We don’t just teach language, right? A huge part of our job as teachers is to prepare students with the skills and experiences that go beyond simply learning a foreign language. When we work with kids, we want them to learn more about the world and be successful in life. This is why teaching life skills is so important. Among them, there are such skills as problem-solving, emotional intelligence, decision making, time management, working in a team and others. In today’s article, we’ll take a look at 3 essential life skills to teach to young learners and come up with practical ideas for your classroom.
Collaboration skills are essential for productive classroom work, especially if you teach groups. Also, learning responsibility and collaboration will make a child a valuable member of any team and future. It may be difficult for young learners to learn the rules of the game. They can get frustrated about many things: another team won, they haven’t been paired with their best friend, the teacher asked someone else to help at the end of the lesson.
Here is what you can try to help kids learn and grow:
Give clear instructions
This is the first and the most important step. Make all your instructions clear and concise. Make sure you give them step by step. What looks better, A or B?
A: ‘Now we are going to open our books and do exercise 2. When you are ready, tell me. Then you will work in pairs, with your friends, and ask and answer questions. Remember the answers well, ok?’
B: Open your books, please. Let’s do exercise 2 (demonstrates the exercise).
(When the kids are ready) Well done! Now work in pairs: you two, you two and you two. Ask these questions to your friends.
No doubt that B makes it easier for children to focus and improves the chances of getting the activity done.
Encourage cooperation and help
Give children a lot of guidance and support before and while they are working together. Try different pairing: a shy kid can benefit from some assistance from a more confident one. Fast finishers can help those who are still working. You can also encourage supportiveness by using such a strategy as ‘Ask 3 before me.’ If a child in a group has a question and a learning situation is appropriate, invite them to ask 3 groupmates for help before getting the answer from the teacher.
Use group activities
Young learners usually enjoy working in pairs and groups. It makes a lot of noise sometimes and needs to be controlled well, so teachers sometimes opt for ‘safe’ open-class activities and teacher-student interaction. To make young learners team players and teach support and effective cooperation, invite them to work in different groups. Here are some interaction patterns that can be used in the lesson:
⋅ pairwork where a shy and a more confident learner are paired;
⋅ mini group of 3-4 people;
⋅ 2 equal groups in a game or a competition;
⋅ whole class for a discussion or a common group project;
⋅ mingling activity for sharing opinions and finding out more about groupmates.
Young children can sometimes struggle with recognizing and describing emotions. This is an area that needs to be developed with sensitivity in the classroom. Proper emotional development can help kids build positive relationships with others further in life and understand themselves and those around them better. Also, if they learn to manage their emotions, they will inevitably learn to cooperate better and adapt to a variety of situations. Sounds handy, doesn’t it? So, what activities can you use to teach emotional intelligence?
This activity is one of my all-time favourites in terms of picture description. It works well for all kinds of exams, but you can use it with young learners anytime. When there is a need to talk about a picture, draw students’ attention to three bullet points:
⋅ I see …
⋅ I think …
⋅ I feel …
Then, explain that the ‘I see’ part asks them to describe what they can see, ‘I think’ – share their ideas, and ‘I feel’ – tell about how they feel looking at the picture or how the people in the picture might be feeling.
Quite often, coursebooks for young learners focus on 5-6 most essential feelings. As the visuals are not always precise, kids might confuse ‘bored’ and ‘tired’ or ‘angry’ and ‘scared’ easily. To make it work better, find appropriate illustrations first which give a clear picture. Then, you may ask students to match an emotion with a possible reason for feeling this way. After that, students can come up with their own ideas like ‘I feel bored when …’ or ‘I last felt angry when …’. Another thing to try is an emotional dictation. Dictate 7-8 emotions to students and ask them to write down the first association that comes to their mind. In the end, you can see lists like these:
⋅ happy – summer
⋅ sad – homework
⋅ angry – Maths
If the level allows, you can ask students to share why they have written this or that thing. It can even be done in L1. By the way, it’s also a great idea to teach new emotions to kids occasionally.
Problem-solving is a vital aspect of a child’s development, giving them confidence and helping them to make good decisions when faced with difficult situations later in life. Solving problems involves many skills such as identifying and analysing problems, collecting necessary information, choosing between the options and making the final decisions. Also, it is great when a kid can justify their decision and assess how effective it was. Where and how can we incorporate it?
Stories – even those in our coursebooks – are a great way of developing problem-solving skills. By discussing problems met in stories, you can develop young learners’ life skills and also teach them reading strategies. For example, you can design short questionnaires for stories with questions like:
- What was the problem?
- Was it a big problem? How do we know?
- What did the character do?
- Was it a good idea? Why?
- What would you do? Why?
The questions may vary according to the learners’ age and language abilities. By the way, this will also teach them critical thinking.
Questions into challenges
Turning questions into challenges can be an effective classroom strategy. When your young learners come up with a question that might require a bit of research, invite them to find out together or discuss the question in pairs or groups first. If the age is appropriate, you can invite the students to google and find the answer or do a fact check using available resources. This way, kids will acquire problem-solving skills and also get some of the ‘learning to learn’ competencies.
Want to know more on the subject? Here you can find The Cambridge Life Competences Framework designed for young learners. It will give you lots of ideas on which life skills to teach and what are some of the ways to approach them. If you are searching for practical solutions, these wonderful activity cards made by Cambridge will help to incorporate life skills into your YL lessons effectively. And if you mainly teach teenagers, the article “What life skills should we teach teens?” about teaching life skills to teens is just for you.