In comparison to the LBS or IALS domains that consider the broader domains of prose, document, and quantitative literacy, Essential Skills pinpoint specific areas of skill and allow for concentrated development. Using a variety of documents, for example, is buried in the LBS communication and numeracy domains, where references to symbols, charts, and tables are loosely linked to reading, writing, and numeracy. Document Use, however, provides a specific focus on the actual information displays so adult students can concentrate on the skills they need to interpret them.

Literacy practitioners are not the only ones who benefit from understanding ES definitions. When learners in your program get to know the definitions, they can better recognize their skills and articulate ways in which they use them.

A recommended resource to order or print is the Defining Essential Skills FACT SHEET, which can be downloaded from (
). The colourful brochure includes the nine definitions, a variety of easy to interpret entries for typical application, and a workplace example for each ES. During the research phase of this project, many literacy practitioners told us that they make copies of this resource for learners in order to introduce ES in a meaningful, learner-centred way.


Community Literacy of Ontario recommends the following strategy for implementing or increasing use of the Essential Skills in your literacy agency:

  • Distribute copies of the Defining Essential Skills FACT SHEET to learners in your program. (You can download or order these, and other valuable resources, from the Essential Skills website.)
  • Explain that they are the skills people need to use when they have something to do. e.g., set their alarm clock, make lunch, ride the bus, schedule a doctor’s appointment, etc. (You may wish to choose examples of tasks specific to adult learners’ lives.)
  • Depending on the skill levels of learners in your program, decide whether you or they will read the definitions, applications, and examples.
  • The FACT SHEET provides an excellent springboard for conversation around ES, as adult students are encouraged to consider the ways in which they use their Essential Skills.
  • You can either stick to a discussion, or brainstorm and record learner input on chart paper (great activity for Document Use).
  • Before the discussion concludes, let your adult learners know that you will be getting them to identify the ES they use each time you present them with an activity or demonstration.
  • You may want to have students in your program create an ES diary, where they can recognize and list specific skills they already have in context of how they use them, skills they are developing, and skills they have mastered. This would be a great boost to learner self-esteem, and would be an effective way to show progress!

Through surveys and interviews with members of Community Literacy of Ontario, we learned that some literacy practitioners are not sure how the Essential Skills will fit into their program. While many member agencies deliver a variety of literacy services, including basic skills and employment counselling and training, those literacy agencies whose focus is strictly basic skills training may wonder how they can align ES to the current LBS levels. We believe that after working through this module, literacy practitioners may be surprised to discover they have been teaching many of the Essential Skills all along.

By reviewing the following lead documents for literacy agencies, see if you can spot the parallels between Essential Skills and LBS components. Most literacy practitioners are familiar with either the 1998, Ministry of Education and Training’s, Working with Learning Outcomes Matrix, and/or the more recent, Level Descriptions Manual( ). Because the Working with Learning Outcomes Matrix is out of print, and not everyone has access to a copy, we will try to limit our references to the Level Descriptions Manual (LDM).

While LBS levels are outcome-based, Essential Skills training focuses on developing the ES as it is applied to a task. However, in both cases, adult learners work towards identifying and increasing skill proficiency with a specific path in mind. Learners in your program who are developing their Essential Skills may work on tasks that call upon skills that intersect with the features and performance indicators presented in the LDM.

Imagine that you have a level 1 learner in your program who wants to go to his child’s “Meet the Teacher” night. You would likely work with him to focus on the following outcome from page 45 of the LDM. Note the similarities to the Essential Skills components, as taken from the Oral Communication Section Overview, from the Readers’ Guide to Essential Skills (

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