Developing Transferable Skills in English Class: A Comprehensive Guide

Today we want to talk about a crucial topic that concerns us all, the development of transferable skills in the classroom. In today’s world, students need to be equipped with the necessary skills to navigate and shape their future successfully. That’s why it is essential to prepare students with transferable skills and a desire for lifelong learning.

Transferable skills are also included in Ontario’s new ENG1W / Grade 9 English curriculum under Strand A: Literacy Connections and Applications where “students analyze and use transferable skills to support communication in various cultural, social, linguistic, and domain-specific contexts, and apply them when reading, listening to, viewing, and creating texts, students evaluate and explain how transferable skills help them to express their voice and be engaged in their learning and implement a plan to develop their capabilities and potential,” and “students apply the seven transferable skills – critical thinking and problem solving; innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship; self-directed learning; collaboration; communication; global citizenship and sustainability; and digital literacy – throughout their language and literacy learning in the course. These skills help students develop and express their unique voices and take ownership of and engage in their learning in meaningful, authentic ways.”

As stated, the new curriculum outline seven transferable skills:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship
  • Self-directed learning
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Global citizenship and sustainability
  • Digital literacy

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are the foundation of many other transferable skills that students need. Critical thinking involves being able to think for yourself in a realistic and meaningful way. Developing these skills is crucial to learning across subject-areas. In English class, some other ways to incorporate critical thinking could be

  1. Socratic Seminars: Conduct regular Socratic seminars where students engage in open-ended discussions on literary texts. Encourage them to analyze and: evaluate the ideas presented in the text, share their interpretations, and support their claims with evidence.
  2. Debate and Argumentation: Organize debates or argumentation activities on controversial topics related to the texts being studied. This will require students to critically analyze different perspectives, construct logical arguments, and defend their positions with evidence. Teaching students about counter-arguments is key here and really works critical thinking muscles. My students loved Round-table discussions this year. We did some based on short stories they read while others were based on current issues and topics like “What do you think are the secrets to happiness?” or “Should athletes speak out on social and political issues?” Many topic ideas can be found in the New York Times student opinion section.
  3. Close Reading: Teach students how to engage in close reading by examining the details and nuances of a text. Encourage them to ask questions, make connections, and form interpretations based on evidence from the text. Provide guiding questions to help them analyze the author’s purpose, literary devices, and underlying themes. Mentor texts are a great strategy here. Using specific texts to highlight various literary techniques, what my students and I call “craft moves,” can help to really focus in on one or a couple of techniques at a time. The New York Times Learning Network is a great source for mentor texts, they even have a webinar about how to teach with mentor texts! Another great resource is the book A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell and who could leave out the ultimate mentor text list from Penny Kittle.
  4. Collaborative Group Projects: Assign collaborative group projects that require students to analyze complex texts, synthesize information, and present their findings to the class. This will foster critical thinking skills as they work together to interpret the text, assess its significance, and communicate their insights effectively.
  5. Inquiry-Based Learning: Design lessons that promote inquiry-based learning. Encourage students to ask questions, explore multiple perspectives, and seek answers through research and analysis. Provide opportunities for independent thinking and problem-solving.
  6. Writing and Reflection: Incorporate reflective writing assignments into the curriculum. Ask students to critically reflect on their reading experiences, identify the main ideas, and evaluate the effectiveness of the author’s arguments. This will help them develop their analytical skills and express their thoughts coherently. Self-reflection and meta-cognition are two other powerful ways to incorporate reflection that involves deep critical thinking, read more here: “The Case for Collaborative Grading: Empowering Students and Reducing Stress.”
  7. Textual Analysis: Teach students how to analyze texts through different lenses such as historical, cultural, or psychological perspectives. Encourage them to critically evaluate how these factors shape the author’s message and influence the reader’s interpretation.
  8. Use Real-World Examples: Connect literary texts to real-world issues and current events. This will challenge students to think critically about the relevance of literature in today’s society and make connections between the text and their own lives. A popular unit in my classes has been The Skin We’re In and students’ feedback specifically cites the real-world subject-matter as being really important and appreciated. You can read more here: “Teaching the Skin We’re In.”
  9. Diverse Literature: Introduce a diverse range of texts and voices in the curriculum to expose students to different perspectives and experiences. Encourage them to critically examine the biases, assumptions, and social contexts embedded in these texts.
  10. Questioning Techniques: Teach students effective questioning techniques, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy or Costa’s Levels of Questioning. Encourage them to ask higher-order questions that go beyond simple recall and challenge them to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information. I particularly like this question matrix do help students formulate deeper and more complex questions:

Here’s a great article from NNSTOY about using this matrix “Using the Question Matrix to Teach Critical Thinking”

Remember to create a supportive and inclusive classroom environment that encourages respectful discourse, values diverse viewpoints, and celebrates critical thinking. By implementing these strategies, you can cultivate critical thinking skills in your English class and empower students to become thoughtful and engaged learners.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship skills are equally important. Teachers can encourage brainstorming and idea generation sessions, assign open-ended projects that require students to think outside the box, and provide opportunities for students to design and create their products or solutions. Some other ways to incorporate innovation and entrepreneuship? Try these:

  1. Creative Writing and Storytelling: Encourage students to think innovatively by writing their own stories, poems, or scripts. Encourage them to explore new ideas, experiment with different narrative structures, and think outside the box. Introduce them to entrepreneurial concepts like storytelling for branding or marketing purposes. Consider multi-modal storytelling to increase student voice and creativity, read more in “Increasing Student Voice, Creativity, and Technological skills with Multimodal Writing.”
  2. Literary Entrepreneurship Projects: Assign entrepreneurial projects related to literature. For example, students could create book clubs or literary magazines, design and market their own book covers, or develop innovative ideas for adapting a literary work into a different medium like film, graphic novel, or video game.
  3. Content Creation and Digital Media: Have students create digital content related to literature, such as podcasts, blogs, or YouTube videos. This can involve analyzing and reviewing books, interviewing authors, or discussing literary themes in a modern context. Teach them about content creation, branding, and effective communication strategies. I have used both blogging and podcasting with my classes and you can read more about those experiences at in these articles: The Blogging Project and Student Voices – A Podcast
  4. Social Entrepreneurship: Introduce students to social entrepreneurship by exploring literary works that address social issues or promote social change. Encourage them to develop projects that use literature to raise awareness, create positive change, or support community initiatives. They could organize fundraisers, create awareness campaigns, or collaborate with local organizations. There are many global collaborative projects that are focused on social issues. Have a look at “Ready, Set, Climate Action” or “Single voices, global choices project” for an example
  5. Design Thinking Projects: Incorporate design thinking principles into English assignments. Design thinking involves identifying problems, brainstorming innovative solutions, and prototyping ideas. For example, students could identify a literary-related challenge, such as improving reading comprehension, and develop innovative strategies or tools to address it.
  6. Public Speaking and Presentation Skills: Foster entrepreneurship skills through public speaking and presentation activities. Encourage students to deliver persuasive speeches, pitch their creative ideas, or present literary analysis in an engaging and professional manner. Teach them effective communication techniques and strategies for captivating an audience.
  7. Literary Analysis with an Entrepreneurial Lens: Encourage students to analyze literary works through an entrepreneurial lens. Ask them to explore themes such as risk-taking, leadership, resilience, or innovation in literary texts. This can help them develop a deeper understanding of entrepreneurial qualities and apply them to real-life situations.
  8. Guest Speakers and Field Trips: Invite guest speakers from the entrepreneurial world, such as authors, publishers, or entrepreneurs in the creative industries. Arrange field trips to literary events, entrepreneurship fairs, or local businesses to expose students to real-world examples of innovation and entrepreneurship in the literary field.
  9. Collaboration and Teamwork: Promote collaboration and teamwork through group projects and discussions. Encourage students to work together, share ideas, and develop innovative solutions to challenges related to literature. Emphasize the importance of effective teamwork and the value of diverse perspectives.
  10. Critical Analysis of Marketing and Advertising: Analyze marketing and advertising strategies used in the literary world. Examine book covers, blurbs, promotional campaigns, and author branding. Encourage students to critically assess these strategies and discuss their effectiveness, encouraging them to think like entrepreneurs and marketers.

By incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship skills into an English class, you can provide students with opportunities to think creatively, develop problem-solving abilities, and apply their English language skills in real-world contexts.

Self-directed Learning

Self-directed learning is essential for students’ academic and personal growth. Encouraging students to explore topics of interest on their own, promoting independent research and resource utilization, and implementing goal-setting and reflection exercises can help develop self-directed learning skills.

Here are some more specific ways to encourage self-directed learning:

  1. Choice-Based Reading: Allow students to choose their own reading materials within certain parameters. Provide a list of recommended books or genres and let them select texts that interest them. This promotes autonomy and increases motivation for reading.
  2. Personalized Projects: Assign open-ended projects that allow students to explore topics of their choice within the broader themes of the curriculum. Provide guidelines and resources, but give them the freedom to research, analyze, and present their findings in a way that aligns with their interests and learning styles.
  3. Learning Contracts: Collaborate with students to develop individual learning contracts. These contracts outline their goals, learning objectives, and how they plan to achieve them. Students can propose projects, set timelines, and establish criteria for evaluating their progress.
  4. Reflective Journals: Encourage students to maintain reflective journals where they can record their thoughts, questions, and insights about the texts they are studying. Prompt them with guiding questions to help deepen their analysis and encourage metacognition.
  5. Inquiry-Based Research: Design research projects that allow students to explore literary topics or authors of their choice. Provide them with guidance on conducting research, evaluating sources, and synthesizing information. Encourage them to develop their own research questions and pursue independent investigations.
  6. Peer Collaboration: Facilitate opportunities for students to work collaboratively in pairs or small groups. Encourage them to share ideas, provide feedback, and learn from each other. This promotes self-directed learning as they take responsibility for their contributions to the group’s learning process.
  7. Online Resources and Tools: Introduce students to online platforms, databases, and resources that they can use for self-directed learning. Teach them how to navigate digital libraries, access scholarly articles, and utilize educational websites. Encourage them to explore these resources independently to expand their knowledge base.
  8. Mini-Projects and Passion Pursuits: Allocate dedicated time for mini-projects or passion pursuits where students can explore topics or skills beyond the scope of the curriculum. These self-directed projects can be related to writing, multimedia production, research, or any area of English that interests them.
  9. Self-Assessment and Goal Setting: Promote self-assessment by encouraging students to evaluate their own progress and set goals for improvement. Provide rubrics or guidelines for them to assess their work and reflect on areas they want to develop further. This encourages students to take ownership of their learning journey.
  10. Teacher as Facilitator: Take on the role of a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Provide guidance, resources, and support, but allow students to take the lead in their learning. Encourage them to ask questions, seek solutions independently, and take responsibility for their own learning outcomes.

Remember to create a supportive classroom culture that fosters curiosity, risk-taking, and independent thinking. By incorporating self-directed learning strategies in English class, you can cultivate students’ intrinsic motivation, develop their critical thinking skills, and promote lifelong learning habits.


Collaboration is a valuable skill that is essential for teamwork. Teachers can assign group projects that require cooperation and division of tasks, incorporate peer feedback and evaluation, and encourage active participation in class discussions and group activities.

  1. Group Discussions: Organize group discussions where students can engage in meaningful conversations about the texts they are studying. Assign roles within the groups, such as discussion facilitator, note-taker, or devil’s advocate, to ensure active participation from all members.
  2. Literature Circles: Implement literature circles, where students read and discuss different books in small groups. Each group focuses on a specific text and then shares their insights, analyses, and recommendations with the rest of the class. This encourages collaboration and exposes students to a variety of literary works.
  3. Peer Editing and Feedback: Incorporate peer editing and feedback sessions for writing assignments. Assign students to review and provide constructive feedback on each other’s work. This helps them develop critical thinking skills, improve their writing, and learn from their peers’ perspectives.
  4. Collaborative Projects: Assign group projects that require students to work together to achieve a common goal. For example, they can create a multimedia presentation, organize a literary event, or adapt a literary work into a different medium. Emphasize the importance of effective teamwork and division of responsibilities.
  5. Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Collaboration: Utilize digital tools and platforms to facilitate collaboration both inside and outside the classroom. Students can engage in real-time discussions through video conferences or collaborate asynchronously through online forums, or shared documents. This allows for flexible collaboration and extends the learning beyond class hours.
  6. Debate and Role-Playing: Organize debates or role-playing activities where students take on different perspectives or characters from the texts being studied. This promotes collaboration as they engage in critical thinking, research, and teamwork to present their arguments effectively.
  7. Collaborative Writing: Assign group writing tasks where students collaboratively write stories, scripts, or essays. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas, outline their work collectively, and divide writing tasks among group members. This fosters teamwork and helps students develop skills in negotiation and compromise.
  8. Multimedia Collaborations: Integrate multimedia elements into collaborative projects. Students can create videos, podcasts, or digital presentations that combine their creative and analytical skills. Assign roles such as scriptwriter, editor, and designer to encourage collaboration and the utilization of diverse talents.
  9. Cross-Curricular Collaborations: Foster collaboration between English and other subject areas. Partner with teachers from different disciplines to design interdisciplinary projects that incorporate English skills. For example, students could research and present the historical context of a literary work in collaboration with their history classmates.
  10. Reflective Discussions: Reserve time for reflective discussions where students can share their thoughts on the collaboration process itself. Encourage them to reflect on what worked well, challenges they faced, and strategies they can employ to improve future collaborative experiences.

Remember to establish clear expectations for collaboration, provide guidance on effective communication and active listening skills, and promote an inclusive and respectful classroom environment. By incorporating collaboration in English class, you can foster teamwork, enhance communication skills, and create a more engaging and dynamic learning experience for your students.


Effective communication skills contribute to students’ academic and personal success. Teachers can conduct presentations and public speaking activities, assign written assignments that focus on clear and concise expression of ideas, and incorporate active listening exercises and discussions. Developing communication skills has been the bread and butter of English classes. Pushing the boundaries to introduce students to the multitude of ways we can communicate in digital world would be an important addition to consider and would be an asset in any English program.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Podcasting: Assign students to create podcasts on literary topics, book reviews, or interviews with authors. They can develop scripts, record their voices, and edit the audio. Encourage them to explore different storytelling techniques and engage with a wider audience through platforms like Anchor or SoundCloud.
  2. Digital Storytelling: Use digital tools and platforms for students to create multimedia narratives. They can combine text, images, audio, and video to tell stories related to literature or their personal experiences. Platforms like Adobe Spark, Storybird, Book Creator, or video editing software allow them to express their ideas creatively.
  3. Social Media Engagement: Incorporate social media as a platform for students to communicate their thoughts on literature. Create a classroom hashtag where they can share insights, quotes, or creative responses to texts. Encourage them to engage in respectful discussions, collaborate with peers, and connect with authors or literary communities online.
  4. Visual Presentations: Move beyond traditional slide presentations by exploring visual presentation tools like Canva. Encourage students to create visually appealing and interactive presentations that convey their ideas effectively. They can incorporate images, infographics, and multimedia elements to enhance their communication.
  5. Collaborative Storytelling: Facilitate collaborative storytelling exercises where students work together to create a story. Each student adds a sentence or paragraph, and the story evolves as it passes from one student to another. This activity promotes communication, creativity, and active listening skills.
  6. Video Discussions: Incorporate video discussions using platforms like Flip (formerly Flipgrid) or Padlet. Students can record short video responses to literary texts or discussion prompts, and then engage in asynchronous video conversations with their peers. This allows for more dynamic and visually engaging discussions.
  7. Poetry Slams: Organize poetry slams or spoken word events where students can perform their original poems or recite published works. Encourage them to explore different forms of spoken word expression and provide a supportive audience for their performances. Check out the Toronto Poetry Slam, Book Riot’s 12 of the Best Slam Poetry Performances for some inspiration or go to Teacher off Duty’s post “25+ Slam Poems Appropriate for Middle School and High School” which also includes links to a Slam Poetry Unit plan and a Slam Poetry Mini-Unit.
  8. Theatre and Role-Playing: Engage students in dramatic activities that involve role-playing scenes from literature. They can act out dialogue, interpret characters, and explore different perspectives. This helps them develop effective communication skills through body language, vocal expression, and active listening.
  9. Multilingual Projects: Encourage students to incorporate their native languages or explore literature in other languages. They can create bilingual or multilingual presentations, poetry collections, or translations. This promotes linguistic diversity and cross-cultural understanding.
  10. Mock Interviews: Organize mock interviews where students assume the role of literary characters or authors. They can research and prepare for the interview, developing their communication skills and gaining a deeper understanding of the characters or authors they portray.

Global Citizenship and Sustainability

Global citizenship and sustainability skills are significant in the current world situation. Teachers can integrate these concepts by incorporating multicultural literature and diverse perspectives, engaging students in community service or environmental projects, and encouraging discussions on global issues and their local impact.

There are many global collaborative projects that are focused on global issues and sustainability. Have a look at “Ready, Set, Climate Action” or “Single voices, global choices project” for some examples. Another great place to start is with Teach SDGs, an organiztion focused on teaching the UN sustainable development goals. Their website includes resources , a blog, a listing of global education projects that you can join with your class, and a large community network of like-minded educators.

Some other possibilities could include:

  1. Environmental Literature: Include literary works that focus on environmental issues and sustainability. Discuss the impact of human activities on the environment and explore solutions for creating a sustainable future. This can involve studying works like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” or poems that reflect environmental concerns. This was a mainstay when I did the Climate Action Project with my students. Students chose novels form the “cli-fi” genre, a sub-genre of science fiction, and really enjoyed them. Some of the books I used were Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Cheri Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Saci Llyod’s The Carbon Diaries. You can find an extensive list of Cli-Fi on Good Reads
  2. Social Justice Literature: Introduce literature that addresses social justice issues such as inequality, human rights, and discrimination. Explore texts that highlight the experiences of marginalized communities and prompt discussions about activism, empathy, and the importance of fostering an inclusive and equitable society. Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project has a great list of social justice themed novels as does The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses to glean some great ideas! Also, some guidance for teaching social justice through literature can be found at Learning for Justice
  3. Current Events Discussions: Allocate time for students to discuss and analyze current global events and their implications. Engage them in conversations about topics like climate change, global conflicts, or humanitarian crises. Encourage them to consider the connections between these events and the themes explored in literature.
  4. Digital Platforms for Awareness: Encourage students to use digital platforms to raise awareness about global issues and sustainability. They can create social media campaigns, blog about their experiences, or develop websites that showcase their research findings. This empowers them to reach a wider audience and spark meaningful conversations.
  5. Guest Speakers and Virtual Exchanges: Invite guest speakers, such as experts in sustainability or representatives from non-profit organizations, to share their experiences and insights. Alternatively, facilitate virtual exchanges with students from other parts of the world to foster cultural exchange and broaden perspectives.
  6. Reflection and Action Plans: Encourage students to reflect on their own roles as global citizens and develop action plans for personal and collective change. Have them write reflective essays or create visual representations of their commitments to sustainable practices and global awareness.

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is necessary in today’s educational landscape. We often take for granted that our students are digitally savvy, but many times this is not the case. They may be really good at downloading an app on their phone or using TikTok, but their skills often don’t go beyond basic usage. Providing opportunities for students to use digital tools for research, collaboration, and presentation, teaching responsible online behavior and critical evaluation of online sources, and assessing students’ ability to navigate and utilize various digital platforms effectively can help develop digital literacy skills.

  1. Digital Research Skills: Teach students how to effectively navigate digital libraries, databases, and online resources for conducting research on literary topics. Provide guidance on evaluating the credibility and reliability of online sources.
  2. Digital Reading and Annotation: Introduce students to digital reading platforms and tools that enhance their reading experience. Teach them how to annotate digital texts using features such as highlighting, note-taking, and bookmarking. Encourage them to engage with online literary communities and participate in digital discussions about books.
  3. Multimedia Presentations: Assign multimedia presentations where students can integrate text, images, audio, and video to deliver engaging and interactive presentations on literary topics. Teach them how to use presentation tools such as PowerPoint, Canva, or Google Slides effectively.
  4. Digital Storytelling: Explore digital storytelling techniques by incorporating multimedia elements into creative writing assignments. Encourage students to create digital narratives using platforms like Adobe Spark, Storybird, Book Creator or video editing software. This allows them to experiment with different forms of expression and engage with technology in a creative manner.
  5. Digital Collaboration Tools: Integrate digital collaboration tools into group projects and discussions. Platforms like Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, or Padlet enable students to collaborate in real-time, provide feedback, and co-create documents or presentations. Teach them how to effectively use these tools for seamless collaboration.
  6. Blogging and Online Publishing: Encourage students to create their own blogs or contribute to online platforms where they can publish their writing, book reviews, or literary analysis. This helps them develop digital writing skills, engage with wider audiences, and receive feedback from readers.
  7. Digital Literacy and Media Analysis: Teach students how to critically analyze digital media related to literature, such as book trailers, author interviews, or literary websites. Help them develop skills to identify biases, evaluate credibility, and understand the impact of digital media on literary interpretation.
  8. Digital Story Analysis: Utilize digital tools and platforms to analyze and deconstruct narratives. Students can create visual maps or timelines using tools like Padlet or TimelineJS to explore the structure, themes, and character development in a literary work.
  9. Podcasting and Audio Production: Introduce students to podcasting as a medium for literary discussions, storytelling, or author interviews. Teach them how to record, edit, and produce podcasts using tools like Audacity or Anchor. This allows them to develop audio production skills and engage with a wider audience.
  10. Digital Citizenship and Online Ethics: Educate students about responsible digital citizenship, online safety, and ethical use of digital resources. Discuss topics such as copyright, plagiarism, and appropriate online behavior. Encourage them to engage in respectful and constructive online discussions.

Remember to provide guidance and support as students develop their digital skills. Be open to exploring new digital tools and platforms that align with your teaching goals. By integrating digital skills into English class, you can equip students with the necessary tools to navigate the digital landscape and effectively communicate their ideas in the digital age.

In the end, it’s clear that developing transferable skills in the classroom is absolutely vital for our students’ future success. As educators, it’s our mission to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to confidently navigate and shape their own destinies. And let me tell you, the benefits of these skills extend far beyond the confines of the classroom—they’ll truly last a lifetime.

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