A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

Posts tagged ‘Uno’

Board Games and Speech Therapy: Uno

Most of the games discussed in this series have been games with a clear language application. Today, I’m departing a bit from that and talking about how to use Uno by Mattel as a “stealth” therapeutic tool in speech therapy.

Variants/Expansions: Uno is a huge franchise with many, many variants, including Uno Attack, Uno Stacko, Uno Spin, Uno Dice, and Uno Dominos – not to mention all the themed Uno decks (Harry Potter, Star Trek, Hello Kitty)…

General Overview: For those of you who are unfamiliar with one of the world’s most popular family games, Uno is a card game in which 2-10 players try to play all the cards in their hand by matching the color or number of a card in their hand with the card most recently played (so a player could play any blue card or any 4 on a Blue 4). If you can’t play, you must draw a card, and if you forget to yell “Uno!” when you get down to one card in your hand, you must also draw cards. The first player to zero cards wins.

Skill Support:

  • Color Identification – You need to be able to identify (or at least match) red, yellow, blue, and green to play the game successfully.
  • Number Identification – As above but with numbers zero through nine.
  • Following/Remembering Directions – If you ever want to get down to zero cards, you need to remember to say “Uno” when you get down to one.
  • Divided Attention – This game is probably the simplest game for supporting divided attention out there – while you’re trying to determine your next move, you’re also trying to catch your opponents forgetting to say “Uno” when they’re down to one card.


  • Simple Directions: Play a card that matches or draw a card. If you have one card left, say “Uno”. Teachable in less than a minute.
  • Literacy free: Sure, the numbers are technically literacy, but there are no words that need to be read. Even Wild and Draw Two cards are identifiable via icons rather than text.
  • Engaging: This game is a game that most of my students would play every day if I let them (and with some of them, I do – see below).
  • Familiar: Most of my students have already played this game at least once before I introduce it, making it an easy transition game for new speech students.
  • Therapist Participation: This is an easy enough game that the therapist can play with the students at their level, engaging them more directly.


  • Unforgiving Rules: A student who has a hard time remembering the “Uno” rule will never win this game unmodified. Ever. This can get very frustrating unless the rules are modified.
  • Lengthy Endgame: Uno ends when you’re able to match the one card in your hand with the color or number of the last card played. That gives you slightly more than a 25% chance of being able to win on your turn. It’s amazing how long it can take for that 25% chance to work out sometimes.
  • Hidden Information: Because you keep your cards secret from the other players, it’s possible for a student who misses a card or can’t match a number to draw many cards before realizing they can play what’s already in their hand. Worse, a student who wants to be silly and sabotage the game by claiming they don’t have a matching card when they do can extend the game nearly indefinitely.


  • Verbal Output: This is one of my favorite casual articulation games – if you require your students to say the color and number of each card they’re playing, every student is producing at least one /r/ or /l/ every time he or she plays a card, and usually more than one. Even better, it’s in a context that is spontaneous and allows for easy correction without disruption.
  • “Uno” Reminder: Allowing one or more reminders for each player to say “Uno” can help reinforce the rule and stop a student who can’t remember the rule from getting stuck drawing every time they’re about to win.
  • Therapist Observer: Uno’s a great game because the therapist can play with the students, but if you suspect that students are missing cards that match or saying they can’t match the card in play when they can, it’s easy to take an observatory role, making sure students are following the rules and even giving them some ideas about strategy.

Alternate Uses:

  • Using Uno as a reward during other games or drilling activities works well as a reinforcement or engagement tool, especially if your students are working on generalizing a learned skill.

All in all, I find Uno to be a good tool on an “off” day (assemblies, dress-down, standardized testing), and it can be creatively applied directly to speech and language skills as well.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?