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4 Ways to Incorporate Life-Skills Learning into Your Undergraduate Courses and Prepare Students for Their Futures: Prof. Sivakumar Srinivasan

4 Ways to Incorporate Life-Skills Learning into Your Undergraduate Courses and Prepare Students for Their Futures: Prof. Sivakumar Srinivasan

Students graduate from college with a wealth of academic knowledge, yet most struggle to successfully transition into corporate life and navigate their post-school reality.

Years after our own graduations we’ve reflected that, had we learned key life skills during our time in school, we would have been much better equipped to step confidently into our careers and successfully lead our lives.

This realization inspired a new undergraduate course at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) in 2013 called Life Skills. Today, this course is offered to roughly 1,200 first-year students annually, both in person and online. These students learn essential life skills, such as active listening and effective communication, as well as how to build healthy relationships, express oneself freely, manage time, navigate conflict, and more.

As instructors teaching this course, we have learned a lot about how to deliver these concepts to students, and we believe they can—and should—be taught in any academic setting. Here, we offer four ways you can bring life-skills training into your own undergraduate classes and poise your students for lifelong success.

Bringing Life-Skill Themes into Any Course: 4 Practices

Students around the globe experience challenges such as peer pressure, FOMO (fear of missing out), fear of failure, imposter syndrome, relationship issues, device addiction, and a slew of conflicts concerning everything from their values and expectations to their personal and career struggles. These all have an adverse and cascading impact on their habits, lifestyle, and health—taking mental, emotional, and physical tolls.

COVID-19 compounded these challenges with online fatigue, minimal peer interaction, hectic schedules, financial pressures, sickness, and loss. To address these specific challenges and ready our students to thrive in an increasingly demanding and highly competitive world, here are four techniques we use to introduce these life skills to our undergraduate students; you can easily incorporate these activities into your courses as well, no matter what subject you teach.

1. Start and End Class with a Three- to Five-Minute Journaling Exercise

We regularly ask our students to journal in class, and we like to guide them by offering specific prompts that they can respond to.

For this journaling exercise, we ask students a question and offer three sample answers to help steer them toward a certain line of reflection. Students can then elaborate on their responses in their journals. Here are a few sample prompts and responses:

Hearing other classmates’ thoughts and experiences in class today provided me with the opportunity to__________.

  1. Be exposed to more and different perspectives

  2. Check and inspect my own opinion

  3. Challenge my ideas

Or, What blocks or stops me from expressing myself freely in class?

  1. I’m afraid of judgement

  2. I’m embarrassed

  3. I don’t feel like I fit in

Our human minds typically focus on what is missing or wrong rather than what is present or good. This causes worry, fear, anxiety, and related negative emotions. To counter this, these prompts encourage students to practice gratitude (for what they have, get, or can do) as a daily practice.

Another great way to use journaling in class is to have students create vision boards to help rewire their brains for intrinsic motivation, happiness, and success. For example, we ask students to create a goals balloon. Here is a student example:

Life Skills student vision board


A Life Skills student’s vision board depicting their personal capital as well as their goals, aspirations, and dreams for the future.

To encourage journaling outside of class, invite students to talk to a mentor, family member, or close friend about what makes them emotionally resilient and able to handle the ups and downs of life. Students can then journal about what they learned and how it might influence the way they tackle challenges in the future.

2. Share Personal Experiences and Encourage Students to Learn from Others

To the extent you are comfortable, share your own struggles and triumphs with students. One of the common anxieties that most students face is that of exam pressures and grades. We instructors can share how we have gone through ups and downs in our own academic life and how we were able to overcome the setbacks.

If you are less comfortable sharing about yourself, use the experiences of well-known personalities in your discipline and have students discuss the various ways these figures handled the challenges they faced, keeping the discussion relevant to the topic at hand.

You can also share inspiring videos and movie clips or articles that are related to topics around peer pressure, habits and rituals, self-worth, etc., allowing students to learn from experts.

We also encourage our Life Skills students to connect with each other. We create groups of 15-20 students using WhatsApp so they can further examine topics and themes together outside of class. This practice ensures that conversations, reflections, and sharing continue and it reinforces classroom learning. Given the vast size of the classroom cohort, the smaller discussion groups allow more students to participate, interact, and receive individual attention.

3. Introduce Case Studies and Role Plays to Discuss and Demonstrate Life Skills in Class

Using case studies is another way to bring outside perspectives and experiences to class discussions. Choose a case that deals with conflict management, for example, and divide your students into groups of five or six to work through and discuss the case before class. This provides a safe space for them to work together, analyze the events, and hone their communication, social, creative, and leadership skills.

During the full class discussion that follows, have students think through various approaches to solving the problem. Sometimes specific stories—involving self-management or interpersonal skills, for example—can evoke intense discussions among students drawing from their own experiences and learning from each other’s unique perspectives.

“Had we learned key life skills during our time in school, we would have been much better equipped to step confidently into our careers and successfully lead our lives.”

In addition to class discussions, consider having students or teaching assistants demonstrate another aspect of the case through role play—in the case of conflict management, students can act out a parental conflict, conflict with power or authority, or conflict between friends. After they’re done, come together as a class and analyze the conflict, inviting individuals to share how they would have handled it and why. You can also use polling to get student responses to the role play.

As students navigate through life, they can use the tools and tips they learn from these discussions to better manage conflict with peers or superiors in the workplace or home. They also develop a growth mindset, persistence, and the ability to overcome anxieties when a job interview doesn’t go their way or they don’t get the promotion they try for.

4. Use Online Games to Teach and Reinforce Key Concepts and Skills

We’ve found games to be great way to capture students’ attention—they are quick and feature motivational point systems. They also help build interpersonal skills in a fun-filled environment and help free up students’ cognitively overloaded minds.

Spending just five minutes on these activities can promote self-learning and significantly improve students’ skill building. Here are three examples of games we like to use in class. Yes, they’re elementary, but we’re consistently impressed by how engaged our students are while playing them—they’re a light, fun way to teach the basics.

  • Active Listening 2 (Whac-A-Mole) is an active listening game in which moles pop up on the screen with various listening traits. Students must identify which are active listening traits and whack them back into the hole.

  • Strengths, Inter-Dependency and Gratitude (Maze Chase) is a game in which a question is posed and each player must navigate to the right answer box while avoiding enemy creatures.

  • Bowling Rush is a time-management game that offers students multiple choice questions. When they answer correctly, each player gets to roll the ball and knock down all the pins. If they answer incorrectly, only a few pins are knocked down.

Giving Students the Tools They Need to Succeed

Life-skill-building activities like these enrich students’ academic experiences and equip them with the tools and training they will need to face life’s rigors.

The pandemic taught unprecedented life lessons and underscored the necessity of introducing students to these essential skills and allowing them the space to practice and develop them.

We’ve had former students tell us that these activities helped them in their professional careers by honing their leadership skills, giving them the awareness and confidence to deal with real-life problems, and encouraging them to be team players.

By incorporating even one of these activities in your classroom—no matter your course topic—your students will learn more about self-expression, self-esteem, communication, and the ability to manage change. They will also begin to cultivate a holistic and balanced approach to life, leaving academia better prepared for what’s ahead.



The Life Skills course at IIT-M focuses on hands-on, student-centered learning and comprises two main themes.

  1. Getting Along: Students get a broad understanding of how to create healthy relationships with themselves, with others, with diverse perspectives, and with their environment.

  2. Embracing Change and New Beginnings: Students develop a growth mindset and learn how to promote well-being and adjust to change as they embark on their journey—first as an IIT-M student and then as a global citizen.

The course relies on unique play-based methodology, including a combination of live interactive sessions; fun, topic-driven activities such as watching movie clips and creating art and vision boards; and group discussions.

It’s organized into six modules, each covering a topic with skills, tips, and tools to manage and cultivate the following:

  1. Peer pressure, competition, and diversity of perspectives

  2. Academics, exams, and grades

  3. Self, time, energy, and habits and rituals

  4. Self-expression, self-leadership, and growth mindset

  5. Self-worth, relationships, and healthy boundaries

  6. Change, conflict, failure, and emotion

Faculty teaching this course hail from diverse backgrounds and bring a breadth of perspectives to our students. The core facilitators include Sivakumar Srinivasan, professor of applied mechanics; Shiva Subramanian, guest faculty at IIT-M and the cofounder of Biomimicry Compass; Kartic Vaidyanathan, an alumnus of IIT-M and founder of LetsPlayToLearn; Lt. Col. Jayakumar, Kargil War veteran and also a previous member and psychologist at the Services Selection Board at Bhopal; Prasanna Gunturi, an alumnus and a certified life and corporate coach; and Rituparna Ghosh, an IIT-M alumnus, novelist, and transformational life coach.

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