Initial Publication Date: June 20, 2023

Better upon reflection: Building metacognitive habits ONE card at a time

Design and engineering competitions, as well as classroom-based and independent research experiences, challenge students in a number of ways. Preparing for team competitions and conducting undergraduate research has been shown to build important skills that translate into classroom and workplace success. Given that time is often limited, focusing on immediate goal(s) is often prioritized, leaving little or no time for reflection about other skills that will serve students long after the competition is over, or the research experience ends. That is where the metacognition card games come in. By providing opportunities for self-discovery and team-building, the cards provide teams and classes with a way to both prepare for the competition and/or final presentation, and hone skills that will continue to serve them well.


The set of metacognition cards are designed to strengthen habits that can improve performance in any domain. Each card offers a fun way for students to reflect on their own learning and how they might make adjustments to learn more effectively. This process, called 'metacognition,' has been shown to improve student success in many ways, including improvements in reading comprehension, critical thinking, academic performance, communication, and problem-solving. These gains are not surprising, given that metacognitive people:

  • set goals
  • plan for success 
  • monitor their progress
  • look at problems from different angles 
  • recognize when adjustments are needed 
  • ask for guidance 
  • persist through challenges 
  • engage in creative problem-solving

As students play the card game, they reflect on a wide range of situations and notice patterns around what is working, what isn't, and when they need to make adjustments. Being metacognitive need not mean that students must be hyperaware all the time. Rather, those with metacognitive habits become aware of their goals and their methods so they can check-in as conditions merit. Metacognition skills include developing an awareness of when check-ins are important and how to make meaningful adjustments. These skills can help students appreciate the need for learning new techniques and how to acquire them. Like other skills, developing metacognition takes time and ongoing practice. The cards offer a fun way to practice.

Ways to play the metacognitive card game

The cards can be used at any time, in any order, singly, or in any combination. They can be played by individuals, by a team, or by a group of students enrolled in a research course. The goal is to return to the cards regularly because frequency is the key to habit formation. 

Individual play

  • Individuals can choose any card to prompt reflection. 
  • Individuals may take the opportunity to be vulnerable with themselves and say things to themselves that they might not say to others. 


Group play

  • Team members may take turns answering cards. Fun and laughter are encouraged.
  • Players may also answer from the point of view of a teammate; pass a card to a teammate for them to respond; or shift perspective by answering from the point of view of the team as a whole. 


When to play the metacognitive card game

  • Use a card to kick off a team or class session before moving on to the business at hand. End a session with a card either to recap the day's activities or to set goals for the next session.
  • Use cards to structure a team or group debrief about what's working, what's not, and where things could be improved.
  • Use cards on the plane, train, bus, or during pizza parties. Most anytime can be a good time to pause and reflect together.


Tips to support student play

  • Most anytime can be a good time to play. Building habits requires lots of practice. So, the more they play, the stronger the habit will become.
    • Using card play to support team-building early in the season can help students get to know one another.
    • A warm-up exercise at the beginning of a work or class session can spark creativity and focus all members on success on tasks both large and small. (10 minutes is enough.)
    • A wrap-up exercise at the end of a session can help students take stock of the larger lessons to be drawn from their time together. If challenges were met, they might use the cards to reflect on how that happened. If the work session was less successful, students might use the cards to consider lessons they can bring to their next session together. (10 minutes is enough.)
    • Any time students need a break can be a good time to use the cards to re-center the group on the big picture tasks at hand.
  • Students don't always see themselves as others see them. For example, they can misperceive their strengths and challenges. That's okay. The goal is to get them thinking and keep them talking to facilitate self-discovery and team-building.
    • If you sense a mismatch between how students see things, ask a follow up question or prompt. To the group, does everyone see it that way? Or to the individual, can you say more about how you came to that conclusion?
    • If students are quiet, ask a follow up question or prompt the group. For example, can you give an example? Can you say more?
  • Look for similarities and differences among students' answers. For example, if students have very different coping mechanisms during times of crises, then talking through strategies allows them to learn about themselves, learn that other team or class members respond in different ways, and find collaborative strategies for managing those differences. If possible, ask a follow up question or point something out to highlight possible similarities and differences.
  • Because student views are evolving, there's nothing wrong with re-visiting cards and issues they've talked about before. Indeed, it is an opportunity to talk about how views have changed and why.
    • If students have been together for a period of time, then revisiting issues can help track their evolution and growth. For example, what accounts for the change in the group's approach to problem-solving? Or, if it seems like communication within the group is going differently, what accounts for the change?
  • It's okay to let students play on their own. Some students will choose to break out the cards while they are sharing pizza and come up with new ways to play. This is not only allowed, but encouraged. Each occasion is an opportunity to build metacognitive habits.


Cards support the EvaluateUR method outcomes

The EvaluateUR method takes a deep dive into student learning gains by encouraging students to identify the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, to see where they can improve, and how to use this knowledge as they further their education and enter the workforce. The EvaluateUR method assessments provide students and mentors with opportunities to check-in on student progress in specific outcome categories and provides opportunities for feedback on the technical knowledge and range of skills students are developing. The metacognition cards provide ongoing opportunities for students to practice and build their reflection skills and develop life-long metacognitive habits.


Want to play and provide feedback?

Apply to Pilot Metacognition Card Game




« Previous Page