Using UNO to Up Engagement

So much to do, so much to see

Yes, I do mean the card game, UNO, and no, I don’t intend for you to play UNO in your classroom instead of teaching your content. However, my high school students did figure out a way to leverage it within our activity. Here’s how we did it.

So what’s wrong with taking the back streets?

High school English teachers know that grammar, editing, and revising work is some of the least popular activities among students within our classrooms, typically. Finding ways to make it more engaging while still learning and applying the content, mastering the standard, and making the learning sticky can be a tough tightrope to walk. Fortunately, my students helped me develop a great activity for hitting all of those marks, while also giving students a product that can show mastery of the standard for reviewing, revising, and editing their work. Happily, this is not limited to the English classroom. Any content can use the UNO method to have students assess themselves and then the work of their peers. Ready to dig in?

You’ll never know if you don’t go (go!)

Traditionally, students are assigned work in class or for homework, and then one of two things happens: either they turn it in for the teacher to grade or it is graded in class. While there is a time and place for teacher to grade work and provide feedback, the UNO method can completely replace how we typically grade student work in the classroom as a whole class activity. For the purposes of explaining the activity, I will detail how it works in terms of my writing standard where students are to review, revise, and edit their work. The activity begins with a short writing assignment. As I go through the steps, consider how you can apply this with your subject matter, worksheets, problems assigned in the book, etc.

You’ll never shine if you don’t glow

The UNO activity will require at two days of your class time, but as students get familiar with the process, you may be able to complete it during one class period. You will require a deck of UNO cards. For large classes, this can get chaotic very quickly, so it may be necessary to establish some roles that aren’t as necessary in the smaller classes.

Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play

What you need:

  • Deck of UNO cards
  • A Wakelet or Padlet Account or a shared Google Drive/One Drive folder
  • Chromebooks or device for students to use
  • An assignment (completed the day before you do the UNO part) that needs to be graded, if only for feedback sake, like a rough draft, set of math problems, chapter question & answer problems, etc. This can be adapted to fit any subject.

Day 1:

Students will do the independent work on the first day, as well as some peer review. For my activity, I had students write a paragraph (6-10 sentences) over their choice of the three prompts provided. This is a great way to get a sample of their writing to kickoff the new semester, school year, or any time you need one. I went over the learning target, I can review, revise, and edit writing with consideration for the task, purpose, and audience, before giving them ten minutes to complete the paragraph. We did this part in class, but if you tend to send home homework, that would work as “day 1” one as well. When the ten minutes were up, students got into teams by sharing their document with 1-3 other classmates, giving them edit access. If you haven’t taught your students how to share documents yet, and how to give the different types of access, this is a great way to teach or review that as well. I gave the teams 5 minutes (but it can be however long you think your students need for that assignment) to review, revise, and edit each other’s work. I showed them how to be in “suggest mode,” but commenting would also work. The last step for “day 1” was to have students upload their edited work into a collaborative platform, such as Wakelet, Padlet, or a shared folder in Google Drive or One Drive. My students uploaded into the collaborative Wakelet collection that I set up previously for them to use. I generated the “invite collaborators” link and attached it to the corresponding assignment in Google Classroom for students to access. Most students were able to upload their Google Docs before the class ended.

Day 2

To make a copy of this slide, click on the image, and then go to➡️ file ➡️ make a copy.

My original idea was to start each team off with 100 points. Each time a team found a mistake in the writing of someone from a different team, they would lose points. The team with the most points at the end of the hour would be declared the winner. Wondering how to make it better, I asked my first hour class what gaming elements could we add to improve the level of fun. One student, Noah, did not hesitate and replied, “UNO.” Another student immediately made the same connection as Noah had. They explained the concept and we set it up immediately. Here’s the refined version after we made adjustments during class.

Grammar (Insert your content in place of Grammar) UNO:

  1. All students select another student’s writing from the Wakelet. The selected work can not be from someone within their own team.
  2. Students review the work carefully, looking for errors.
  3. When an error is found, the student highlights it, adds a comment that points out the error and includes the correction needed.
  4. Student gets teacher confirmation that it is an actual error.
  5. Student goes to the front of the room and draws a card from the UNO deck (or if you are teaching virtually, you draw for the student and show class the card) and shows the class the card.
  6. If it is a number card, like the number 6 for example, then the team of the student whose paper had the error loses 6 points. The card is placed in the discard pile.
  7. If the student draws a zero, then that equals 10 points to be deducted.
  8. If the student draws a “Draw 2” card, then 2 points are added to their own team.
  9. If the student draws a “Reverse,” then they keep the card (or you set it aside for that team if playing virtually) until an error is found on one of their papers. Then they can play (and discard) the reverse card to “switch” the negative points into positive points. (We also discussed the option of also allowing the team holding the reverse card to choose adding the points to their own team or subtracting them from the team who found the error and drew the card.)
  10. If the student draws a “Skip,” then they keep it (or you do) until an error is found on one of their papers, and they can then play (and discard) the “Skip” card to remain safe that round.
  11. If the student draws a “Wildcard,” then that equals zero points lost by the team with the error.
  12. If the student draws a “Draw 4” then 4 points are added to their team score.

**Side note: If you have every played Grudge ball in class, this has elements of it also. Students will purposefully choose teams to target as part of their strategy if the class is big enough to have more than two teams.**

Discarded cards and the stack of cards ready to be drawn. *In my room of flexible seating, this is the one desk remaining.

Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid

This is the part that can get a little crazy, as students will quickly begin to diligently look for errors. If they aren’t using the commenting feature, then other teams might claim that error first. By commenting with the error and correction, students can also look over the comments to correct their own work either at the end of the hour or later that day before turning it into Google Classroom or your LMS (Learning Management System). I had so many students finding errors, that I had to begin having them adjust the score themselves after drawing the card. Each team can use the same marker or you can write it on a scratch piece of paper if teaching virtually.

Allowing students to come up with their own team names is also part of the fun.

And all that glitters is gold

If you teach other subjects are lower grade levels, this can still be adapted to suit the needs of your students. We often want students to check their work, grade their own work, or switch wit. a partner to grade their work. Now when you are faced with that, think UNO. For younger grades, think SkipBo. Digital work that is shareable will provide the best outcomes, so you may need to adjust your assignments some to accommodate this. What do the winners get? That depends upon you and your classroom. The mere fact they won is usually enough, but you can also have a trophy that stays in the classroom but is awarded to the winning team along with a photo op for social media or whatever suits you and your students. The same trophy can be used each time, and it can be as simple as a pool noodle with ribbon on it. Letting the winning team select a representative to take the trophy for a slow winning jog around the classroom is also an option.

A trophy can be as simple as a pool noodle with ribbon.

Only shooting stars break the mold

At the end of the class period, my students had reviewed their own work and that of their peers. They revised and edited their own work and also edited the work of others. They did all of this with enthusiasm. The student excitement during the activity was palpable, but the icing on the cake came as the bell rang. One student remarked as he put away his things, “Oh we are definitely doing this again. Like tomorrow. Can we, Mrs. Steinbrink?” Sure. I can make them write again tomorrow, and then review, revise, and edit their work. No problem.

Headings are partial lyrics from All Star by Smash Mouth.

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