You’ve probably heard of 21st-century skills, also known as ‘global skills’. These are the skills, competencies and attitudes considered important in our increasingly globalised world. As educators, we are increasingly expected to help our students develop them, whatever subject we may teach. Global skills cover several areas – for example, communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being – and, of course, digital literacies. Continue reading →
The world is changing at a rapid pace and it is hard for educators to even imagine what kind of skills and competences their learners will need 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years from now. What is clear, however, is that traditional academic subjects alone will not be enough. Many curricula across the globe already include some form of life skills education. It has increasingly become the norm that many educators are expected to integrate the teaching of these skills into their subject teaching. Yet, the support and training educators receive varies widely. This is where we hope our Position Paper can help ELT teachers, in particular, to reflect on and find ways to teach global skills alongside their language aims in sustainable ways.
After having examined many diverse frameworks for global skills, we have distilled them into five clusters. These are:
Communication and collaboration
Creativity and critical thinking
Intercultural competence and citizenship
Emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
How an ELT teacher approaches the teaching of these skills will depend on their own interests, competences, resources, and local curricular constraints. There is no one single way to approach this. We have proposed a range of teaching approaches stretching from single activities to extended projects. Each teacher will select ideas as suits them and their learners. Here are a few ideas to consider and if you would like to know more, please download our free Global Skills Position Paper.
1. Compare different media sources:
In the era of ‘fake news’, critical thinking skills are more important than ever! You can help older learners develop these skills as part of a longer activity, by asking them to analyse different news articles.
Choose a current topic in the news to discuss with your learners. Give them a newspaper article or a news bulletin on the topic and ask them to share their response with a partner. Then, with the class, examine the same story in different media sources. Ask them to consider the author, the intended audience, the emotions involved, and the strategies that are used to engage the reader.
Do you want to develop your students’ digital literacies at the same time? Ask your students to fact check one of the articles online, using more than one source of information. They should think about which source is the most reliable and which to trust.
2. Create digital reports:
Try asking your learners to create a digital report on a global issue like endangered animals or inequality! They should work in pairs, and use their mobile devices to video or audio record a short news report about the issue, describing the problem and offering suggested solutions. Learners can share these reports with each other online, and give each other comments and feedback. The project could also be extended, and you could ask learners to create a detailed proposal for solving the issue. This will help them think critically and learn to solve problems.
3. Ask open-ended questions:
Simply changing the style of your questions can help your learners develop their creativity and critical thinking skills. Open-ended questions encourage students to interpret and analyse information, helping them to practice these essential skills. You can easily integrate these questions into your everyday teaching by asking questions about classroom topics – or you could ask questions about important issues to help your students develop their citizenship skills. For example, you could ask older learners questions like:
What is the most serious environmental issue in our town/region/country?
What causes this issue? Who is responsible for it?
What can we, as individuals, do about it?
You could ask younger learners questions like:
How can we help look after our pets?
How can we care for the animals around us?
This kind of activity provides a good foundation for deeper work on critical thinking in longer activities. It also helps students to practice their language skills by encouraging them to respond in detail.
4. Encourage project work:
Project work is one of the best ways for learners to develop their global skills. By working in groups, setting their own agenda, and personalising their approach, learners feel more engaged and develop multiple skills at once.
One example involves asking students to design their own project to address a problem in their local or global community. Secondary school learners could design projects around:
Working locally with people in an elderly care home who need to improve their technological skills to connect with others
Organising a fundraiser or protest march to help prevent climate change
These examples will encourage older students to develop skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Learners will also develop their citizenship and intercultural competence by investigating global issues and thinking about which groups of people need support. They will learn to think about their local and global communities, and learn how to address important issues.
Learners can also report on the project online to develop their digital literacies encourage others to engage in similar projects.
5. Start small:
Are you unsure how to begin teaching global skills like communication and collaboration? Try starting small! Every lesson, integrate a short language-learning activity that includes a focus on one of these global skills. Later, you can begin to integrate larger, more focused activities and sequences of tasks which allow for a more in-depth approach to developing the skills – including project work.
Do you want more great tips, including an exclusive Teachers’ Toolkit? Download our expert advice now!
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area.
Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an online training and development consultancy. She is a teacher, trainer, and educational technology consultant who works with teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for EFL teachers in professional journals and has written several prizewinning methodology books.