21st Century Skills – The importance of reflection

If you’re involved in ELT in any capacity, you’ve most probably heard of the term, ‘21st Century Skills’, but what does it actually mean and, more importantly, what has it got to do with the classroom? What started off as a list of desirable skills for global citizens was then adapted by Cambridge to be included in the curriculum with a view to creating success for students in the 21st century. It would therefore seem that 21st century skills have a lot to do with what we teach and how we teach it.

I have been experimenting with 21st century skills in my own classroom here in southern Italy for the past two years and what I have noticed time and time again is that these fundamental skills are already present in many activities we do. Take, for example, the communicative approach in EFL whereby students are encouraged to talk at length in pairs, groups or even as a whole class. These types of exchanges link closely with the skill, ‘collaboration’ and may even touch on, ‘emotional awareness’ when students are encouraged to take turns, ask each other’s opinions and come to decisions in group work.

I started the year with an introduction to 21st century skills in my young learner classes (aged 10-12) and it has to be said that the reception was greater than expected. Since that first lesson we have experimented with the skills, for example by starting each lesson with an informal catch up to check in on everyone’s feelings. This safe space has in turn paved the way for some very interesting conversation regarding racism, anorexia and more. These same students have been overjoyed at the thought of working on a poster presentation and building their leadership skills by taking on an active role in the choice of topic, group member roles and final presentation style.

Furthermore, at the start of the year, along with a homework record, students were given a colourful wheel, each segment showing a 21st century skill. It has become routine at the end of each lesson to tick the skills practised in that particular lesson and for students to clearly see which skills have (and perhaps have not!) been practised recently. I now hear students reminding me that perhaps it is time to do a lesson on social awareness since we haven’t ‘ticked’ it in a while. I find this type of feedback delightful as it shows me that, not only are these young learners on board with the integration of 21st century skills in their syllabus, but they are also developing a real sense of independence with their learning.

Therefore, although it is true that many of the 21st century skills are skills which were already present in our methodology, I have witnessed with my own eyes that there can be only good to come of highlighting them at every given opportunity and creating a space for our learners to use them.


Sofia Leone – EFL Teacher at IH Palermo LC