The Unfair Game is about to become your new favorite class activity, and your students will love and hate you for it. In any situation that you might be inclined to play a game of Jeopardy, Trashketball, or Grudgeball, instead… make it unfair with The Unfair Game!

The Unfair Game is a highly competitive review game for any class that your students will love to hate!
CREDIT: The idea for The Unfair Game comes from Julia Ullman, who has been collaborating on the development of the Nous sommes curriculum. Julia has been playing this game for years, and I am so glad that she shared this idea with me!

The Unfair Game is designed to be played with two teams. You can use as few or as many questions as you want, and teams try to answer the questions correctly in order to earn points for their team.

What’s so unfair about that?


In the Unfair Game, each question is assigned a unique point value, and the point value can be positive OR negative. No one except for the teacher knows the value of the question until after the answer is given. The team must decide before seeing the value of the question whether they want to keep the points or give them to the other team. Then they have to just cross their fingers and hope that their choice worked out in their favor!


In order to increase the strategy required to play the game, I came up with an alternate way to play (it will also allow you to inject novelty by playing the same game in a slightly different way): once the value of the question is revealed, the team can choose to keep the points or give them to the other team. Instead of determining the winner by whoever has the most points, the winning team is the one that has the positive score closest to zero. (For example, a team with a final score of +2 would beat a team with a final score of -1 because the winning score must be positive–even though -1 is closer to 0 than is +2.) Of course, if both scores are negative, then the winning score is whichever is closer to zero. The game is still unfair because you aren’t in control of your own score: another team can interfere with your strategy!


  1. Write a list of questions to ask students during the game, and number each question.
  2. Assign a positive or negative point value to each question at random (I stick to values between -10 and +10 or so).
  3. Create some kind of a game board in which only the question numbers are visible (students cannot see the question or the point value assigned to it). For example, the game board could be as simple as the nine-square grid that you see to the right. The teacher should keep a list of the questions that correspond to each question number from the game board AND the value of each question. (Ex: Q1: What is 1+1? value = +3 points Q2: Who wrote Romeo and Juliet? value = -6 points, Q3: What does “corre” mean in English? value = +2 points).

Here is a basic Unfair Game game board:

A sample gameboard for the Unfair Game - all you need is a way to show which questions are available to students!

Want something a little more jazzy? Purchase the interactive and editable The Unfair Game template for Powerpoint or The Unfair Game template for Keynote. Each one provided in Spanish and in English, includes separate templates for the Original Unfair Game and The Unfair Game 2.0–four templates total–, and is designed for 25 questions).

How to play The Unfair Game

  1. Divide your class into two teams: Team A and Team B (they can choose a name for their team, if they wish). If you play the original version of the game, you could have more than two teams. However, if you play The Unfair Game 2.0, you really should only have two teams so that several teams are not tempted to strategically “gang up” on one team in particular.
  2. Think of a number between 1-100 and have each team guess to see which one gets to choose a question first. Let’s imagine that Team A guesses the number closest to the one that you chose and therefore gets to pick the question first.
  3. Explain the objective: When all questions have been answered (or you run out of time), whichever team has the closest POSITIVE score to zero is declared the winner. (Ex: A team with a score of +2 beats a team with a score of -1 because the score must be positive, even though -1 is closer to 0 than +2.
  4. The first team (Team A, in this example) selects a question number.
  5. The teacher reads the corresponding question aloud.
  6. Team A attempts to answer the question correctly.
  7. After Team A answers the question, the teacher states whether the answer was “correct” or “incorrect” (revealing the correct answer if the team answered incorrectly).
  8. The teacher reveals the point value of the question.
  9. If Team A answered correctly, Team A chooses whether to keep the points or to award them to Team B. If Team A answered the question incorrectly, then Team B chooses what to do with the points from that question (to keep them or assign them to Team A).
  10. A secretary adds the positive or negative point value to the designated team’s score on a score sheet.
  11. Regardless of whether or not Team A answered their question correctly, Team B now chooses a question and game play repeats from Step #4-#10.
  12. Play until all questions have been answered or you run out of time!
The Unfair Game is a highly competitive review game for any class that your students will love to hate!


Switching to Comprehension Based Methods of teaching language doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of all of your old activities: you simply must consider how you can use them to provide your students with comprehensible input!

So, how could you use this in a world language class that strives to fill each class period with CI? Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a chapter–or several chapters–from a novel and have students respond to comprehension questions about the text in the target language. Think outside the box when writing questions: include formats like “Fact or Opinion?“, “First or Second?“, “Who said it?“, etc. Students could also determine whether or not the given statement appeared in the text.
  • Do a MovieTalk or Ask a Story in class. Each question for the game is a question about the video or class story (true/false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc.).
  • Do a cultural study and ask content-based questions in the target language about the topic.
  • Work with a song and really get to know the lyrics. Show students the first half of a lyric and require them to complete it, give the next line in the song, or translate it.
  • Write closed-ended questions (NOT personalized or customized) or fill in the blank statements, each of which includes one structure from a set of target structures.

Get ready-to-play games!

In addition to our editable templates (Click here!), we have a whole slew of The Unfair Game sets that are loaded up with questions and ready for you to play with your students in Spanish, English or French.

See an example of how I created a version of the game that is rich in input (available in Spanish and French):

The Unfair Game is the perfect review game that your students will LOVE to hate!

Background graphics for slides and the cover page of the game instructions were created by Clipart Queen.

60 replies on “The Unfair Game

  1. Gracias/Merci
    I usually don’t reveal the point value until they decide to keep it or give it away. It makes it so much more unfair 🙂

      1. I tried to play this game in a hybrid class ad it didn’t wirk so well for me. Do you have any ideas?

    1. I’m glad you clarified that, Julia! It has been a lot of fun to play this with my classes for the first time this week!

  2. I’m so excited to use this today! One question – how do you keep kids from getting lost in the mix participation wise? As in, how do you keep the most solid kiddos from dominating with just two teams?

    1. Hm, maybe Julia has a suggestion for you? One idea that comes to mind is enforcing a mandatory 30+ second “silent period” after the question is asked and having all students write down an answer to the question before discussing it with their team.

    2. Hi Shannon, I just wanted to say that I am making my students give their answer in unison as a group. It doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it does help some!

  3. I bought The Unfair Game this today, but it took me longer to get it set up than I thought it would, and I did not get it finished before it was time for my class (ok, so I should have planned better…). But, I still wanted to play an unfair game with my 5th graders for review over the first half of Las aventuras de Isabela. So, I made up a combination of several games that I’ve seen here and there. I used the Mexican Pirinola (a spin top – to make the points random) along with some chapter review questions. Each team started with 10 points (I used X’s on the board, pirinola uses chips) and I drew names (I use popsicle sticks) for team members to take turns. If the contestant answered the question correctly, they spun and did what the pirinola told them to do toma or pon (take one, take two, give one, give two, take all, give all). I had to continually remind my students that it was an unfair game… some took it better than others. When all is said and done, the score was -2 to 0. As they left, several asked, “So, who won?” It was fun to hear their responses. Some said that no one really won or lost, others said that they won with zero because the other team had -2. I would prefer to have the game ready to go, but this did the trick in a pinch! 😉

    1. Wow, great thinking on the fly! Yes, it takes a bit to type in all of the questions and answers–worth the time if you plan to use it in future years or in multiple class periods! And thanks for sharing how it went with elementary students–I have a feeling that they would have a harder time with the unfairness of it than high schoolers!!

      1. Absolutely! Teachers of all subject areas are using it, and I have done games as story review, to quiz non-fiction/content knowledge, and even to introduce content.

  4. Martina, I bought the Unfair Game template, and must have done something wrong, because the slides do not behave as you say they do in your instructions. You say that the value of the clues won’t appear on the answer slide until you click twice or something. But they appear on the slide the whole time. Plus, when you click on the numbers, it does not jump to that question–it doesn’t do anything in fact.

    Is there something I didn’t do beforehand?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Dan Kelty

  5. Love the game ideas! But I don’t have a class with more people than 10! Two classes with 5! Any small group game ideas? I desperately need to breath life into this class! The other classes of 5-7 are doing awesome. But this one is filled with Negative Nellies!

    1. Play the unfair game with just two or three people on each team! It would totally still work. Play the modified version of Mafia that Ben Wang shared (Mandarin examples on the blog) with just one mafia member.

  6. Has anyone tried the game with more teams? I like the popsicle stick idea to call names, I am afraid some students will not stay engaged in such large teams.

  7. Thanks for the template. It saved me a lot of time. I used it as a song guessing game. I uploaded 30 sec clips to each question slide. I also didn’t reveal the point value until each team decided to either keep it or give it away. The reactions were hilarious. Students got to have fun while listening to their favorite songs. Great class. Thanks for making it possible.

  8. I’ve seen this game successfully played in Middle School where each team is 2 or 3 people, and after the question is presented, each team writes the answer on a small whiteboard (“pizarrita” in Spanish). Then the teacher (or better yet a helper) awards a single card from a deck of cards to each winning team. Black cards are positive and red cards are negative. All teams add up their points at the end. All face cards are worth 10. And a joker or ace means you get to ‘steal’ any card from another team at the very end.

  9. So it makes sense that a team gets to choose who gets the points if point value is revealed BEFORE the decision, but it doesn’t really makes sense if the point value is revealed afterwards because then either team is just making a random guess without strategy. I guess my point is, where is the incentive to guess correctly if there’s a chance the team will lose points regardless who chooses? Does this make sense?

    1. Totally…. and that, my friend, is the maddening beauty of the game! IT’S TOTALLY UNFAIR! I’ve found that students hate it at first because of the unfairness, but as soon as they let go of their perceived need to attempt control the outcome, they love it!

  10. Good morning! Has anyone tried to play this in a Zoom meeting? I teach half my day in person and half my day online. I’d love to be able to play in both settings if possible. Thank you!

  11. I work at an Adult daycare, and I think my peeps would love this! One difference I’m going to do though, is rather than assign random points to each question, I’m going to use 2 dice (or a die and a coin) to determine points for each question. One die will determine how many points (1-6), the other die (or coin) will determine positive or negative. That way, NOBODY will know until it’s too late!

    Thank you so much for posting this game, I’m excited to try it out!

  12. I can see using a deck of cards to determine the point value of a question. Red the amount is negative (1 to 13) and black positives

  13. I would like to know if I tell them the number of the points after they decide to keep them or not – what do I do if they dont answer correct? Thank you

    1. If they don’t answer correctly, they are stuck with the points OR the other team gets to choose what to do with the points (you can play either way!). and yes you tell them the number of points after they decide!

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