Lessons – A Book Review

Let’s get one thing straight right now. This might come as a shock to some, but skills-based health is not a new thing. The National Health Education Standards aren’t new either, they’ve been around since as long as I’ve been teaching. They’re older than some of the latest additions to my PLN!

Having said that, the growing wave of support from health educators who are looking to do what’s right for their students by fully embracing the National Health Education Standards is hard to ignore. Forward thinking teachers are seeking new and authentic ways to introduce life-long skills to their students to provide them with the opportunity to lead healthier and happier lives.


Thankfully there is a growing number of health educators not only skilled in teaching skills based health but also comfortable sharing their experience in making the (sometimes slow and difficult) transition away from content-based instruction. If you can catch any of the last few SHAPE America health teachers of the year – Melanie Lynch, Andy Horne, Kim Ohara, at a conference, you will walk away with a greater understanding of what is required to deliver a skills-based approach with confidence.

Two years ago Sarah Benes and Holly Alperin released The Essentials of Teaching Health Education which really dealt with the theory of of developing a skills-based program. It covered the rationale and the theory and gave me the confidence to make the move towards becoming a more effective educator. If you are taking your first steps toward embracing a skills-based approach, that book will be invaluable. We bought one for each member of our health department in the hope that we could convince them that this ‘new’ way was the best way.

However if Essentials provided the bones, it was obvious that educators needed the meat to add to those bones. Hence this years latest release from the authors – Lesson Planning for Skills-Based Health Education. Promising “strategies for designing lessons, plus teacher-tested and ready to use unit outlines, assessments, lesson plans, and learning activities” this book doesn’t disappoint.

Holly and Sarah are well connected; you’ve probably seen them at a conference, perhaps even been fortunate to be in one of their longer professional development offerings. As such, they were able to connect with health educators in the field, including many SHAPE America Teacher of the Year honorees to gather engaging examples of health lessons, assessments and projects that have proven to be a success.

This easy to access book starts of with a chapter that reminds us to ensure that our skills-based curriculum is ‘planned, sequential, comprehensive and relevant’. Chapter 2 is PURE GOLD! Entitled ‘Designing Your Health Curriculum’ we are taken through eight steps of curriculum design that crucially starts with GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS AND COMMUNITY. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a post on social media (usually Facebook) where a teacher asks for help in re-writing their curriculum. This is such a tough call to answer because I don’t know their students. What my students need, will be different from the needs of your students, or your community.

To find out more about how I use YRBS data to inform my curriculum design you can check out this blog post, or this podcast I recorded with Charlie Rizzuto.

What follows the introductory chapters are seven chapters organized by the seven National Health Education Standards, with each following the same structure, presenting us with:

Skill Overview

Skill Cues

Unit Outline


Lesson plans and learning objectives

Everything in these chapters aligns with a backward-design approach and are simple to follow. Not only are the materials tried-and-tested, but they can easily be modified to reflect the needs of your students. I have the print copy of Essentials which comes with digital access to all of the materials in the book. These resources are invaluable and come in PDF and Word format, allowing you to personalize them before sharing with your class.

As you may know, I work alongside Andy Horne and between the two of us we are never short of innovative ideas. However, as big fans of Holly and Sarah we chose to introduce the skill of Goal Setting to our sophomore students following the outline laid out in Lessons.  I was impressed with the time that the chapter took to do things right. I can be guilty of rushing things and often wish I had more time for my students to not only learn the health skills but to practice them often, with opportunity for reflection. I found the way in which students are encouraged to consider the 10 dimensions of wellness before identifying strengths ands weaknesses was engaging, and the students reported enjoying the process. Goal setting is a skill of which many of my students are aware, but very, very few are explicit in setting structured goals, with opportunities to monitor progress. The book contains a great SMART goals questionnaire that encourages students to create a well considered, concise goal that can be monitored over time. The pre-test and post-test materials were handy, not only for me but also my students.

I touched base with Andy during the week and asked how his goal setting lessons had gone and his response was:

These were the best lessons I’ve taught all year!

My biggest takeaway from following the outline presented in the book was that as educators we can’t rush this. It’s easy to think that you can pay lip-service to skills-based health and squeeze a lesson or two in between your regular content. This. Does. Not. Work. The skills and habits that we aim to instill are life-long and valuable to the future of our students. As such they need to be delivered at a pace which allows students to understand them before applying them in real-life scenarios, again and again. Practice of these skills is crucial! It is important that students are given the opportunity to practice in a safe, no-risk environment so that when they need to call upon these skills in ‘real life’ they at least feel competent and confident and willing to trust their ability to engage in behaviors that will allow for a healthier, happier life for themselves and those around them.

If you don’t have this book yet. Buy this book.

If you have this book. Follow all of the educators listed at the back of the book on social media.

If you have this book, and have been using it for a while. Consider writing a review and posting it on Amazon.

Remember, SHAPE America members get a discount from the publishers Human Kinetics.

Here’s the moment I received my copy of Lessons.

Thank you Holly and Sarah for continuing to collate and create great content that is driving the skills-based health message and for encouraging health educators to strive to improve in order to better the experience of our students.

If you liked this post, you will also like:

Helping Students Improve Their Health Literacy a guest blog post by Andy Horne

Practice Makes Permanent a guest blog post by Claudia Brown


4 thoughts on “Lessons – A Book Review

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – April 2018 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  2. Pingback: Getting outside of your comfort zone with skills-based health education | Skills-Based Health Education

  3. Pingback: Building Your Health Curriculum – #slowchathealth

  4. Pingback: Book of the Month – #slowchathealth

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