Supports to Teaching Skills-Based Health Education

By Brian Griffith, Health Educator and guest blogger for Cairn Guidance

Skills based health education has been around for years but has really gained support and steam over the last few years. Many state, district, and national conventions are hosting presentations that focus on integrating skills based health. Classrooms are shifting from “let’s do a fun project” to “let’s do a fun project that allows students to practice a skill aligned to content that will promote health literacy.” Simple projects, lessons that are embedded in PE or other content areas, or lessons that are done sporadically throughout the year do a good job with presenting what students should know, the what of the lesson. In order to develop health literacy, we also need to share the why and how. Why do they need to know this information and skill and how does it connect to wellness? What are you going to do with the information and how does it support a lifetime of health literacy?

Many teachers were trained on basic health topics and how to teach those independent topics. We know students learn best when they are shown the bigger picture of health (holistic approach) and how all aspects of health are connected. Shifting the classroom focus to skills based health isn’t difficult, the students will still be learning familiar topics. The difference is now the lesson will focus on a skill while teaching the content. Students will be learning about decision making while learning nutrition content, accessing information and mental health, analyzing influences and drug prevention, or one of the other skills with a content that has been identified by your state or local school system.

There are many resources available to teachers to support them shifting to a skills based health classroom.
I suggest reading these two books:
Skills Based Health Education” by Mary Connolly and

The Essentials of Teaching Health Education” by Sarah Benes and Holly Alperin

Jeff Bartlett, a great health educator in MA compiles a weekly Health Education blog here.

And, SHAPE America has been adding resources to the health education teacher’s toolbox.

RMC Health, located in Colorado, is another great resource that supports quality health education. From their website, “RMC Health has promoted the health and success of children and youth across the United States, and helped to transform the organizations that support them.” RMC Health has created skills based health models that provide guidance and skill cues by grade band/span. These health skills models have resources on how to teach the skills effectively to students.

Remember to always teach your local and state requirements. You don’t want to teach something that could get you fired or removal of your teaching certificate. Many requirements can be adjusted to address skills. If you know your curriculum, use CDC's Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) to evaluate your information to see if you are covering items that CDC believes is critical to health education. The HECAT shares outcomes that students should reach based on grade bands/spans. The outcomes are divided into the National Health Education Standards. A teacher can identify a topic they want to teach (tobacco prevention), identify the grade band (6-8), identify the skill (accessing information), and then identify an outcome that matches their local curriculum (access valid and reliable tobacco-related prevention and cessation information from home, school, or community.) I might replace tobacco with nicotine because of vaping and e-cigarette use. I would use:  “Access valid and reliable nicotine-related prevention and cessation information from home, school, or community.”

For example, when a health literate person accesses valid and reliable information, we want them to identify sources of health information, explain how to find the source, and explain why it’s a good source. For example, RMC Health has identified six steps to access reliable information:

Step 1: Identify the Question
Step 2: Locate Accessible Resources
Step 3: Analyze for Validity
Step 3: Analyze for Reliability
Step 5: Determine the best Answer
Step 6: Reflect on your Answer

How do you “Analyze for Validity” or “Analyze for Reliability”? RMC Health has a resource students and teachers can use to evaluate websites here. Librarians at CSU Chico created a tool called the CRAAP for evaluating resources. CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

Health on the Net has been evaluating health information on websites for twenty years. They have a search tool individuals can use to locate valid and reliable information. The site is designed to support patients/individuals, medical professionals, or web publishers. Anyone can access the resources on their site. The site also shares the tool they use to evaluate information and students can use the tool to evaluate a website.

Health on the Net also create a quick guide on eight questions a person should think about when accessing a website.

The lesson will ask students to look for nicotine prevention and cessation services and evaluate those resources with one of the tools the teacher selects. What will the student with that information? The students could simply create a list of quality resources. Is that very engaging for your students? Does creating a list engage higher order thinking skills? If your school is tech focused, you could use google maps to pin key locations in the community. Students could also identify the barriers to health on that same map. Our main goal is to have them analyze these sites and identify ones that would provide valid and reliable information. Both of these activities meet that original objective. Should we provide a more engaging environment though? Students could work on advocacy by developing resources to be distributed at the local health department, hospital, clinic, PTA meeting, or health fair. This lesson could connect to environmental literacy by researching high pollution points of cigarette butts or vaping devices and organizing a student service project to clean up the area. Once the locations are identified, receptacles could be placed with signs about quitting smoking.  

Skills based health education means students are practicing skills and learning how to apply those skills in multiple settings. Teachers need to introduce the skill, allow students to practice the skill with multiple content areas, and then allow the students to be given a scenario where they have to identify the skills to use and successfully apply those skills. Then with any skill, those skills must be practiced over time. We all know having healthy citizens makes our communities and businesses more productive and better places to live.

What are some of your skills based health lessons?

I hope you make today a healthy day for you and all those you meet!