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Checkmate - Chess in the Classroom | Educational Chess Activites for Students

1. To develop an understanding of life in Medieval times.

2. To use the Internet to research the roles played by a king, queen, rook, knight, bishop, and pawn.


computer with Internet capabilities


chess pieces


Teachers may introduce the following words as they appear in the context of the lesson or students may use Dictionary.com or Enchanted Learning to define the words below. Click here to see a glossary of words related to this chess unit.

Teachers may wish to use  or have students use Puzzlemaker.com to create a crossword puzzle or word search using the above vocabulary words.


1. Students read the information and try out interactive activities on the web sites below to learn about life in medieval times:

  • Feudal Life a web site with information about life in medieval times.
  • Camelot Village a multisensory, interactive web site related to medieval life Students can enter a village, listen to music and learn about the life of medieval villagers.
  • Medieval Life and Times is a comprehensive medieval life and times research unit. Links on this site include: village life, castles, knights and crusades, literature, women, games, clothing, and music.
  • History of Chess explains how the game of chess tells about life in medieval times.

Students complete this chart:       Click here for a blank chart.

1. Why did most people live on a


Manor life provided protection and  land grants.

2. What did the manor consist of?

The manor consisted of the castle, the church, the village, and the surrounding farm land.

3. What was the life of a peasant like?

Peasants or surfs worked the land, produced goods needed by the lord of the manor, and paid heavy taxes. Most medieval homes were cold, damp. Their dark windows, were very small openings with wooden shutters that were closed at night or in bad weather. The small size of the windows allowed those inside to see out, but kept outsiders from looking in. Many peasant families ate, slept, and spent time together in one or two rooms. The floors were covered with rushes and herbs.  The houses had thatched roofs and were easily destroyed. The kitchen had a stone hearth in the center of the room for cooking and warmth.

Peasants ate bread, vegetables from their own gardens, dairy products from their own sheep, goats, and cows, and pork from their own livestock. The meat was salted for keeping and herbs flavored leftover breads, and vegetables. Some vegetables, such as cabbages, leeks, and onions became known as "pot-herbs." This pottage was a staple of the peasant diet.

Peasant men wore stockings or tunics. Women wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics and wimples to cover their hair. Sheepskin cloaks, woolen hats and mittens were worn in winter. Leather boots were covered with wooden patens to keep the feet dry.

The outer clothes were almost never laundered, but the linen underwear was regularly washed.  Peasant women spun wool into the threads that were woven into the cloth for clothing.

4. What was life for women like?

Women did household tasks such as cooking, baking bread, sewing, weaving, and spinning. Some women hunted for food and fought in battles, used weapons to defend their homes and castles. Some medieval women were blacksmiths, merchants, and apothecaries. Others were nuns, midwives, worked in the fields, were writers, played musical instruments, or were dancers and painters.

5. What was life life for the baron and lord of the manor?

Lords ruled over fiefs or manors, renting out most of the land to the peasants who worked for them. They were also the warriors of medieval society. As trained knights, they were bound by oath to serve the great nobles who granted them their fiefs, and could be called to battle at any time. The lords, with the help of the church, acted as judges and carried out the laws of the manor.

They lived in elaborate homes. Their floors were paved, and sometimes decorated with tiles. Tapestries were hung on the walls, providing not only decoration but also an extra layer of warmth. Fenestral windows, with lattice frames that were covered in a fabric soaked in resin and tallow, allowed in light, kept out drafts, and could be removed in good weather. Only the wealthy could afford panes of glass; sometimes only churches and royal residences had glass windows. The kitchens of manor houses and castles had big fireplaces where meat, even large oxen, could be roasted on spits. These kitchens were usually in separate buildings, to minimize the threat of fire. Pantries were stocked with swans, blackbirds, ducks, pigeons, rabbits, mutton, venison, and wild boar. Many of these animals were caught on hunts.

The wealthy people wore brightly colored, elaborate clothing made of better materials. They wore long jackets with pleating or skirting, hose, a or a tunic with a surcoat. Wealthy women wore flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps and Italian turbans. Fur was often used to line the garments of the wealthy. Sometimes clothes were decorated with silver. The wealthy wore lavish jewelry. Ring brooches were the most popular item.

6. What was town life like? Peddlers went from village to village selling good such as gems, silk, and other luxuries. They traded coal, timber, wood, iron, copper, and lead to the south and came back with luxury items such as wine and olive oil.
7. What role did the church play? Because the Catholic Church was the only church in Europe during the Middle Ages, the church was very powerful and had its own laws. Bishops and Archbishops were church leaders. Parish Priests often had little education. The village priest tended to the sick and poor and, if he was able, taught Latin and the Bible to the children of the village. Monks and nuns took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to their leaders. They were required to perform manual labor and were forbidden to own property or leave the monastery. Daily tasks were often carried out in silence. Monks were often well educated and devoted their lives to writing and learning. Most of the holy orders wore plain, long woolen habits. The order could be recognized by the color of the habit.
8. What was the health care like? Poor sanitary conditions existed so diseases spread. Medieval Europe did not have an adequate health care system. Antibiotics weren't invented until the 1800s and it was almost impossible to cure diseases without them. Many thought that diseases resulted from sins of the soul. Many people looked for relief from their ills through meditation, prayer, pilgrimages, and other nonmedical methods. Bloodletting was a popular method of curing disease. Barbers performed early surgery without anesthesia. Medical treatment was available mainly to the wealthy. Herbal remedies were often used.

2. After completing the above chart, students may follow up with activities such as painting a mural depicting a rural landscape with shops that would have dotted medieval towns. Students may dress paper dolls with cut out clothing worn by medieval men and women. Houses and castles may be constructed out of shoe boxes, cereal boxes, milk cartons, oatmeal boxes, etc. These activities might also serve as tools for evaluation.

3. Students, in six cooperative groups, (one group for each chess piece) use the web sites listed above to complete the table.

Each group will have a researcher who will gather the information by taking notes from the web sites below, a recorder who will write the information in report form and place on the chart, an illustrator who will draw a picture each person listed on the chart, an information processor who will use a word processing application to enter the report, and a presenter who will share the information with the class.

Chess Piece Real Life Role


The king ruled by divine right, with absolute power given by God. The king awarded land grants or "fiefs" to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of  knights and soldiers for the king's armies. The surrender of the king would mean the loss of the kingdom to invading armies so it was to everyone’s advantage, from the lowest serf to the highest-ranking official, to keep the king safe from harm.


The queen sat as a sovereign at the king's side. Often the queen brought land and power upon marriage to the King. Many people do not realize that queens in medieval times often held a powerful, but precarious, position. The king was often guided by her advice. But kings could set wives aside or even imprison them in nunneries with the approval of the church (and without the queen’s approval). The plots of queens working either for or against their kings are recorded in history throughout medieval times, and often she held more power than the king did.


The castle piece on a chess board is the home, or the refuge. Castles were the protective strongholds during medieval times. Kings, queens, and nobles were protected from invading armies in the fortress-like castles. Many castles were protected by a moat, bank or ditch. The living quarters included the hall, a large one room structure with a loft ceiling. The hall was sometimes on the ground floor but often was raised to the second story for greater security. Early halls had aisles like a church, with rows of wooden posts or stone pillars supporting the timber roof. Windows had wooden shutters secured by an iron bar, but in the 11th and 12th centuries were rarely glazed. By the 13th century a king or great baron might have "white (greenish) glass" in some of his windows, and by the 14th century glazed windows were common.

In a ground-floor hall the floor was beaten earth, stone or plaster. An upper story hall had timber floors. The Entrance to the hall was usually in a side wall near the lower end. When the hall was on an upper story, this entrance reached by an outside staircase next to the wall of the keep. The castle family sat on a raised platform of stone or wood at the upper end of the hall, opposite to the entrance, away from drafts and intrusion. The lord (and perhaps the lady) occupied a massive chair. Everyone else sat on benches. Most dining tables were set on temporary trestles that were dismantled between meals; a permanent, or "dormant," table was another sign of wealth. All tables were covered with white cloths. Lighting was by rushlights or candles, of wax or tallow (melted animal fat), impaled on vertical spikes or an iron candlestick with a tripod base, or held in a loop, or supported on wall brackets or iron candelabra. Oil lamps in bowl form on a stand, or suspended in a ring, provided better illumination, and flares sometimes hung from iron rings in the wall.

In the 13th century the castle kitchen was made of timber with a central hearth or several fireplaces where meat was cooked on a spit or stewed in a cauldron. There was a castle garden where fruit trees, vines, roses, lilies, heliotropes, violets, poppies, daffodils, irises, gladiolas, and herbs were planted. There might have been a fish pond stocked with trout and pike.

Each castle of a great lord had a chapel for morning mass.


The knight represents the professional soldier who pledged himself to be the king's servant or vassal, at a special ceremony. He swore an oath of loyalty with the words, "Sire I have become your man." The great nobles often divided their lands among lower lords, or knights, who in turn became their vassals. Knights participated in jousts in which opponents were killed by a lance my a mounted knight. Jousts were public contests of bravery and skill.  Some of the knights went on Crusades (holy wars between Christians and Muslims for possession of Jerusalem) to get rich or to steal a new home from the people they were fighting, but most of the knights went to get healed of their sins.

Knights were protected by armor. In the 12th century, the knights used an armor called mail, very little chains linked together. Mail armor weighed about twenty to thirty pounds and that was only the chest, arms, and back. When they were in battle the mail guarded arrows but not good strong blows with a mace. In the 15th century full plate armor was worn. Some helmets covered the face and some did not. Some had decorations on them such as eagles beaks. Horses had to wear armor too. They wore it around their neck and head. Knights had to wear padded doublet and tied with satin and strips around their knees to keep it from rubbing. It took a squire an hour to put on a suit of armor.

Knights followed laws of chivalry. They had to be well behaved near women. A knight had to always keep his word. If a knight were captured, he could not try to escape. Another rule knights had to follow was that they had to be generous to defeated enemies and could not leave the other knight to die in the field.


Bishops were members of the king's council and played important roles in government. Bishops could wield as much power as the barons. Bishops, who were often wealthy and came from noble families, ruled over groups of parishes called "diocese."


The pawns on the chess board represent serfs, or laborers. There are more of them than any other piece on the board, and often they are sacrificed to save the more valuable pieces. In medieval times, serfs were considered no more than property of landowners. They were often left unprotected or sacrificed to allow landowners to escape harm during wars.


Presenters from each group share their illustrated written reports to the class. The students in the class take notes on the role of each person listed in the chart above using a graphic organizer. The written reports may be bound into a class book.


Each group will be evaluated. on their ability to work cooperatively, use research skills, writing skills, word processing skills, drawing and painting tools, do an oral presentation. See rubric.

Follow Up:

In Lesson 4 each cooperative group will write, produce, and perform a skit set in medieval times.

A class trip to Medieval Times (P. O. Box 327, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071, (201) 933-2220 ) should be planned. Here students will see knights in action in a real live joust.  On the Medieval Times web page, students can listen to medieval music, learn how a knight is trained, view costumes of the times, and read about chivalry. Trips to see a Renaissance Faire might also be included as a culminating activity. Listings on local Renaissance Fairs might be found at:


Click on a state shown on the United States map to find a Renaissance Faire.


This is the web site for the New York Renaissance Faire at Tuxedo, New York.


Find out about the Renaissance Faire at Santa Clara, California.


Learn about the Renaissance Faires at Glen Helen Park , San Bernardino, and and Southern California.


Links to information regarding the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.


This is the web site of the Scarborough Faire held near Waxahachie, Texas.


Visit the Shrewsbury Faire in Kings Valley, Oregon.


Travel to the Annapolis, Maryland Faire.


The Maine Renaissance Faire is held in Lebanon, Maine.


Get information about the Texas Renaissance Faire which is held near Plantersville, Texas.

Other links to faires world wide may be found by doing a search on google.com with the keywords "Renaissance Faire."


Students might play other games played during medieval times such as Mancala, darts, wrestling, blind man's bluff, tug-of-war, archery, Backgammon, or Nine Mens Morris.


Students may choose to create a coat of arms to represent their families. A template may be found here.

Related Web Sites:

1. Castle Builder

This web site puts students in the role of a castle builder. Knowledge of medieval life is need in order to design a castle. Tips for teachers are included.

2. Medieval Life And Times

This site provides information about the role of castles and priesthood during the English middle ages.

3. Gander Academy's Medieval Clothing

You can find information about clothing in the middle ages as well as how to make fantasy medieval clothing.

4. Life In The Middle Ages

This is a web site created by fifth graders with much information about life in the middle ages.

To Table of Contents

To Lesson 1 - Chess Rules

To Lesson 2 - Chess History

To Lesson 4 - The Play's The Thing




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