on-location event, I knew there would be no going back for shots. I had to know exactly what imagery was needed going into the shoot and then frantically capture it all in three days.
Why was it important for you to tell the story in MAGIC OF CHESS?
My objective was primarily to showcase how deep passion and hard focus in an activity can truly enhance one’s life. I have a nine-year-old daughter who is a competitive chess player. Taking part in the world of competitive chess has been a favorite activity for the past number of years. A misconception about chess is that it’s a boring game for nerds. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Chess is truly an exciting game to compete in and one where you can see great improvement with practice. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet other kids from all over the country. ∎
- Watch another chess documentary by Jenny Schweitzer Bell, GIRLS IN CHESS.
- Read an article [PDF] by Jenny Schweitzer Bell to gain insights about the filmmaker, which you can share with your class.
- Ask students to think about an activity or something they really love doing.
- Pair students and have them interview one another about this activity or hobby.
- After students have had an opportunity to interview one another, ask them to share what they learned about one another with the full class. Students can highlight what they learned about their partner’s hobbies or interests.
Invite the class to reflect upon the films we’ve seen.
- What lessons did you learn from the characters and stories?
- What messages from THE MAGIC OF CHESS, or the other films, will you take with you?