What values do we want to protect most?

Minimum Grade Level: 8th grade
National Core Arts Standards:
VA:Cr1.1.6a Combine concepts collaboratively to generate innovative ideas for creating art.
VA:Cn10.1.8a Make art collaboratively to reflect on and reinforce positive aspects of group identity.

The Lewis Chess Pieces, probably made in Norway, about 1150-1200, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, walrus ivory and whale tooth, height: 4-5.6 cm (British Museum)

The Lewis Chess Pieces, probably made in Norway, about 1150–1200, found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, walrus ivory and whale tooth, height: 4-5.6 cm (British Museum)

The game of chess most likely originated in 7th-century India with pieces that portrayed things like elephants and chariots instead of the bishops and queens we know today. From India, the game spread through Asia and into Europe, becoming very popular among the elite in northwestern Europe by the 12th century. The 78 finely carved Lewis Chess Pieces are evidence of this popularity and provide a unique glimpse into medieval European society. Specifically, the individualized and highly detailed representations of kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and berzerkers reflect the hierarchy of the royal court and its well-defined military ranks. The modern game of chess, played across the world and in international tournaments today, is based largely on the format of pieces and rules solidified in medieval Europe.

In this activity, use the format of chess to create your own version of the game that reflects and reinforces the unique values of your school classroom or community. 

1. Create a list of values and traits important to your class, school, or community.

The object of chess is to try to capture the king of the other player while also protecting your own king from being captured. In the version of the game you will make, however, there are no characters like kings or queens or knights. Instead, the pieces will represent the positive values and traits that ensure a sense of community in your class, school, or another group you are part of. When playing this version, your goal will be to protect those things your group holds most dear.

Divide into small groups and together identify six traits or values that are important to your class, school, or community (pick one of these groups for everyone to focus on before you start). Examples might include: kindness, accountability, creativity, or respect. 

Decide which value or trait is the most essential to your group’s identity, the thing that you absolutely must protect in order to thrive. This will be the equivalent of the king in a standard chess set–if your opponent captures it, they win the game. 

2. Design characters to represent your values and traits.

Your characters can be in the form of a person, animal, or imaginary creature, but they need to visually reflect or symbolize your values. This might be through their pose, activity, gestures, or expression, or through things they wear or hold. Or, it could be through associations, like the way we identify certain animals as being strong, resilient, or gentle.

You will need sixteen total pieces, divided up among your six values according to the standard ratio for a set of chess pieces: 1 king, 1 queen, 2 bishops 2, knights, 2 rooks, and 8 pawns. Make preparatory sketches to work out the appearance for each type of character. And, make sure your characters can stand up on their own so you can use them to play your version of chess later on!

4. Create your set of values-based characters.

Possible materials could include: cardboard, tissue paper, model magic, construction paper, magazine pages, newsprint, fabric swatches, felt, paint, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and feathers. And, don’t forget to find a pre-existing chess board or make your own. 

5. Present your chess sets to your class.

As you share with each other, describe and discuss the different values each set reflects and why.

6. Play chess!

Using the various sets made by the class, pair up and play a game or hold a class tournament (or come up with rules for a new game to play, keeping the same objective of protecting your group values).