Switching From Content-Based to Skills-Based Health Ed


Health education is unique in that its subject matter is constantly changing. What might pass as a viable nutrition lesson one year might be relegated to the back burner another year due to new research findings. But what is one thing that does not change? Health education skills that students can use to lead healthy, happy lifestyles.

Over the last few years, we’ve shifted toward creating a health education curriculum that is skills based as opposed to content based. That might raise a red flag for some, who ask, “Do you mean content isn’t important?” I have to say: Content matters, but it is skills that make a difference in the lives of our students. (I think you’ll find that a skills-based approach is more fun, too!)

The following resources are great starting points for teachers looking to shift to a skills-based health education approach in their classroom.

National Health Education Standards

Becoming familiar with the National Health Education Standards is a must for any health teacher. The standards are, “written expectations for what students should know and be able to do” by each grade level. The standards themselves are not a curriculum, but they can be used to develop one based on the needs of your students.

*In my experience, it’s a good idea to start simply by assessing students on their ability to demonstrate skills based on the National Health Education Standards. Once you are comfortable with that, you can then develop one unit based on the NHES before shifting toward an entirely skills-based approach to health education.

The Essentials of Teaching Health Education

The latest resource focusing on skills-based health education is “The Essentials of Teaching Health Education” by Sarah Benes and Holly Alperin. The book breaks down how teachers can create their own skills-based health education curriculum and contains practical strategies and real-world examples for teachers to apply. There is a logical sequence to this text: background information leads to how to teach skills, which leads to developing your own skills-based curriculum.

Skills Based Health Education

The first textbook relating to a skills-based health education approach is “Skills Based Health Education” by Mary Connolly. This textbook provides real-world examples of health education lessons based on the National Health Education Standards. Much of the information can be directly implemented into your own health classroom, particularly the example assessments.