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Inspiring conference presentations

IATEFL 2022: Lights, Camera, Action: Inspire! Empower your learners with life skills!

By June 9, 2022September 19th, 2022No Comments

The present article develops the insights of my talk on emotional and digital literacy selected to be presented at this year’s IATEFL 2022 conference in Belfast. I felt overwhelmed that so many teachers enjoyed the presentation and were interested to find out more details about the topic.

So, here you have the main slides and the additional notes. Hopefully, they will be helpful for those who couldn’t attend and asked me to share the presentation. Feel free to contact me if you need further details or advice on implementing student-produced video projects.

Abstract of the IATEFL conference talk.

Do your students know how to cope with ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)? We all want to boost our students’ self-confidence and emotional resilience.

In a post-Covid 19 world dominated by anxiety and uncertainty, soft skills become essential for learners. If you are committed to making a difference in their lives, you know that you can shape their future by developing transferable life-oriented soft skills early.

Our challenge as teachers is to design resources and activities for our students to feel empowered and take an active leading role in their learning while nurturing their well-being.

Drawing on personal development literature, neuroscience of emotions, positive psychology, and SEL, the talk outlines my pedagogical approach designed to embed soft skills into language teaching (INSPIRE).

First, the talk provides a brief theoretical overview to clarify the main concepts (empowerment, life skills, soft skills) before offering practical examples to guide teachers in designing their own inspirational resources and activities using free tools like Canva for Educators and Flipgrid. Specifically, you will better understand how to use student-produced media to empower learners with life skills and how to take care of their emotional and mental well-being.

Introduction: a thought experiment.

Let’s start with a thought experiment. How often have you recently had … ants in your head? Well, you read the question well, but don’t be scared! I’m not talking about those tiny insects that live in highly organized groups and sometimes spoil your picnic.

I’ve had many ANTs in my head, but I learned how to get rid of them and helped my learners do the same (sorry, ant lovers…I don’t mean to offend any ant collector)!

Actually, when I use ANTs, I refer to the term employed from cognitive behavioural therapy. In other words,  ANT stands for automatic negative thought. Can you guess what a PET stands for?

Yes, you guessed. A PET stands for a positive empowering thought.

We surely already know that it is critical to embed life skills training into our language classes to prepare the students for a fast-changing world.

In a world increasingly overwhelmed by digitalisation and cutting-edge technology, fuelled by anxiety and uncertainty, developing emotional literacy should not be neglected.

Even we, as adults, struggle with negative disempowering thoughts leading to anxiety and sometimes depression. What about our learners? Are they emotionally and mentally fit? Do they know how to cope with stress while riding their daily roller coaster of emotions?

There are many evidence-backed ways to get rid of those nasty ANTs. I will show you some techniques that helped my language learners adopt and “hug” more often adorable PETs.

Outline of the presentation.

how to empower your learners

Theoretical insights. Literature review.

soft skills - confusing concept

For the purpose of this article, I will use the terms soft skills and life skills alternatively. However, it is essential to note that the business discourse exploits the former to refer to the set of non-technical domain-independent  inter- and intrapersonal skills (see Matteson 2016) that underpin the behaviour of successful employees.

An insight into the specialized literature reveals that there are numerous ways of organizing and ranking soft skills (see Nieragden 2000, Shakir 2009, Cinque 2014, Macianskiene 2016).

Daniel Xerri had an interesting perspective on soft skills essential for our learners in a VUCA world (a world dominated by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). He explored soft skills from new angles and distilled five of the most important categories into what he calls the DAIFA framework: Democratic leadership, Adaptability, Inquisitiveness, Factfulness, and Adaptability. You can watch his insightful talk Future-proof competencies: the Soft Skills Students Need for Success.

Certainly, people may filter perceptions of hard and soft skills through a gendered-based approach.

For instance, they can relate them to the relationship between masculinity and femininity. Undeniably, the typical mentality views softness as inherently feminine and hardness as innately masculine.

However, leaving aside these stereotypes, almost all teachers and educators admit the critical importance of soft skills today. Yet, they do not take systematic action in this sense.

How can we empower our learners?

“Sharing power does not mean a person has less. Instead, teachers maintain and gain power by sharing power, for power is more than a top-down form of control” (Foucault, 1980b apud Broom 2015: 81).

An insight into the literature reveals that teachers understand the critical importance of empowering learners. However, some are afraid that empowering their students disempowers them (Broom 2015).

We can’t deny that sometimes it turns out to be quite a challenging journey to navigate through our heavily loaded syllabus. We get lost in a daily race to tick all the teaching goals on our agenda to produce the expected outcomes and hard skills for exams.

The relationship betwen teacher-driven lesson scenario and learners' motivation.

If learners feel that they are simply listening to directions and following a script, what they are told to do, they lose motivation and become disengaged. They turn into passive recipients, adopting a fixed mindset in Carol Dweck’s terms.

What happens when learners, instead of following a recipe, have a voice and co-create the learning menu?

In other words, empowerment means that students have agency and thus, they own their learning. They are allowed to have a meaningful voice in the process and they are given opportunities to get involved and create.

So, how can we check that our activities incorporate life skills along with language ones?

To find a solution to this problem, I designed a soft skills checker tool (INSPIRE) (see video below), very easy to remember. It is a useful didactic tool designed to check the integration of soft skills into language classes.

Apart from checking language goals, I use this tool to quickly assess if I incorporated soft skills whenever I create an activity. To sum up, I ask questions and provide concrete evidence, as you can see in the video below. For more details, you can read the article Language teaching to make a difference: soft skills in action. 

Using student-generated media to empowerlearners

Life skill in focus: emotional self-management and resistance to stress.

Help your language learners be aware of their negativity bias.

Language learners often struggle with negative thinking patterns, issues of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and fear of being judged by others.

In fact, the so-called negativity bias is a hardwired human tendency to pay more attention to negative information and experiences rather than positive or neutral ones. This can be seen in the way we process language, as well as in our daily lives. What do people remember most vividly,  the compliments or a single negative tone and remark of a colleague?

Why are we hardwired to negativity? According to Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, a negativity bias is a built-in adaptive evolutionary function that played a critical role in our early development. Indeed, the ability to pay attention to harmful stimuli, environmental threats and predators proved to be life-changing for our ancestors. However, in our current society, this hardwired human tendency is not as useful as it once was.

Numerous studies show that even though people are more likely to use positive words, they are more likely to remember negative comments, and insults rather than compliments. For example, if you read a list of words, you will probably remember the word “death” better than “birth.”
Negative thoughts are a natural human reaction to stress, but they can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Do your learners struggle with negative thinking patterns? How can we help them become aware of negativity bias?

Overcoming negative thinking is not as simple as pushing negative thoughts away with a magic spell and switching to positive ones.

Here is how I managed to do. Adapting an idea from Flipgrid, I employed my student-produced video approach to challenge my learners to create a “First aid emotional kit”.

Teaching for empowerment. Practical examples.

Video challenge: how to make your emotional first-aid kit.
student-produced video project

Firstly, these types of engaging activities challenge students to use the target language while solving a problem integrated into a meaningful, real-life situation.

Additionally, student-produced video projects bring added value benefits in soft skills development since they trigger creative and critical thinking and foster  team building, to mention just a few.

If you want to understand the methodology and how to implement the five-step approach behind the student-produced video projects, you can find out more in the article developing the presentation from IATEFL Virtual Conference 2021, awarded with the IATEFL Bill Lee scholarship.

The train of (un)happy thoughts and emotions.

To help my young learners become aware of the automatic negative thoughts, I designed a worksheet on Canva, “The train of (un)happy thoughts”, which asks them to reflect on their emotions and repetitive thoughts. In a diary of their thoughts, learners are encouraged to analyze which type of repetitive thoughts had popped more often in their heads: ANTs or PETs (automatic positive and negative thoughts)?. This reflective exercise proves to be useful in training their mind to form positive thinking habits.

train of thoughts and emotions
Empower your learners to be (co)creators of learning resources using Canva
empower your learners: what's the weather like inside you

Encouraging your learners to use technology to become active creators and contributing to the learning scenario empowers them, enhancing a wide range of micro soft skills.

For instance, learners who have been given agency in these types of projects have reported an improved set of essential life skills in different areas: information management skills (ability/skill to learn, search and process relevant information)critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and self-management skills (increased awareness and control of their emotions, self-discipline, resistance to stress, etc.).

I hope that reading this article will encourage you to start your own IATEFL journey.

Why should you attend this incredible event? First, it is an amazing meeting place for passionate educators worldwide; furthermore, it gives you a plethora of opportunities to GET INSPIRED and inspire. To learn how to empower your students and peers.

Last but not least, personally, for me, IATEFL 2022 was an unforgettable learning adventure in an incredibly vibrant city. I feel grateful for the amazing collection of indelible memories, inspiring people and thought-provoking sessions, academic adrenaline, and the iconic hometown of Titanic and urban art…in a nutshell, a fabulous IATEFL Belfast experience!

Feel free to share with us your own strategies and tools! What do you do to ensure that you integrate soft skills and use language teaching to make a difference in your students’ life?

Happy teaching and don’t forget to add value, create, teach…to inspire and transform lives!


Broom, C. (2015). Empowering students: Pedagogy that benefits educators and learners. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education14(2), 79-86.

Cinque, M. (2014). Soft skills in action: Halls of residence as centres for life and learning. Euca.

Macianskiene, N. (2016). Development of transversal skills in content and language integrated learning classes. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 12(1), 129.

Matteson, M. L., Anderson, L., & Boyden, C. (2016). ” Soft Skills”: A Phrase in Search of Meaning. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(1), 71-88.

Xerri, D. 2021, Future-proof Competencies: The Soft Skills Students Need for Success, keynote talk, KOTESOL National Conference, South Korea, retrieved from