March Madness: UNO Style

So, despite being in pep band from 7th grade through college, I’m still not a huge basketball fan. March is known mainly for a few things – St. Patrick’s Day, Women’s History Month, and – you got it – basketball and its March Madness tournament.

Literary March Madness

I’ve seen many librarians do so many creative things with March Madness when it comes to choosing books to beat other books in a bracket style. And I’ve done those. They are really cool – but only if you have a lot of readers that have time to come into the library to vote. Or visit the library website to vote. 

In my last high school, I didn’t have a ton of readers who came into the library during their study hall because they had mostly full schedules. Because of this, they didn’t have time to vote and I didn’t have an easy way to reach all students outside of the library avenues. Looking back, I would set up the bracket and have posters all over the school with a mini-bracket and a QR code for students to use to vote. 

I believe we school librarians need to think carefully about our audience and what we hope to accomplish with the tournament. Do you want to focus on readers? Do you want to target students who are in the library all the time? Do you want to focus on getting the most students into the space? I wanted to ensure that I continued to establish with students that the library is a safe space for everyone, not just readers. 

My goal is to get as many students into the library as possible because I believe the more traffic I have, the higher my circulation will be. For some students, that means using the library’s social media channels to highlight diverse voices through a #readblack and #readfemale campaign. For others, that means games.

Why an UNO Tournament?

One of the former schools I was at didn’t have a huge population of readers, but they loved to play games and be social in the library. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned students are in love with UNO no matter what school, area, or grade band I have worked in. 

So I turned the book brackets on its head and gave into March Madness but with UNO. My students appreciated that I listened to them and turned their interest into a competition, so they bought in immediately. Tailoring your programming to your students’ needs and interests is of utmost importance as it gets students in and using the library. 

Let’s set the scene. 

On the library wall, there is a giant 5 foot by 12-foot bracket poster with the UNO symbol in the middle. Depending on how many students sign up, you may need a larger bracket or two brackets. I decided to not put a cap on how many people could participate, but that’s something to consider. Students come into the library during their study hall (I group them with others that have the same study hall) and sit in groups of 4-6. They then begin their game of UNO. 

The atmosphere is electric. The majority of my students are competitive people and at times I would egg them on to create even more excitement. The more intense the game, the louder it gets. And it’s so exciting! The students are into the game more than I see them into most things at school in their classes. 

Many of the students haven’t met one another or do not hang out in the same social circles, so they are learning about one another as they play as well. This creates a positive culture shift as I saw many students after the tournament say hello to one another in the halls or sit together at lunch and even merge their circle with the other person’s circle. 

How to Set Up March Madness: UNO Style

Before the actual playing begins, there is some prep work that goes into this. 

  1. Plan Ahead

I create sign-up sheets for every study hall period without a limit on the number of students who can sign up. Having a page for each study hall makes it easier down the line to group students together rather than working off one sign-up sheet in which you have to locate when each student has a study hall. 

Since there are multiple games happening at once, you will need enough UNO decks for each group. I have purchased a multiple deck pack from Amazon, but you can also get them from almost any store. I also purchased snacks for students whilst they were playing (chips, cookies, water, etc.) but you don’t have to do this. I purchased prizes for the final four (movie-sized candy of their request) and the overall winner got a gift card of their choice. More on that later. 

I started by transferring a traditional basketball bracket to the large bulletin board paper and hung it up in the hallway where students came into the library. I did this first because all students could see it and it generated conversation and questions. I also used the library’s Twitter and Instagram accounts to advertise, tagging the school’s social media handles in the posts. 

  1. Start the Signup

Next, I had a physical sign-up sheet in the library on which students who wanted to play signed up with their lunch period and/or study hall period. Students could not be exempt from classes to play. I used the student announcements to help garner excitement and explain what was going to happen. More students than I bargained for signed up, so we had to add another bracket. Approximately 50 students signed up. 

For planning purposes, playing out the whole bracket with all the students who signed up took approximately two weeks from start to finish. Depending on how large your library is, you might want to close to other study hall students and stay open for check out/check-in. I kept the library open to everyone during the tournament and it made the environment even more electric with students cheering on their peers. 

  1. Make the Teams

I then go through and group students by 4-6 in a group to play. If there is an odd number, I will play with groups of 3 or 7 if needed. If you go lower than three though, I don’t think it’s fair to the larger groups because then they have less of a chance to win the game and move on. If the groups are bigger than six, it takes too long to play.

  1. Establish Rules

We played with the original UNO rules. To warn you, many students don’t play with original rules, such as you can’t stack +2 or +4 or Wild cards on top of one another. We did play that whoever won was the person who was out of cards. Since we had 45 minute periods, we did the best out of 4-5 games. 

  1. Let the Games Begin!

The whole process was multiple days over a two-week window. The winner then moved on and was pitted against the winner of another game. The next day, the winner from each group went on to play the next group. Then, we rinsed and repeated until we were down to our final four students to put all in one game. 

At times, we had 6 games going on at once. It was so exciting! The majority of students who weren’t playing clamored around the student groups that were playing and cheered them on. It was a really great community-building experience!

The challenge that I had was trying to find a time in which, once we started to narrow the numbers down, each student could participate because they all may not have had the same study hall or lunch. A couple of games had to be played outside of school, which I tried my hardest not to do because of transportation issues for some of my students, but it all ended up working out. 

The final winner got huge bragging rights, featured on the school news, jumbo-sized candy, and a gift card to Raisin’ Canes (their choice). 

Many students said that this was their favorite activity of the year. I am looking forward to trying it at South this year. I’ll keep you posted. 

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