Essential Free Resources for Essential Skills

Terri Peters, tlp training

1 0 24 February 2016

First, let’s talk about why they’re called “essential” skills. They’re called essential because they are the foundational skills for almost any task we want to do – for work, play, home life, volunteer and community life, etc. It looks like this:

So, essential skills transfer from context to context. Once you learn the skill, you can transfer that skill to perform tasks in multiple contexts.

For instance, think about the reading skill of scanning text or documents. Let’s say you’re looking through the CALP Guidelines for the specific section on what your eligible expenses are. You don’t read every page – you scan through the Guidelines looking for the key words “eligible expenses.” Because you’re a good reader, you don’t even realize that you’re using the correct reading skill to complete the task. It’s almost unconscious because you are so skilled.

But now you can using scanning to read almost any text or document you want. You apply that skill in a wide variety of tasks – scanning bus schedules to find the next time your bus arrives, scanning the headings in your child’s report card looking for her Social Studies mark, scanning the newspaper for the article about municipal taxes.

Here’s how it works:



  • Learn reading skill of scanning



  • Find eligible expenses in the CALP Guidelines by scanning


Other tasks you can transfer the reading skill of scanning to:

  • Read bus schedules
  • Read report cards
  • Read newspapers


This is where literacy and essential skills intersect. Learning literacy skills means you can complete tasks, just like the one above. Once you learn the literacy skills essential to complete tasks, you transfer or apply those skills in various contexts. A skill learned is a skill earned – you’ve got it for life if you keep using it.

Think about it - when you want to learn something technical like how to fix a car engine, you don’t learn just by attacking the engine hands-on. You can’t even begin the hands-on work without some prior essential skill development. You really learn how to fix a car engine by:

  • listening to step-by-step directions from an instructor
  • reading a manual and figuring out diagrams (reading and document use),
  • and watching an expert tackle an engine repair and asking questions (working with others and oral communication).

So, you use all of those essential skills before you even start the technical hands-on work of fixing a car engine. We need essential skills in order to complete tasks and do other more technical learning as well. They’re essential - they’re the foundation - to being able to function in a variety of settings.

Essential skills are - Essential, Foundational, and Transferable. That’s why we bother learning about them at all. And why we’re on the lookout for good resources that will work in a variety of learning situations. I’ve listed some of my favourite essential skills resources below. All are free downloads.

Happy reading and share any insights on this blog! Let’s learn from each other.


Want to review what the essential skills are?

Skills Canada has some 30-second videos, in English and French, to refresh your memory:


Working with Indigenous learners?

Try these 2 resources from Douglas College:


Working with English Language Learners?

Try Canadian Language Benchmarks: On the Job – ESL and Essential Skills for Work


Focused on teaching math and numeracy?

Try Workplace Education Manitoba – Numeracy: The Basics (video tutorial series)

Focused on helping learners transition into the workplace?
Try Quill Learning Network’s 3 resources:

  • EmployAbility Success! Essential Skills at Work
  • Recognizing Life’s Work: Helping Learners Connect their Essential Skills from Home to Work
  • Through the Worker’s Eyes: Developing Learning Activities with Work-Related Documents

Working with more advanced learners who hope to become entrepreneurs?

Try Workplace Education Manitoba’s - Essential Skills for Entrepreneurs


Terri Peters
CLN Regional Support Staff
Southern Alberta


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