Five 21st Century Skills TEFL Teachers can no longer ignore

What exactly are 21st Century Skills? This widely used term has become popular across many fields of the education sector and refers to a set of highly transferable skills, that are considered vital for any workplace or academic setting in today’s world.

As English maintains its dominance (for now) as the global lingua franca, how can we equip our learners with the skills they need to communicate in an ever-changing globalized society? Although one could argue that skills, such as collaboration and critical thinking have always been encouraged by teachers, the rapid pace of information consumption has had an enormous impact on how we learn, communicate and process information. Some of the most pertinent skills the 21st Century English teacher can integrate into their language lessons are:

Creativity and innovation

As language teachers we have a wealth of resources at our disposal and students do too. We can promote curiosity and creativity in students’ approaches to their language studies by setting appropriate tasks. Creating classes that adhere to a task-based learning approach (see: Nunan 1989) can stimulate creativity and encourage collaboration e.g. creating a piece of writing for a website and creating blogs or apps.

Media and ICT literacy

Activities that we use in our classroom should reflect real life tasks such as at work or at university. Rather than asking students to work together to produce a poster on a piece of A4 paper, why not ask them to use a tool such as prezi? You could also ask them to navigate a popular app, perform an online task in English, survey the class with the mentimeter or engage them with a YouTube video? You can also integrate the use of their own personal devices and social media into the class (but take into consideration privacy issues, if asking them to use personal social media accounts and avoid this kind of activity with young learners).

Using online platforms to deliver course information (Padlet, Trello etc.) to keep track of assignments and share resources, will also prepare learners for varied learning contexts, such as studying abroad.

Critical thinking

Some of your students may have come from environments where critical thinking is not prioritized in the classroom. In China, because of the intensity of study for the Gao Kao University entrance exams, the focus is on memorization and rote learning. You can develop critical thinking abilities in your classroom by encouraging students to be analytical when listening to audios or reading texts. Asking students Socratic questions (questioning their viewpoints and probing assumptions) can assist with fuller engagement with the material and improve receptive skills, simultaneously sharpening their critical thinking. This is a core skill that many universities will be looking for when accepting applications from overseas’ students.

Research skills

Research skills are a staple in the language classroom. However, the speed in which we can find information and the way that we navigate, and filter online data has changed dramatically, even in recent years. Second language learners sometimes get bogged down when trying to process so much written text online in their L2. Why not try to use QR codes to direct them to level appropriate resources? Encouraging students to use English to research topics of interest and being able to critically assess validity of sources, is also a great skill to develop in an era of “fake news”.

Global Awareness and multicultural literacy

Many students learning English will use it while travelling or as a lingua franca for business. Therefore, our goal is to not only teach the language, but also include multiculturalism and diversity in our lessons. When students from more culturally homogenous backgrounds find themselves in a multiethnic environment, it is important that they can use language to traverse these settings successfully and with tact. Why not include topics on racial diversity, global politics and multiculturalism in your language classes? This could be done in the form of discussions, debates, videos on related subjects or researching global issues. Of course, depending on your teaching context, you may have to avoid some sensitive topics.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach to our language classes can help equip our students for a multitude of contexts in which they may find themselves using English in the twenty first century. This can also make classes more relevant and engaging for students compared to a course which focuses too heavily on traditional text book-style learning.


Nunan (1989) Task-based Language Teaching, The University of Hong Kong
P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Accessed at:
Accessed on: 07/11/2018

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About the Author

Clare Voke

Clare is a teacher trainer and CertTESOL tutor and course director at EfA, with more than 10 years’ experience in various teaching and training roles in the UK, mainland China and Hong Kong. She began her training career as a Regional Trainer for EF in the South of China. Since completing her Post-Graduate Trinity Diploma in TESOL, she has worked as a course director for Cert TESOL courses and is also a Trinity approved internal assessor for the DipTESOL. She has an MA in International Social Transformation and has run courses on inter-cultural communication, as well as presenting on similar topics at several academic teacher forums. Having lived in China for a number of years, she is particularly interested in Chinese learners of English and is a keen student of Mandarin Chinese.

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