Recognizing Outstanding Wizards

By Catherine Smith, Wizard Training Coordinator and Instructor in WA


Sheoli has been an instructor with Chess Wizards for 3 years in the DC area. Sheoli is a great instructor and we really value her at Chess Wizards. She really enjoys working with kids and the schools love her. Sheoli has a very kind way about her and is able to make kids excited about chess. Thank you Sheoli for being an amazing chess instructor!


Hello, fellow Wizards! My name is Sheoli Gunaratne, and I’ve been with Chess Wizards for over 3 years (Does that make me a Sorcerer now?!) As I’m currently studying education, working with kids and helping them learn through chess has been a wonderful opportunity, and the experience has definitely accumulated! When I’m not practicing magic, I enjoy playing friendly games of poker with my friends and impromptu “writing clubs” to inspire my creative side. 

Teaching Tip: 

Put the fun in function! Organization is key, and delegating tasks to students promotes both their feelings of relevancy (Imagine being a 10 year old when the rest of the class is 7!) and an overall sense of investment in the class. Having all students on the same page helps ensure that no time is wasted, and leaves room for extra fun! 

For example: I have a “Reset Race” to have the students reset their boards as quickly (and safely) as they can before putting materials away. This ensures that all pieces go back to their designated bags, but with a sense of fun and friendly competition that helps the class end on a good note!


1.  Who are you, where do you come from, where are you going?

I’m a student born and raised in the DMV, with a Sri Lankan cultural background. I’d like to travel abroad and teach internationally in the future - so hopefully I’ll be going to some awesome places if and when the time comes!

2.   What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started teaching?

Every group of kids you teach will be different - I’ve learned that flexibility is important, and adjusting small things can make a world of a difference to the success of the class! The better you know your kids, the better your class will be.

3.  What is the most exciting experience you have had while playing or teaching chess? 

I have students pair off and complete the “Hollywood Checkmate” puzzle whilst writing a “script” between two opposing parties playing each other (for example: “Dog vs. Cat”) and what they would say with each move and at Checkmate! I then have them share their “scenes” with the rest of the class. This is always so much fun for all of us, so I try and do it one time with each semester/new batch of students that I teach!

4.  How do you motivate your students to succeed?

I tell them that any effort they put in is already a personal success, and that I know they can improve and become stronger than they were before. I think it’s important to help them understand that their ability to strategize and their ability to play well feed each other - Victory is not the only mark of success!!!

5. What is your most memorable memory from your time as a Chess Wizard?

When I first got a group together to explain the rules of the “7/8 Queens Puzzle”. The children laughed so much and were ready to try it after I told them the rules with a story: “Once upon a time there were 7 Queens, who all lived in different castles. One day, a huge party was being thrown for all the lands and the 7 Queens were all invited - Sounds fun right? Well there was just one problem, NONE of the Queens liked each other! I don’t know what happened, someone talked to someone’s boyfriend maybe? Who knows! But they all HAVE to be at this party WITHOUT attacking each other. Do you think you could find a way for them to do that?”

6.  If you could retire tomorrow and never have to worry about money again, what would you do with your time?

Travel and start English education centers in developing countries. 

7.  What’s your go-to technique for dealing with ‘handful students’?

A strike system

8. What is an unusual place you have been to?

Lichtenstein, briefly during an EF tour through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 

9. Do you have a talent that not many people know about?

I can catch food in my mouth with complete accuracy. It’s silly, but an awesome party trick!

10. What’s your #1 teaching tip?

Make sure ALL of your students are enjoying the class. Of course, there can be students more interested than others, but it’s important that each child can take something away from it.

11. What’s your favorite classroom Attention Getter? 

Me: “1, 2, 3, Eyes on me!”

Students: “1, 2, Eyes on you!”

12. What is something interesting that you’re involved in, outside of Chess Wizards?

Does anime count? It’s really all I watch these days. I started Naruto Shippuden recently (I know I’m so late to the party, but I feel like I’d been missing out!) and there’s no stopping me now!

13.  If you saw a kangaroo and a chimpanzee playing chess what would you do? Who do you think would win?

I’d definitely take a picture because it would be so hard to get people to believe me otherwise. I think the chimpanzee would win and possibly upset the kangaroo who would then angrily kick the chessboard over. Then I’d be left with the dilemma of deciding whether I should call the police or animal control.

14.  Star Wars, Star Trek, or they’re both lame?

Uhhh I’ve actually never seen a full movie or episode of either...Oops! The Baby Yoda memes are fantastic, though. I know both must be absolutely amazing to have withstood the test of time so well (and also, I have friends who rave to me about both!)