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Teaching Beyond the 4Cs in the Secondary Classroom | 21st Century Skills

The 4CsThe development of the 4Cs – the skills of Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration – has been around in education and English language teaching for some time now. This has influenced coursebook design, our everyday teaching, and our general attitude towards teaching and learning. As I was planning tasks for the development of these 4 key skills in my own teaching, I have always felt the need for (and I am sure many of you have had the same experience) a broader layer that encompasses these as well as a number of other skills that are just as important for our fast-paced world, where students need to be empowered to shape their own futures. The challenges I’ve faced recently with my teenage students such as lack of motivation, interest, poor attention span, higher emotional instability, being easily distracted, have led me to look for solutions.

I discovered that natural curiosity, love of learning, self-control, resilience, self-reflection, and humour to name a few are just as important in preparing our students for lifelong success. Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman in their article “The science of practice and self-control” discovered that self-control ‘outdoes’ talent in predicting academic success during adolescence. Since then, a surfeit of longitudinal evidence has affirmed the importance of self-control to achieving everyday goals that conflict with momentary temptations”. According to a number of researchers of positive education, all these skills together with the 4 Cs fall under the development of character strengths and virtues.

With this broader framework in mind, I found it a lot easier to design and select appropriate teaching materials and tasks for my teenage students.

One of my favourite ways of approaching a topic developing the 4Cs and beyond is through questioning.

  1. I give students the main words or ideas of the unit, for example, ‘remember’, “memory”, ‘remind’ and ‘forget’. I then ask them to brainstorm questions using these words and the question’s words ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ in pairs or small groups. They might come up with questions like ‘What do we remember?’, ‘How do we remember?’, ‘Why do we forget?’, and ‘What do we need to do to remember?’
  2. Then I ask them to choose two or three questions that they feel would be interesting to find the answer to.
  3. In the next stage, I re-group them to discuss the answers to the questions of their choice, giving them ideas of where to look for answers if they are stuck. This tends to be the longest most engaging stage of the exercise as it taps into their natural curiosity and their desire to find answers to the questions posed by their peers.
  4. Students then go back to their original groups to collect the answers together. These can be represented on posters that can evolve and expand while working around the specific topic, including all the experiments and discoveries they may personally make along this learning journey. They should make notes of the unanswered questions with an aim to seek answers to these as well.
  5. The posters are displayed and revisited from time to time as further questions or answers start to surface. It’s a good idea at this stage to ask students to read each other’s questions and answers, prompting them to look for interesting ideas or to simply express their opinions.
  6. Towards the end, I try to make students aware of what they’ve learnt, as well as get them to reflect on how they felt, the effort they have put into it, their level of engagement, etc.

If you look back at the tasks set above, students are given several opportunities to build not only their creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills, but they also develop a love of learning, perseverance, tolerating ambiguity, etc. in an engaging and meaningful way.


Erika Osváth is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed-Ability Teaching.