Career Exploration in First Grade

By Debbie Osborn


How do you get first graders excited about career exploration? What activities will encourage them to their potential careers that are years away? What are some strategies that would engage their different learning styles and keep the energy flowing? These were questions I struggled with as I prepared for the "Great American Teach-in," a one day state-sponsored event where community members share their knowledge with kids ranging from K-12. I have not had a great deal of experience with career development at the elementary level. However, when a former student of mine asked me to do some career-focused workshops for her first graders, I could not say no.

However, I had many questions about how to do this, and how I should focus the 30 minutes allotted to me. Should I have a PowerPoint presentation planned? Should I review the Holland types briefly and have them choose their primary type? Should I show them some information that's on the Internet? Should I base my presentation on the hope that there will be an active discussion? Is this a safe move, and what will I do if no one participates?

Despite my questions and reservations, I did in fact, provide a 30 minute career guidance lesson for several first grade classes. I had several possible activities and tried many of them with the various groups, making adjustments when necessary. The following ideas are based on what worked well on that day.

Getting started:
After introducing myself, I asked the students some general questions. In each class, there was a flurry of hands each time I asked. Questions included:

  • Who knows what a career is?
  • Can you each give me an example of a career? (I tried to let every student have a turn, and if a child was stuck, I'd give them some clues, such as, "Who do you see when your car breaks down?" or "I'm thinking of someone who washes and grooms my dog"). In one class, I asked for four volunteers (because I had four dry erase markers) to come to the board to take turns writing down what was said.
  • Who can guess how many careers are in the United States? (They were used to the thumbs up and thumbs down signals, so I'd throw out numbers and ask them to put their thumbs up if they thought the number was higher, and their thumbs down if they thought it was lower).

Other activities:
After getting started, I filled the middle time of my presentation with one of the following activities:

  • Career charades: I had made a list of occupations that would be easy to act out, and that also represented the Holland types as much as possible. I asked different people to come and pull out a name of career and act it out. They had a lot of fun doing this, but there was not enough time for each person to try one. In hindsight, I could have partnered them up and let them take turns acting out a career.
  • Career counseling: I talked about my own first grader and said she needed help thinking about possible careers she would enjoy. I then gave them a description of some of her qualities, such as, "She loves to help people. If there is someone sad around her, she will comfort them, bring them a teddy bear and love on them. What kind of job would she be good at?" The students had all kinds of ideas. Then I gave two more examples, of Ashanti who loves sports, and Tyler who loves computers, and had them generate ideas of possible careers.
  • Relating school to work. We talked about what they were learning in school, and I asked questions such as, "How many of you love, love, love math - you wish your teacher would just teach math all day?" and then brainstorm what kinds of jobs a person who loves math might do.
  • Dream paper: I asked them all to reach their hands as high as they could, and to touch their dreams. I asked them to hold them in their hands and then put their dreams in their hearts. I then handed them out a page of construction paper that I called their dream paper, and asked them to draw what they dreamed they might do when they grow up. Note: I also shared a saying from my daughter to avoid kids asking me for a specific color of construction paper, "You get what you get and you don't have a fit." This activity took about 10 minutes. I walked around the desks and asked each student to tell me what they were drawing, and I had them write down the name of the occupation.



  • As I prepared to leave, I thanked them for their time. I left them with an echo cheer, "I can be (I can be), anything I want to be (anything I want to be), there's nooooo stopping me!" While I was walking around the tables, when appropriate, I'd share, "You can do, anything you want to do, there's noooo stopping you" as I pointed to each one.
  • I had each student give me a "high five" as I left, as I was saying my chant.

Lessons learned:

While I was working with the students, I was excited to see that the children were very interested in learning and participating. They had questions before I had even said the first word. They were very curious and eager to explore. They also were very motivated to help, when asked for their opinion about my daughter's possible career paths. I found that it helped to be constantly moving around, and to have exaggerated poses and reactions. The use of a brief story or case example seemed to keep them engaged.

Even at this young of an age, most of the students had clear ideas about what their career might be. There were many doctors, teachers and athletes, but there were also scientists, an owner of a candy shop, artists, and reporters. I also learned that children at this age do have some knowledge about what they like and don't like, what they are good at naturally and not so good at. They are able to generate options that make sense, based on interests, skills and hobbies. All in all, it was a fantastic day, where I learned as much or more from them as I am sure they learned from me.



Debbie Osborn, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida. Individuals wishing to share additional creative strategies for using career information are encouraged to write. Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to her at osborn@coedu.usf.edu

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