50 Ways to Teach Life Skills: Tips for ESL/EFL Teachers

by Emily Bryson
Wayzgoose Press 2019

Whether you call them life skills, soft skills, 21st-century skills or transferable skills, there is no doubt that these are vital to achieving success in our students’ educational journeys, their careers and their lives. As an umbrella term for a large range of skills often listed by employers as skills that go beyond qualifications and experience, life skills include communication skills, self-awareness, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, etc.

As a language teacher who teaches via task-based learning and communicative approaches, it seems natural for me to incorporate a variety of life skills into my classrooms (as seen in the different topics I’ve covered in ETp’s back-page feature ‘Not only, but also ...’), but in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of dealing with registers, coursebooks and student admin, I sometimes struggle to come up with creative all-encompassing tasks that can enable my students to practise their target language whilst acquiring life skills at the same time.

So when I chanced upon Emily Bryson’s 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills, I was keen to see if it would give me the inspiration (and save me the preparation) and help to turn the concept of teaching life skills into a practical reality.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how much it reminded me of Pavilion’s ETpedia series: I could flip the book to any page and find lists of useful suggestions and ideas to pick and choose from, depending on the class I was teaching. The book is divided into five sections of different skills: Social (eg collaboration, communication, active listening); Academic (eg note-taking, proofreading, motivation); Critical thinking (eg observation, analysis, problem solving); Digital (eg social media, blogging, audio-visual recording); and Work (eg job interviews, working in teams, influencing). In each section, there are ten lesson ideas, with step-by-step lesson plans and alternative suggestions. In order to match the ideas to my classroom context, I only have to check the page for the level (eg starter, elementary, intermediate), the suggested language points (eg polite questions, modals of deduction, adjectives of emotions) and the key life skill that is being focused on in the activity.

While some of the suggested lesson ideas, such as ‘Make a poster’ or ‘Plan an event’ will be familiar to teachers who, like me, are disposed to using groupwork in their classrooms, others were tasks that I knew of and had always meant to carry out with my students, but which I had left on the backburner and forgotten about – and this book was the perfect reminder, inspiring me to make those tasks a reality. But the true value of the book for me lay in the fresh activities that I had never heard of (and believe me when I say I’ve been exposed to quite a range of classroom activities!) such as ‘Bridges and tall towers’, ‘Hirameki’ and ‘Diamond negotiation’, to name just a few.

For the tired teacher who might feel a little jaded about doing the same lessons day in, day out, I’d strongly suggest picking a page at random in Emily Bryson’s book and doing the activity suggested. This could potentially offer great speaking practice, give the students an authentic scenario in which to practise their language, re-motivate the students and the teacher … and oh, allow the students to hone those important life skills in the process. What’s not to like?

Chia Suan Chong
York, UK