Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE & ESOL Classroom

Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE & ESOL Classroom is a ready-to-use, flexible curriculum that adult educators can use to incorporate career awareness and planning into their instructional and counseling activities.

Martha Oesch
Carol Bower
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National College Transition Network (NCTN)
System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

This Career Awareness Guide is designed for teachers and counselors in ASE, ABE, ESOL, and College Transition programs to help students understand the critical link between education and careers. The curriculum is divided into four sections:

  • Cultural context for career awareness
  • Self-exploration (skills, values, experience, interests, education)
  • Occupational exploration (occupational and job profiles, informational interviews, career and job fairs, and labor market information)
  • Career and Education Planning (decision making, goal setting, college success skills, action planning)

Each section is divided into lessons. Each lesson outlines the topic learning objectives, materials needed, vocabulary, and extension activities. The lessons are very diverse in that they address targeted skills and knowledge needed to complete the activity as well as vary the learning style. Teachers and counselors are encouraged to work as a team to implement the curriculum across the program. The language level of the lesson activities is designed to be accessible for an ESOL Student Performance Level 4-5. All activities are flexible, as is the structure of the curriculum, so that it may be customized for students' needs and purposes.

The curriculum is clearly organized with extra copy-ready handouts. It was field tested with pilot participants, which included a professional development model featuring a sustained process of study, planning, and implementing activities with the support of a group of peers and experts.

Required Training

The curriculum is designed to be flexible and used or adapted for different populations and purposes. The guide begins with a three-page "How to Use this Guide." The authors strongly recommend (based on field testing feedback) that all users of this guide read the article "Multicultural Career Education and Development" included in an appendix.

What the experts say

Workforce Education Collection Expert Review

This resource for professional development is exemplary in numerous ways:

  • It was developed in one state (MA) but was field tested with practitioners from the region (New England);
  • It can be delivered online so that geographically dispersed practitioners can engage in staff development;
  • Handouts are provided on a CD so that they can be adapted for local learners and then printed;
  • Process of study, planning, and implementation activities are presented systematically and thoroughly;
  • Each lesson includes the topic, learning objectives, materials needed, vocabulary, and extension activities;
  • Interactive, manipulative, and creative activities (e.g., games, auction, scavenger hunt) are incorporated from non-traditional sources (e.g., song by Tracy Chapman, excerpt from Studs Terkel’s research);
  • Helpful resources (e.g., about proprietary schools) are provided;
  • Keying content to SCANS competencies assists teachers in incorporating the materials into ABE and ESOL (intermediate) classes;
  • Correlating the content to the Massachusetts ABE and ESOL Curriculum Framework provides guidance to practitioners from any state;
  • Incorporation of other curriculum materials (including online materials) strengthens the content;
  • Students engage in online research and study at the end of the materials;
  • Role of cultural identity in career development is explored in several places.

Minor limitations include a lack of information on how to evaluate the effectiveness of the materials and the use of the student portfolio (e.g., what should be collected, how should it be used).

See: Career education and development, specifically the work of John L. Holland (but no citation is provided for Holland’s original publicationMaking Vocational Choices: A Theory of Careers, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall, 1973, or for the subsequent research and publication about his model).  The Holland model is now part of the O*NET Career Exploration Tools (DOL/ETA).

English Language Acquisition Collection Expert Review

The idea of career planning for adult ELL’s appears to be under–explored. This well-organized curriculum addresses a very broad picture of career awareness. There are 24 lessons, most of them short but full of concepts that are new to most learners in ESL programs. This package would take a long time to cover in class. The prodigious number of focused lessons—coupled with the frequent advice that teachers will need to be flexible and adapt the lessons and process to their own situations and the needs and skill levels of learners in their classes adds to its value. The curriculum developers seem to understand that—to be effective—teachers will always need to pick, choose, and adapt “what works” –not just take something off the shelf and use it.  Teachers might feel overwhelmed by the amount of content. Some of the content gets more complicated than may be necessary at times (eg.SMART goals), but that is an “overdone strength” of the materials.

Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE & ESOL Classroom cites many resources, but most of them focus on practical, classroom or counseling session-based rather than on descriptive, experimental, or quasi-experimental studies.  In addition, this curriculum guide relies on the 1992 ERIC digest,Multicultural Career Education and Development (ERIC ED No. 347402), as well as documents from the National  College Transition Network and SABES, and others for theoretical and practical advice.

The major value of this publication to the field of adult education is that it covers everything in one resource. For teachers uninitiated in the career awareness process, or even for those who know something about the subject, the information is all here: worksheets, lesson plans, extra forms and an extensive list of career awareness resources in the Appendix. It is clear that this curriculum guide was written by those who understand the day-to-day concerns of the classroom teacher, the end user for this product.

Most significant or useful features:

  • Every lesson has activities and accompanying worksheets. Extensions, modifications and alternatives for activities are offered to accommodate multi-level classes. This recognizes the teacher’s need for multi-level approaches and responds to a persistent question among teachers who want to know whether materials are appropriate for lower-level (and higher level) learners.
  • Many of the activities are designed so learners will reflect on how they use language in different settings. Such an approach helps to make application of the learning more meaningful.
  • The “culture” of career planning in the U.S. is what this is about. Key concepts are presented. The objective of each lesson is explained at the beginning of the lesson, and important vocabulary is listed. The consistency provides clear direction for the teacher who, in turn, can translate the purpose to the class.
  • Students are required to do online research and there are opportunities for experiential activities so the material is very real-life and authentic.
  • Lesson 24, the last one, provides a summary “Career and Education Planning Worksheet” that allows students to review and refer to all the sections that have preceded, encouraging learners to retain and apply the material.
  • Correlation to SCANS competencies

Significant items to consider when utilizing this curriculum for ESL learners:

  • There are no evaluation activities or process for teachers or learners to know whether each lesson’s “learning objective” was met.
  • The learning objectives themselves—understandably—are somewhat soft (e.g, “Learning Objective: To set the stage for an understanding that all jobs have requirements and that there are some barriers to jobs that are systemic such as institutionalized racism, sexism, and classism.”[p21]). More specific and skills based objectives could be added to the curriculum. This may be especially true for adult English language learners who may want to focus on language skills related to career and transition goals.
  • Several lessons and much of the language seem like they would be challenging particularly for a student at SPL (Student Performance Level) 4.  Also, students at SPLs 4 and 5 do not have the level of English language proficiency for post-secondary education.  That does not mean that teachers cannot work with students on a variety of enabling activities—so they are familiar with the language and the process of transitioning to post-secondary education.  (For the SPLs, see and
  • Although this is already a hefty document, novice teachers or counselors may need more “how to” assistance in classroom management and in conducting, processing, and evaluating activities than is available in the lessons.  Perhaps this could be accomplished, by developing a few in-depth lessons and making them available online for those who need more help.
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