Strengthening Skills

This section looks at brushing up on some of the skills you need as a worker when engaging in issue based work with young people.

Observation Skills


When working with young people observation is one of the most important skills. It's useful to have questions running in your head such as:

  • Is that boy/girl okay?
  • They don't seem to be their normal chirpy selves today...
  • Have they had breakfast this morning?
  • Why is their pal not with them tonight?
  • They're a bit quiet, why are they not saying anything?
  • Why do they seem to be hiding inside their jacket all the time?
  • How did they get that cut on their face?
  • They seem a bit nervous...

This active inquiry keeps us alert to changes in attitudes, moods or situations and can warn us of risks that young people may for good reason be trying to hide.

Mark's story gives us a real-life story to observe where there are hidden agendas all around. Watch the video and see what you are able to observe in each scene.

Top Tips

Think of ways that you could have intervened in this story if you knew Mark. One of the learning points from this story is that most of us know a Mark somewhere, but we may not be noticing the warning signs.

Remember when engaging in these activities make sure that you take an active interest in all of the young people in the group. Make sure the quiet ones get a chance to have their voice heard. Watch body language. Think about the things you can't see.

Observation Worksheet PDF Download

Listening Skills

Find a partner to do this exercise with and test out your listening skills.

You will need:

  • drawing paper (2 to 3 sheets each)
  • pens or pencils
  • a clock or phone to time the exercise
  • copies of the NKBL images (below)

Get into pairs and sit back to back.  Take one of the NKBL images. Person A views the image and describes it to Person B. Person B draws what is being described. You don't have to be good at drawing. Stick images are fine. Time the activity and stop after two minutes.

Then Person B describes a different image to Person A. Share and discuss results.


Think about the following:

  • For the person describing, was it difficult to give clear instructions?
  • For the person drawing, how did you decide what to draw - was it the instructions or did you have to make assumptions?
  • What does this tell you about communication?
  • Was it more difficult to listen when you couldn't see the person's body language?
  • Were any of the instructions mis-interpreted?

Top Tips

Here are some tips for good listening:

  • Relax and prepare to listen
  • Stop talking
  • Remove distractions
  • Empathise and keep an open mind
  • Be patient
  • Avoid giving opinions or showing prejudice
  • Watch body language
  • Don't jump to conclusions, seek clarification and paraphrase to show that you have heard "So are you saying..."

Remember that in Mark's Story there are lots of instances where Mark isn't really being listened to. Can you identify them? If you were there, how would you listen? Research finds that we as humans always draw meaning and inferences from what others say based on our own past experience. When working with young people we have to assume a level of ignorance. That means we don't pretend to know their life or their world - we can't - it wouldn't be genuine. We can only keep an open mind and ask questions to test out our assumptions. Asking the right questions shows that we care. It is another aspect of active inquiry we referred to in 'observation skills'.

Listening Skills Worksheet PDF Download


Martin Buber believed that real educators teach most successfully when they are not consciously trying to teach at all, but when they act spontaneously out of their own life..."then he can convince the adolescent that there is human truth, that existence has a meaning." This is pertinent to exploring an issue like knife crime because research has found that those involved find it difficult to value themselves.

All of the activities in the Mark's Story learning activities are designed to support you to engage in effective dialogue with young people and encourage them to value themselves and others.

David Bohn sets out three basic conditions for dialogue:

Participants must suspend their assumptions - not ignoring it but holding it up for challenge and exploration
Participants must view each other as  peers - which is in line with the three essentials we covered earlier
In the early stages there needs to be a facilitator who holds the context of the dialogue - leading from behind and becoming redundant as quickly as possible

Practice Run

With a colleague or a small group, role play one of the activities in these resources (E.g. Mark's Map, Resilience Builders or the Interactive section) so that you can practise some of the situations that might arise. Focus on developing good dialogue with young people. Although we know that lots of you will have fun pretending to be teenagers again, the purpose of this exercise is to let you have a practice run in a safe environment and not a test of your acting skills. Nevertheless the more you put into it, the more you get out. Don't be afraid to give it your best shot.

Top Tips

Reflect back on your practice run and discuss how well you met the conditions for dialogue. For example:

  • Was it tempting to lead from the front rather than from behind?
  • Did you try to persuade the group to agree with your view or did you let them form their own views or come to a common viewpoint?
  • Did it feel like a conversation that flowed?
  • Did you put more of yourself in than you expected?
  • Were you able to get group members to think about things from other perspectives?

Remember that in seeking ways for young people to change their attitudes and behaviours we can find ourselves examining our own views and beliefs. This is a positive thing, we don't have all the answers. We are partners in the learning process. It's also common that some young people have never really been asked their views before. This could be the first time they've consciously tried to form an opinion. Therefore we need to value all the contributions and create an environment where members with opposing views contribute with equal value. Finding ways to make group members comfortable with disagreement will aid good group dynamics.

The NKBL website has some good advice about having a conversation with young people about their involvement in knife crime.


In this work relating to Mark's Story we have included a reflection tool called STAR Reflection.

The 'father' of Action Learning, Reg Revans, has said that 'there can be no learning without action and no action without learning'. Therefore to affect change in young people it is essential to include an element of reflection both for yourself as a practitioner and for the young people you are working with. While there are different theories on reflection, they can be summarised as follows:

  • Returning to the plan - was there a plan, did the young person choose to engage in this?
  • Connecting with the feelings - what did it feel like to be involved?
  • Recognising the results - what did it achieve, for whom, how often etc.?
  • Evaluating the experience - what has it changed or improved since the experience began?

Ask yourself:

How often do I sit down with a young person or a group of young people and take them through a process of reflecting on their learning?

How often do I reflect on my own practice, experience and learning?

Use the STAR Reflection framework to reflect on this part of the learning which is aimed at developing your own practice.

Remember this will give you some insight into how easy or difficult it might be for young people to work through. When doing it as part of the Mark's Story learning activities you will be able to share the emotions you felt while doing the exercise.

Star Chart Worksheet PDF Download

Reflection Worksheet PDF Download