IBM 8-bar logo Career Readiness Toolkit for Teachers

Career exploration and planning lesson

60 mins

3 Activities

Grade 9-12

Low threshold, high ceiling

Common Core Standards


Lesson approved by Christa Camp

This former Tulsa teacher and Teach for America leader knows what it’s like to wrangle a classroom full of teenagers—and she approved this lesson.

You'll need

Stopwatch / timer

If you’re here, it means you’re looking for ways to teach your high school students professional skills. This 60-minute lesson plan has everything you need to teach your students how to approach career planning, and successfully navigate the ever-changing world of work.

It includes materials, learning objectives and standards, activities and instructions, and student handouts. We also recommend tech tools that you can use to make the learning experience fun and interactive for your students.

Learning objectives

  • Students will reflect on their unique strengths, skills, and career aspirations.
  • Students will explore examples of career paths by reading or viewing profiles of various professionals.
  • Students will learn how to conduct an informational interview.
  • Students will become familiar with career exploration tools online.
  • Students will draft a profile on LinkedIn that they can continue to refine and tailor.
  • Students will gain confidence and feel more comfortable about navigating career options, and making career decisions.

02Warm up

Warm up
Get students warmed up and ready to tackle the next activity with a quick Do Now and Debrief, and Framing to help them understand the importance of career planning.
Do Now

5 min

When students enter the classroom or sign into class online, project the slide that displays the following quotes, and question. You can also use a collaborative tool like Padlet and post the question there.


“Plans are worthless, but planning is essential.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower


“Just because you made a good plan, doesn’t mean that’s what’s gonna happen.” ― Taylor Swift


“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.


Do any of these quotes resonate with you? Which one(s) and why? What do you think they have to do with your future career? Take five minutes to write down what you would say.

Debrief Do Now

5-10 min

Invite students to share out. If you use Padlet, give students the opportunity to read each other’s responses before they share. If you’re teaching in person, you can cold call or ask for volunteers. Online, you can ask students to type in the chat box. As students are sharing, note patterns that come up in their responses.


Once several students share, emphasize the importance of making decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons.


Doing something for instrumental reasons means you think your action is a means to an end, that it’s going to take you somewhere specific. But what if it doesn’t work out?


Doing something for fundamental reasons means you think your action is inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to. Fundamental reasoning is more sustainable. It encourages you to align your actions with your values, and allows you to have flexibility when it comes to setting career goals.


“You must live with a certain amount of ambiguity about not knowing what’s going to happen next, but it keeps you alert to unexpected opportunities and serendipity.”

Framing: Why do we need to learn this?

5-10 min

In an ever-changing and increasingly complex world of work, building a career is about continually discovering how you can apply your strengths, passions, and hard work in the world, to do something that matters.


Supporting video clips:

03Pick an activity

Pick an activity

04Cool down

Cool down
Whether you did one activity or all three, give students the opportunity to reflect and set goals afterwards. These self-assessments will also help you figure out what you need to do next to help them meet the learning objectives and make meaningful progress in exploring and planning their career.
Here are some suggestions:
  • You can use a tool like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere to do a pulse check. Ask students on a scale of 1-5 (1 not confident, 5 ready to explore a future career now), how prepared they feel to start exploring and planning for their future career. This information is also helpful for you, as you can use their responses to think about how much more practice they need and whether or not you want to dig deeper into this skill.
  • Create a Google Form that gives students a place to reflect and set a goal. Here are some questions you might include:
    • How prepared do you feel to explore and plan your career future?
    • What’s your next best step?
    • What do you need more help with?



You can also share additional reflection questions that students can return to throughout their career journey, such as:


  • What are your strengths? How can you tell the difference between a weakness and something that just needs a little more effort?
  • Do you know what you’re good at? If so, how could you do more of it? If not, how could you find out?
  • Have you thought about what industries or organizations are looking for people with your strengths and ambitions? What do you know about them? What could you do to learn more?
  • The most valuable people bring out the best in others. Who in your life is lifting you up? Who could you reach out to for support? How can you be a support to others?
  • How are you building your professional reputation, both intentionally and unintentionally? What would a potential employer see if they Googled you? Are you making thoughtful use of platforms like LinkedIn to promote yourself and connect with people doing work you’re interested in?
  • What’s next for you?