Articles · General Gaming

Breaking Down Barriers with a Pack of UNO Cards

Many of you know already that I am an educator. I teach middle school students, but another job of mine is helping the students who get an In School Suspension debrief and create a strategy to avoid future disciplinary actions. Students often end up with me after swearing at or becoming aggressive towards a teacher, fighting another student, or other large disruptions to the educational environment.

By the time these students reach me at the end of the day, they are generally on the defensive. They have been sitting quietly in a room one on one with a teacher, either working on homework or sitting doing nothing. The day is spent bouncing between teachers they likely do not know nor have a relationship with. When I go to begin a discussion about how they ended up in trouble or discussing what they did, they generally will not answer and just sit there glaring at me.

It was crucial for me to find a way to break down that barrier and make students more open to discussion before trying to engage. Knowing how well games break down barriers in other situations, I figured I would try implementing them in this case. I always have a few games in my classroom, so I went to see what I could use. It was important to have something simple and familiar, because the real goal was to be able to have the student discuss while playing.

UNO stood out to me, because it is both extremely simple but yet still engaging and competitive.  Generally after a round or two the child has warmed up enough to begin our discussion while continuing to play. I have seen a complete turnaround in the quality of discussions and problem solving since implementing this strategy. Students are more forth coming with information, and are open to discussing their mistakes. Talking over a game makes students feel less like it is me versus them, and more like I am somebody who cares and wants to see them be successful. The reflection period was more beneficial to the students than the silence of the usual disciplinary treatment.

I am also happy to say since beginning this strategy I have not seen any repeat offenders during In School Suspension, but rather have had students stopping by to tell me they have been using their strategy and are working hard to not end up back where they were. What other games would you suggest I try using for this method?

4 thoughts on “Breaking Down Barriers with a Pack of UNO Cards

  1. What about something like Tsuro? Or if card games are easier, Sparkle Kitty, Unstable Unicorns, Exploding Kittens, and Unexploded Cow come to mind.


  2. When Meeple Steeple comes out, that would be a good one to add. It is fun, easy to explain, and you even have to work cooperatively, so interaction level would be high.


  3. Uno is a very good game for it I think. You play a lot of cool games but uno is definitely a most familiar and casual game. It just helps that you don’t have to explain rules, you’re already on common ground right? I was thinking about Jenga, or checkers, or really any of the old classics but I think you hit it right on the dot


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