The Key to Planning the Best Career Exploration Lesson Plans for K-12 Students

Kai Frazier
November 8, 2022

When Gen Z and Gen Alpha graduate, the employment landscape is expected to look vastly different from what it is now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts expansive growth in health care, social services, business services, and technology industries. From metaverse careers in development to environmental engineers, educators are responsible for preparing their students for future jobs with well-developed career exploration lesson plans. 

Career exploration is an activity that allows students to learn about various careers, discover what types of skills are required for those jobs, and decide which path may interest them in the future. 

Why is this important to us? Kai XR puts kids in the driver's seat when learning, and empowers them to dream big. It's our mission to expand educational opportunities and access for students in a safe and inclusive environment. Our virtual field trips and digital makerspace can launch students out of the classroom and into a career development mindset. 

We want to help educators better understand the following:

  1. How to teach career exploration
  2. Goals of an effective career exploration curriculum
  3. Elements of the best career exploration lesson plans 
  4. How career exploration is different from elementary school through high school

We'll be sure to include all the ways Kai XR can help along the way! 

How to Teach Career Exploration

Suppose you want to get your students thinking about their futures and show them how to prepare for their careers. In that case, there's no better way than by integrating career exploration into your classroom.

When you think about career exploration, you may think of high school students. However, it should be part of the curriculum at all levels. Career exploration can be integrated into your elementary, middle school, or high school classroom with the right lesson plans.

To create an engaging career exploration lesson plan, you first need to understand the goals of career exploration curricula and the elements of an effective lesson plan. 

Goals of an Effective Career Exploration Curriculum

Sometimes when we teach our students about careers, we focus too much on the "job" itself and not enough on the day-to-day life that comes with it. Instead, provide students with tools that let them explore what being a lawyer, environmental scientist, or metaverse programmer really means personally and professionally.

The National Career Development Association has provided guidelines for an effective career exploration program divided into three categories: 

  1. Personal and social development 
  2. Educational achievement and lifelong learning
  3. Career management 

These categories reach further than information about different occupations, and consider the student's preparation with a three-pronged approach. First, by helping students become more effective at developing themselves and creating relationships with others, the better they can build a network to gain access to the career they want.

By inspiring a love for lifelong learning and achievement, you help them gain the motivation and confidence to continue to grow themselves throughout their career. Without these two elements, career management would be much more difficult. 

For starters, when an effective career development program incorporates personal and social development, students can learn to:

  • Develop an understanding of self 
  • Develop positive interpersonal skills
  • Integrate growth and change into career development
  • Balance personal, leisure, community, learner, family, and work roles

This kind of development can happen as early as preschool or kindergarten, when they begin to explore social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Social-emotional learning in elementary school is a framework centered around self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. This kind of learning impacts not only their career development but also their academic performance, healthy relationships, and mental wellness. 

Career development programs should also incorporate educational achievement and lifelong learning through: 

  • Attaining academic achievement and performance levels needed to reach goals
  • Participating in ongoing, lifelong learning experiences to function effectively and adapt to changing environments

Educators should make learning fun when it comes to inspiring passion for lifelong learning! They can get creative with their lessons and leverage top tech tools, such as virtual field trips or a makerspace

This engaging style of education doesn't just drive interest in learning. It also helps students develop 21st-century learning skills, such as collaboration, innovation, and technology literacy. These skills can support them in attaining educational achievement and high performance levels. 

Finally, career development programs should incorporate career management through: 

  • Creation and management of a goal-oriented career plan
  • Use the process of decision-making for career development
  • Use accurate, current, and unbiased information during planning
  • Mastering academic, occupational, and general employability skills
  • Integrating changing employment trends, societal needs, and economic conditions 

This is where proper career preparedness comes into play. First, educators should introduce students to the process of choosing a career path, selecting courses that support the required skillset to succeed, and the process of applying, interviewing, and advancing in a career. Then, it's up to us to identify employment trends and guide students in the right direction.

Together, these three development categories can put any student on the right path to success! 

Elements of the Best Career Exploration Lesson Plans

Career exploration lesson plans help students explore and learn about different careers and possible career paths. They can be used as part of a career exploration unit or as standalone lessons. The main goal of these lesson plans is to provide students with a hands-on experience that will help them better understand what it takes to work in different fields and industries.

Most career exploration lesson plans have the same elements. Of course, they might be listed differently. Some might be less or more important than others. But these are the things that you need to consider when creating your lesson plan.

In addition, career exploration lesson plans also help students think about what they want out of their future careers. This is important, because it helps them make better decisions about pursuing higher education or training for specific jobs.

According to American Student Assistance, the best career exploration lessons:

  • are engaging
  • are inclusive
  • are paired with skills development 
  • leverage technology

Career exploration lesson plans should start with an introduction explaining why the lesson is being taught and what students will learn from it. This introduction can also include why this is important to them now (for example, they might want to know what they want to major in) and how it relates to their future career goals (for example, they might want to know how much money they can make doing a particular job).

Teachers should include information about themselves and their own experiences in the classroom, so students can see how they relate to the presented material.

They can also utilize outside resources to share a variety of career experiences. 

Kai XR can easily be incorporated into any career exploration lesson plan! Our virtual field trips let students explore potential career paths. More than a video, these field trips are immersive and interactive, paired with questions to help guide the conversation. A few of our favorites include: 

  1. The Met Museum Costume Conservation: Students can learn how preservationists work with museums to preserve artifacts. 
  2. Mixed Reality Studio: Students learn how mixed reality creators combine reality with technology to make holograms at Microsoft. This virtual experience explains how technology spans different fields and how it may be used in the future. 
  3. Life as an Aerospace Engineer: This lesson teaches students to reach for the stars! Students will hear from a real-life rocket scientist about channeling her passion for mathematics, science, and technology into an aerospace engineering career. 
  4. Explore life as an Entrepreneur: When it comes to entrepreneurship, the possibilities are endless! This lesson interviews a green energy entrepreneur about her motivation for creating their own business. 

Finally, the lesson plan should include opportunities for students to practice independent research skills to apply what they've learned on their own time at home or after school.

Educators should ensure their lesson plans are interactive and engaging to excite students about their potential. It should also be inclusive. Teachers should present a wide range of different career paths in an unbiased manner. The world needs workers in every sector! Let students explore what sparks their interest, not what you think they should do.

Finally, lesson plans should use technology and encourage students to develop skills related to potential careers. This is how students move from learning about potential careers to preparing to enter the field. 

Career Exploration Lesson Plans for All Ages

We know that career exploration is essential for all ages, but lesson plans should vary based on age. Age-appropriate lesson plans ensure that students have the cognitive and skills development necessary to process the lesson and implement what they've learned. 

So let's look at career exploration lesson recommendations for elementary, middle, and high school students! 

Career Exploration Lessons for Elementary Students

While many schools provide career exploration to their later elementary students, early elementary is also crucial to expose children to this program. When it comes to planning career exploration lessons, educators should consider the following goals: 

  • Increasing familiarity with different career paths
  • Exploring careers of interest
  • Enhancing self-awareness through social-emotional learning
  • Identifying students' workplace values 
  • Learning about career requirements 
  • Promoting the importance of staying in school

Here are some great ways to teach career exploration to elementary students:

Use books. Books are great tools for introducing career exploration to children of all ages. You can use them as part of a social studies lesson or as an independent reading activity. For example, suppose you're teaching about the Civil War. In that case, you could read a book about nursing and then have your students create posters about what it was like to be a nurse during that period.

Make connections between interests and careers. If kids know about jobs, but don't realize that their interests could lead them down those paths one day, they might miss out on some great options! Learn about your students' interests and values, and help them identify careers aligned with their goals. For example, maybe Bobby has a passion for history and fashion. Make sure he knows about the museum conservation career path! 

Share first-hand experiences from professionals in a variety of fields. Whether you're sharing your own story or bringing in parents to talk about their careers, real-life experiences are the best way to help students understand their options. Don't have access to someone in a specific career path? Use the power of technology to help! Virtual reality is a great way to bring people and their stories into your classroom easily. We have virtual field trips that are made specifically for career exploration! Students can hear from a museum conservationist at The Met or an entrepreneur dedicated to advancing green energy. The sky's the limit when you can go anywhere in the world through a VR headset, tablet, or computer! 

Career Exploration Lessons for Middle School Students

Career exploration is a crucial part of the middle school experience. Students need to consider what careers they might like to pursue after high school, and how they can use their interests in real-world applications. To do this, you need to understand what career exploration should look like in your classroom.

When it comes to planning career exploration lessons for middle schoolers, educators should consider the following goals: 

  • Exposing students to careers and industries through career and technical education
  • Developing CTE skills to increase employability
  • Providing awareness of post-secondary options 
  • Increasing self-awareness and forming a potential occupational identity
  • Preparing for the transition to high school

Career research and interviews. By middle school, students will likely already have a few career options in mind. In this lesson plan, students will research careers that interest them by reading articles on the topic. This activity allows students to explore their interests while also learning how to use online sources properly – an important 21st-century learning skill! Part two of the lesson involves interviewing someone in a particular career field and writing down questions that might arise during an interview process. Students will then have the opportunity to practice giving an interview by pretending they are interviewing someone for a job opening they want at their company or organization.

Practice CTE skills. Lessons should emphasize the benefits of career and technical education and that it's about career exploration and students finding their passion. Help students develop real-world skills with things like digital literacy lesson plans or makerspace activities. 

Career Exploration Lessons for High School Students 

Career exploration in high school is critical to ensuring students have a clear path after graduation. Whether they are college bound or pursuing a technical trade, helping students feel confident about what comes next makes all the difference in their success after high school.

Career exploration lessons should continue to be inclusive, incorporating careers that do and do not require higher education. 

When it comes to planning career exploration lessons for high schoolers, educators should consider the following goals: 

  • Developing employability skills through the 21st-century and CTE learning frameworks
  • Connecting students to appropriate education and training after graduation 
  • Providing access to mentorships and internships 
  • Preparing for applications and interviews

Provide opportunities for job shadowing. In this activity, students shadow someone with a job that interests them. This gives them a chance to see what the job is really like and whether it's a good fit for them. Students can also ask questions about the position, which will help them decide if it would be something they'd like to do. This can take place in a single day or over the course of an internship. Be flexible to the interests of your students! 

Practice job interviews. Students practice interviewing skills by asking each other questions about their personal interests and goals in life. This helps them prepare for real-world interviews when they're older, and gain valuable feedback from their peers on how well they communicate.

Career Exploration Videos. There are many videos online that show real people doing exciting jobs (like aerospace engineers!). Kai XR's virtual field trips can provide a realistic glimpse into what life might be like once you've entered the workforce at an early age and allow students to visualize themselves doing those jobs someday too!

Help Students Make Their Dream a Reality

It's our responsibility as educators to help our students thrive beyond our classrooms. Career exploration should be integrated into education in every grade, K-12, and we can help! Our virtual field trips and makerspace provide a positive, lasting impact on a child's education and career, making them more engaged and intellectually curious inside and outside the classroom.

Programs and schools can schedule a demo to get started! 

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.