What Do You Do? How to Teach an Interdisciplinary ESL Unit on Careers

What Do You Do? How to Teach an Interdisciplinary ESL Unit on Careers

What do you want to be when you grow up? We hear this question many times throughout our lives, and sometimes even as adults we do not know the answer. Because or in spite of this, careers often come up in the ESL curriculum.

Adult students have often had experience working, and are pursuing English to further their careers. Younger students are thinking about what they want to be for the rest of their lives, and talking about careers in class will give them the words to think their career paths through. Whatever your reason for covering careers in the classroom, here are some activities you can use across the curriculum for your ESL students.

How to Teach an Interdisciplinary ESL Unit on Careers

  1. 1


    Talking about careers with students who have not yet decided on their own is a great opportunity for introducing or reviewing the conditional tense. Start by asking students if they had to choose a career today what career they might choose, or if you have adult ESL students, ask them to choose a career other than the one they currently have. Explain that to use the conditional in the present tense, that is to talk about the career they chose for today, start with the phrase “If I were…” Each person can insert a career here. “If I were a firefighter…” or “If I were a chef…” Then, have your students think about the tasks they might have if they pursued that career. They should then finish the phrase “I would…” with the simple form of the verb. “I would fight fires.” or “I would have sharp knives.” for example. Then let your students work in pairs to practice the construction, each person choosing several possible careers and giving between three and five duties he might have. This could also be a good time to introduce some vocabulary specific to different careers.

  2. 2


    A career fair can be fun and informative for any student. Learning about what other people do and what their jobs entail can inspire or clarify a person’s own call. Think about the resources you have at your disposal, parents, other students, friends, bivocational teaching colleagues, or others who might volunteer a few minutes of their time, and invite them to your classroom to share about their jobs. Have your students take notes on the short presentations and note any unfamiliar vocabulary each presenter uses. After your series of guest speakers, which you can schedule either all on one day or over a series of days, review the information with your students. To test their comprehension, see if they can complete a matching activity where they identify the career that goes with a specific job duty.

  3. 3


    Do your students know how to speak in a professional setting? Would they be able to give good customer service? Because customer service is important in so many businesses in today’s world, take some time to do customer service role plays with your students. First, have groups of students brainstorm several contexts in which an employee would have to provide good customer service. These might include waiting tables in a restaurant, working the check out at a shopping center, answering customer calls or any of dozens of other situations. Then, have pairs of students role play how they would act in one or more of the situations. To make it more interesting, you may want to put the specific situations on small slips of paper and have each pair of students draw one from a hat or basket. Particularly challenging and just as useful will be role plays in which participants cannot see one another as they interact as in a telephone conversation. To role play a telephone conversation in the classroom, have your students sit back to back and play out as they interact. Because they will not have facial or contextual clues they would normally have in personal contact, the dialogue will be more difficult and will challenge their speaking skills even further!

  4. 4


    You may want to use the topic of careers to teach your students how to write a process composition. Have your students think about a career they might choose for the future. Then, have each person list all the steps he would have to make to reach that career goal. Would he have to attend school? Would he have to move to another location? Would he have to meet certain people and make connections? Do an example with the class pointing out all the steps in the process of reaching one particular career goal being very specific, and then have your students make their own lists for their own careers. Tell them to make sure every step is included so that someone who knows nothing about the career could follow those directions and reach the same goal. Then, ask each person to look at his list of steps and divide it in logical places to make three or four sets of steps. Finally, ask each person to convert the list of bullet point instructions into paragraphs that explain the process, one paragraph for each group of steps. Transitional words are very important here, so you may want to review with your class how to use transitions within and between paragraphs as well.

Whether you are teaching elementary, secondary or adult English classes, you have good reason to bring careers into the classroom.

These are only some of many career related activities you can do with your students. For more adult lessons on careers, you may want to look at Busy Teacher’s series How to Teach Your ESL Students Job Application Skills. These articles will take you and your students through the job application process from determining the right job to the final steps of getting hired.

Are you lucky enough to be doing exactly what you wanted to do for a living? Tell us about it.

Like it? Tell your friends: