Three Essential Soft Skills That Span Every Content Area

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are just the start of what young people need to know to be successful.

By Eliana Osborn


kids working outside

Skill 1: Working in a Group

Most of life involves dealing with other people. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you will have to learn to take turns, contribute to a larger project, work out differences, and carry your own weight in a larger group setting. Having to rely on others is a frustration for students in groups, so as a teacher you can clearly define roles and have interim deadlines before a final project is due. This can minimize the "one person doing all the work" issue, as well as enable you to provide guidance while letting individuals figure things out on their own as much as possible.


Sample Lesson: Analyze a short story. Figure out what your content aims are, such as identifying literary elements and making predictions about characters. Create specific roles for group members—three or four is an ideal number of people per group. These roles could include:

  • Fact Checker: The person who will make sure that group answers match up with the text.
  • Brainstormer: The person who writes ideas down and poses questions.
  • Designer: The person who puts together ideas into a cohesive finished product that can be turned in.

Skill 2: Handling Criticism

No one likes being told they are wrong. Our natural reaction is to get defensive and to want to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes—how one copes with his mistakes, is what makes the difference between people who succeed and those who are unable to progress. 

As a teacher, you need to model this skill as well as teach it. When you write something incorrectly on the board or lose an assignment, be gracious about your mistake. “I was wrong,” is one of the most powerful, humbling phrases you can use. It quietly acknowledges imperfection without making a scene. 

Sample Lesson: Have a class debate about the Civil War. One side is the North, one is the South. Once students are prepared to defend their side, it is time to practice handling strong emotions. Set parameters for silence while another speaks, taking turns, and reacting with content rather than personal attacks. 

Skill 3: Finding Answers

There is new information being born every day, every minute. It can be daunting as a learner or instructor to think about all the content you are missing out on. Recognizing that, teaching how to find information is more crucial than ever before.

Sample Lesson: Give the class basic information about photosynthesis—what it is and why it is important. Then provide a CLOZE worksheet where they will need to find out the rest of the story, including the process. Have a variety of sources available to peruse for information: library books, textbooks, posters, video clips, and websites.

In addition to reporting on the content they discover, make a requirement that at least two sources be used. At the completion of the activity, discuss which resources were the most valuable. Brainstorm where pupils could look for further information. 

Further Resources to Consider:

Practicing Group Dynamics

Learners have an opportunity to learn about new topics in groups, then present to others. Interpersonal skills come into play just as much as content area information.

Constructive Criticism on the Job

Modeling real world job situations, pupils have a chance to practice handling criticism. Ideal for pupils struggling with impulse control or short tempers.