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6 Tips for Incorporating Life Skills into Your English Language Lessons

June 22, 2023

No matter who your learners are, it’s likely that they are learning English to improve their life chances. They may be hoping to secure their dream job, further their education, or communicate confidently with English users from around the world. 

In order to do so, they’ll also need to develop digital, work, academic, critical thinking, problem-solving, and/or intercultural communication skills. 

These are just a few key "life skills," also known as:

  • soft skills
  • 21st-century skills
  • transferable skills
  • essential skills
  • functional skills*

life skills focus tag on Ellii
*Ellii previously used the Focus tag "functional" for content that focuses on these types of essential skills for newcomers to English-speaking countries. In 2023, we adopted the term "life skills," which is more universally recognized due to its literal meaning. 

You will find many useful sections for teaching life skills on Ellii's Lesson sections page under the heading English for Newcomers. Alternatively, browse these ready-made collections: Jobs & Employment, CASAS Competencies, LINC Themes, CLB Competencies, and Social-Emotional Learning.

In this post, I’ll explore ways to incorporate "life skills" into your English language lessons. 

1. Identify key skills

Every learner and teaching context is different. It’s important to first find out what skills your students need, or want, to develop. If they’re young learners, you may want to focus on creativity, emotional intelligence, team building, and time management. However, if you’re teaching learners who are soon to go to university, your focus may be on self-directed learning, presentation skills, academic writing, and digital literacy.

This Goal-Setting graphic organizer is a good way to support students to identify which skills they have and which skills they would like to develop. 

2. Encourage self-reflection 

Having clear goals and a plan for how to achieve them makes success more likely. 

Likewise, the ability to identify progress, strengths, and areas for improvement is invaluable for self-development. 

This Weekly Reflection form can help learners get into the habit of doing this. It can also help them develop their study skills, note taking, planning, time management, and self-direction. 

You may also like this road-mapping activity I created for my book, 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills. Creating a visual representation of a five-year plan can help make the goals within it seem more achievable. 

The beauty of this journey-mapping tool is that it can be used for future or past events. Students can also draw this road map and use it to reflect on all the things that have happened over a period of time. 

Emily Bryson's Journey Map

3. Use authentic scenarios

When learning to communicate in English, students need to navigate a multitude of interactions. 

For example: 

Each of these requires its own unique vocabulary, grammar, and useful phrases. Giving learners the opportunity to practice these interactions in a controlled and supportive environment will give them the confidence to use them outside of the classroom. 

Ellii has identified 41 Functional English targets and created a resource for each. There are video assessments in many of the digital lessons (also viewable in the Media Gallery).

4. Try role-plays

Role-plays are excellent ways to build confidence with communication skills. They’re also perfect for integrating problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and team building. 

Give students a scenario that allows them to develop their identified skills or let them work together to create their own. You can challenge them further by adding some additional problems to solve. 

For example, if they are role-playing how to complain in a restaurant, you could give students an emotion to act out (e.g., a tired waiter, a frustrated customer) or an unexpected challenge (e.g., the customer forgot their wallet). 

If you’d prefer something more scaffolded, you’ll find plenty of ready-made scenarios to practice in Ellii's Role-Plays and Everyday Dialogues sections.

5. Projects, projects, projects

Integrating projects into your classroom allows students to organically practice a multitude of skills. It also provides the opportunity to get involved with the local community, explore an environmental issue, raise funds for a good cause, or create a campaign. 

Whatever project you choose can develop a multitude of skills such as those needed to create and deliver presentations, vlog, and blog. Learners will also learn the value of teamwork and negotiation as they refine their decision-making skills. 

Try some ready-made Group Projects from Ellii. 

Ellii's Group Projects for ESL learners

6. Get creative with assessments

Traditional assessments have their place and can be a useful benchmark for student progress. However, stepping away from quizzes can allow for more natural use of language. It can also make learners more relaxed and meet their learning preferences more closely. 

Try assessment tasks such as debates, interviews, presentations, blogs, or group projects. These could allow for the use and development of multiple skills. 

What life skills do your learners need to develop? How do you incorporate them into your classes? Share your ideas with the Ellii community!

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