When it’s time for students to start working and/or head to college, they’ll need “soft skills,” otherwise known as job-readiness skills, in addition to academic knowledge and vocational skills.

Soft skills are those characteristics that help you function as an individual (motivation, self-confidence, and flexibility) as well as within a group (teamwork, negotiation, and respect). To succeed in the workplace, these skills are key! After all, if you can’t show up on time, speak up for yourself, or get along with your peers, chances are you’re not going to have a very smooth go of it.

Explicitly teaching students these skills is the best way to give them valuable insight into their strengths and weaknesses. We’ve found 15 engaging lessons that are not only just right for teaching the job-readiness skills students need, they are also a lot of fun!

For each activity below, give students time to talk (or write) about what they learned—what went right, how they felt while they were participating, and what they would do differently next time.

1. Listen and Recap

There are so many things competing for kids’ attention in today’s overstimulating world, so learning the simple art of listening can be a difficult task. This one-on-one communication activity will help students practice taking the time to clear their minds, focus, and really listen to what their partner is saying in a way that they can clearly and accurately repeat.

Divide students into pairs. Partner one draws a topic card from a prepared deck and talks about that topic while partner two listens without speaking. The listener must really focus on simply receiving their partner’s words—not letting their mind wander or think about how they are going to respond. Then, without a rebuttal, partner two recaps what partner one said. Then, they switch roles.

Skills they’ll practice:

Listening, respect, interpersonal skills, communication.

Buy it: Letz Talk Conversation Cards from Amazon

2. Human Marble Run

Working together to meet a goal takes patience and focus. This IRL version of Marble Run will help your students learn job-readiness skills like working together, and they’ll have fun doing it!

Give each member of the team a length of gutter or drainpipe. The team has to transfer a tennis ball or golf ball from one place to another by rolling the ball from one piece of gutter to the next. Make it interesting by making the team get the ball to traverse an obstacle course or to go up and down stairs.

Skills they’ll practice:

Patience, negotiation, teamwork.

3. No-Hands Cup-Stacking Challenge

kids around a table playing a cup stacking game with paper cups and string

This hands-on group challenge is an exercise in learning job-readiness skills like patience and perseverance, not to mention it’s a total blast!

Decide how many students you want in each group, and tie that number of strings to a single rubber band. Each person in the group holds on to one of the strings attached to the rubber band, and as a group, they use this device to pick up the cups (by pulling the rubber band apart and then bringing it back together over the cups) and place them on top of one another in order to build a pyramid.

Skills they’ll practice:

Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, teamwork, patience.

Learn more: Cup Stack from Ms. Sepp’s Counselor Corner

4. Paper Bag Skits

You never know what life is going to hand to you. This is true at work, school, and in life in general. Sometimes you’re handed a set of circumstances and have very little time to figure out what to do. This fun activity will help teens practice thinking on their feet.

Fill a few paper bags with four or five assorted classroom or household items. Break the teens into groups, and assign each group a bag without showing them what’s inside. Give them two minutes to examine the items in their bag and come up with a skit, using all of the items, for the rest of the class.

Skills they’ll practice:

Decision-making, creativity, teamwork.

5. Team Survival Challenge

What would happen if your class went out on a pleasure cruise only to end up being lost at sea? Who would take charge? What materials would be essential for survival? If you ever saw an episode of the TV series Lost, you know that making these decisions as a group can get ugly fast. This activity is a great lesson in group decision-making, as students will undoubtedly have different ideas about what materials to add to a limited list in a limited amount of time.

Skills they’ll practice:

Critical-thinking skills, negotiation, communication, teamwork.

Learn more: Lost at Sea from Grahame Knox

6. Time-Management Challenge

We all have days when our list of tasks is huge, and the amount of time we have to complete them just isn’t. When time is tight, and your agenda is packed, you’ve got to prioritize tasks and work efficiently! This activity gives students the opportunity to practice just that by presenting them with a long list of tasks to complete in a limited timeframe.

Make a list of tasks on chart paper, assigning a point value for each job. For example: Do 25 jumping jacks (5 points); make up a nickname for each member of the group (5 points); get every person in the class to sign a piece of paper (15 points); form a conga line and conga from one end of the room to the other (5 points, 10 bonus points if anyone joins you); etc. Make sure you list enough tasks to take up more than 10 minutes.

Divide your students into groups of five or six and give them 10 minutes to collect as many points as they can by deciding which tasks to perform. A debriefing session is essential with this game. Guide your students to think about how they made decisions, which group dynamics came into play, and how they determined the value of each task.

Skills they’ll practice:

Negotiation, critical thinking, communication, time management.

7. Full-Value Contract

This exercise for middle schoolers helps them establish values-based ground rules for a team. Each student takes an index card and lists three values that they believe will promote a sense of community. Team members discuss the values, consolidating them into more precise categories. They write the finalized list on a poster board, with each student signing it. Whenever there is a dispute, the team should refer to the “contract,” which holds everyone accountable.

The purpose of this exercise is to create a safe space to explore ideas by focusing on common language and shared expectations. Additionally, this activity prepares middle-school students for the workplace by emphasizing similarities rather than differences.

Skills they’ll practice:

Negotiation, communication, cooperation.

8. Zombie Apocalypse

a group of teens dressed up like zombies

Teen Zombie Camp at Dallas Museum of Art

In this two-day lesson, students are required to identify soft skills, literary guides, and everyday objects that will help them survive a zombie apocalypse. They’ll work both cooperatively and independently, and produce short pieces of persuasive writing to argue in favor of their survival.

Skills they’ll practice:

Teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving.

Learn more: Zombie Invasion Plan (Soft Skills Review) from Teachers Pay Teachers

9. The Blindfold Game

Teens leading one another around in blindfolds? Are we sure this is a good idea? The answer is yes when it’s part of a structured, purposeful job-readiness skills activity like this one!

You will need a large space for this activity (maybe the cafeteria after lunch or the gym during an off-period), enough blindfolds for half of the participants, and furniture and other items that you can use as obstacles (cardboard boxes, pillows, chairs, tables). Scatter furniture and objects around the room before the activity begins. Your course should be challenging but safe to navigate.

Pair students and have them line up at one end of the room. One person from each pair should put on the blindfold. The sighted person must guide their partner across the room and give them clear oral instructions (without touching them) to help them avoid the obstacles. When each team reaches the far side of the room, partners can switch roles and repeat the exercise. Have just a few pairs tackle the course at a time so that the others can observe. Take some time between rounds to process what went well, what didn’t, and what could make the challenge easier.

Skills they’ll practice:

Communication, listening skills, respect (taking the task and their partner’s safety seriously), flexibility.

10. Human Knot

Nothing promotes job-readiness skills such as cooperation like getting all tangled up with your classmatesliterally!

Players stand in a circle and reach out to shake hands with other players, with each hand holding that of a different person, creating a “human knot.” Then the players have to figure out how to untangle their bodies without letting go of each other’s hands. This activity lends itself to a vibrant debriefing session as students observe their communication and cooperation skills.

Skills they’ll practice:

Teamwork, communication, problem-solving.

Learn more: The Human Knot Game from Icebreaker Ideas

11. Four-Card Negotiation

Sometimes to get ahead in life, you have to know how to wheel and deal. This is entirely what this lesson is all about. The objective is for teams to trade and barter for pieces of cards to match up with the pieces they already have and ultimately end up with four complete playing cards.

Start with a pile of playing cards (four cards per team of four or five students). Cut each card diagonally into four pieces and mix all of the pieces together. Now divide the mixed-up pieces evenly among the teams. Give teams a couple of minutes to sort out their card pieces and figure out which pieces they have and which pieces are missing. Set a timer for 10 minutes. The goal of the game is for the students to use their negotiation skills with the other teams in order to gain as many complete cards as possible for their team. At the end of 10 minutes, the team with the most cards wins.

Skills they’ll practice:

Negotiation, communication, interpersonal skills.

12. Rope Circle Shimmy

two pairs of legs, wearing jeans and tennis shoes, with a rope around one person's ankle stretching over and under the other person's feet and beyond

Divide the teens into two groups. Each group should have a minimum of five members. To begin play, make a big circle out of rope for each team and put it on the floor. Each member of the team stands at the edges of the circle, so the rope is taut around their ankles, while holding their hands in the air.

Team members must take turns moving to work the rope up from ankles to wrists, keeping hands in the air at all times. The team member will have to wiggle and move to slide the rope up. Other team members can help by keeping the rope as taut as possible. The team that finishes the challenge first wins!

Skills they’ll practice:

Communication, flexibility, cooperation.

Learn more: Looped to Rope from Mom Junction

13. Small Talk

Small talk is considered a foundational job-readiness skill that is important for almost every job as well as learning to network. Many teens feel awkward speaking with people they’re not used to speaking to and need practice. Try some free conversation starters that will help them practice the “three P’s” of small talk: being polite, positive, and professional.

Skills they’ll practice:

Communication, listening, critical thinking, respect.

Learn more: Conversation Starters from Realityworks

14. Group Storytelling

Create small groups of three to eight students. The first person makes up and says out loud the first line of a story. The second person says, “Yes, and …,” continuing the story. Play continues around the group until everyone has contributed or until the story has come to a satisfactory end. Since students don’t know what’s coming, they have to learn how to listen carefully and react and communicate well on the fly. As an alternative, to have students listen even more carefully, have them continue the story with the phrase, “because …”

Skills they’ll practice:

Speaking, listening, critical thinking, flexibility.

15. Mock Interviews

The prospect of going on a job interview can be terrifying to a kid who’s never had a job before. Practicing job-readiness skills like interviewing can help them reduce the fear factor and build their confidence. Pair students up and assign one the role of interviewer and one the role of interviewee. Use a set of job interview questions to practice with. Give each pair 15 minutes, then have them talk about how the interview went. The interviewer may have some valuable insight for the interviewee. Then have the partners switch roles and repeat. After they’ve had practice with their peers, invite a few adults into the room to conduct mock interviews.

Skills they’ll practice:

Interpersonal skills, listening, critical thinking, communication.

Learn more: Job Interview Questions for Teens from Understood.org

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Also, check out 8 “Would You Rather” Questions to Get Your Teens Thinking About Their Future Careers.

15 Awesome Classroom Activities That Teach Job-Readiness Skills