Untangling Your Skills

Jacintha Antonio

How does this align with my curriculum?

What important skills do students need to get untangled? Find out in this experiential activity that explores “essential skills”.


  • Students will explore what “essential skills” are and how they can develop them through school and extracurricular activities 
  • Students will develop an action plan to strengthen their essential skills abilities

Setting the Stage

Essential Skills are the skills that people need for work, learning and life. These skills are used in the community and the workplace. Developing these skills is a lifelong process. Essential Skills take time to develop but students are building these skills whether they know it or not by going to school, volunteering and/or working. It is important to think about these things as they grow and develop in order to be employable when they are ready to enter the workforce.

Materials & Preparation

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Essential Skills Action Plan Reproducible (1 per student) [Google doc] [PDF]

What To Do

  • Teachers can begin by reviewing (or introducing students to) the nine Essential Skills identified by the Government of Canada. Information on the nine Essential Skills, including explanations and video examples of each, can be found on the Skills/Compétences Canada website.

  • Teachers could also prepare students for this lesson by first conducting the What are Essential Skills? lesson.
  • Next, teachers could engage students in an experiential activity that will help them identify Essential Skills in real life. Note: The teacher should have students sanitize their hands using Hand Sanitizer before and after completing this activity.
    • Divide students into groups of 5

    • Have students choose a leader or select one in each group

    • Have students form a circle in their groups facing each other

    • Have students hold their right hands up then link hands with someone across from them (not beside them)

    • Have students lift their left hand up and do the same thing (link hands)

    • Everyone should now be holding hands with two different people

    • Now – Encourage students to untangle themselves without unclasping hands! Give them a time limit of 5 minutes to complete the task. When the time is up, call “Time” and have students stop where they are (i.e., if the group is only partially untangled, remain there). If all groups are still tangled, teachers may provide an additional 2 minutes.to complete. 

    • The group leader should help guide the other students through this process!

  • After the untangling activity is completed:
    • Provide each group with a marker. With the markers provided, have students brainstorm and write down the SKILLS that were needed to untangle themselves (Don’t forget the leader’s role!)

    • Students should then be asked to identify which of these skills are “essential skills” and to categorize them.

  • Skills needed to “Untangle” include: Teamwork, Problem-solving, Enthusiasm, Time management, Ability to accept criticism, Leadership, Flexibility/adaptability, Interpersonal/communication.

  • Students could then discuss how the essential skills are developed in formal and informal school activities.

  • Teachers could ask students to reflect on the 9 Essential Skills. Which do they feel most confident of their ability? In which of these skill areas do they feel challenged? 

  • Students could then create a personal Action Plan for how to improve any skills that they feel need improvement. Action plans should include specific steps that will be taken to improve that skill and a timeline for when the steps will be completed. Action Plans show employers that you recognize that you have areas of improvement, but that you are working on them.

  • Teachers could have students follow-up on this lesson with the BYO Career Development Timeline lesson.


Let’s Talk Science appreciates the work and contributions of Jacintha Antonio, University of Manitoba in the development of this lesson.



  • Teachers could keep anecdotal records of students’ participation in both small group and whole class discussions.


  • Teachers could keep anecdotal records of students’ participation in both small group and whole class discussions.



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