High school is the time when many young people start considering different careers. Those who are more interested in science take better notes of what happens in labs, while the aspiring artists and writers start searching for their voice. But English language learners are in danger of being marginalized during this important time of their lives as they struggle with basic language skills and try to catch up with their peers’ cultural knowledge.
To give my students a direction for their lives outside of school, I asked them about what their dream jobs would be. It turned out that lots of the answers fit within a few career fields. From there, I looked at how these could tie back to the mainstream school subjects and their language skills. Here are some of the ways I made this work:
Career field: Law Enforcement. Lots of my students were either fans of crime shows or admired relatives in the police force.
Content Objectives: The first part focused on the civics aspects of law enforcement, which gave me the chance to reinforce lessons about the Bill of Rights and judicial system. The second part looked at the science behind forensic investigation: the physics of ballistics, the biology of DNA analysis, the anatomical knowledge required for pathology, and the chemistry behind crime scene investigation.
Language Objectives: Crime always makes reading activities more interesting. We went through local news stories to identify the steps in the legal process. Later, I had students analyze articles about how law enforcement personnel learn forensic science to find main ideas and support.
Career Field: Medicine. Some of my students were interested in everything from being a medical aide to a surgeon.
Content Objectives: This lent itself easily to biology and anatomy, but to make it more interesting, I focused on academic writing. Specifically, I had students write “how-to” articles centered around first-aid and treating sicknesses.
Language Objectives: I didn’t expect to find so many irregular verbs in healthcare, but I took the opportunity to review words like “bled,” “fell,” and “broke.”
Career Field: Investing and Banking. My students weren’t interested in this until I told them these lessons would literally show them how to get rich. Then they were very interested.
Content Objectives: We reviewed math concepts to determine interest rates and payment amounts. I matched many of the terms with the curriculum for my school’s personal finance class.
Language Objectives: Students learned common financial terms, like “mortgage,” “investment,” and “principal” that many lacked the cultural exposure to before. I also took some time to warn them against high-interest rate loans and credit cards.
Career Fields: Arts and Design. Instead of making this one big unit, I broke it up into shorter lessons for weeks abbreviated by holidays and assemblies. That allowed me to address subjects as diverse as fashion design, video game creation, and acting.
Content Objectives: A common thread among all of these subjects was the need for teamwork and cooperation. We looked at how people with different skills need to work together to create a good product, whether it’s a dress or a movie.
Language Objectives: Artistic subjects allow for great writing prompts. I had students write about what kind of clothes they would design if they had their own line, describe the features that made their favorite video games good (advanced students could also write about what made bad video games bad), and our theater students could engage in some simple fiction writing by imaging what kinds of films they would do as movie stars. Writing is often one of the most challenging assignments for ELLs, but connecting it to artistic interests made it much more fun for everyone.
How have you tied career goals into your English language teaching in secondary school?