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Career Exploration | Career Readiness | Middle School

Top 5 Career Awareness Activities for Middle School Students

June 27th, 2023 | 7 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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Career awareness is an essential first step in building students’ understanding of the working world.

Career awareness differentiates itself from career exploration and career clarity by introducing students to different job opportunities in the world.

It shows them options for their futures in a huge scope with the hope that each student will find a career that resonates with them in terms of interests, purpose, and inspiration.

That’s a tall order for a middle school class, which is why career awareness activities are so hard to find — and even harder to apply to middle school students.

With that in mind, you have a few options at your disposal to help you out!

The five best career awareness activity ideas for middle school are:

  1. Interest & preference questionnaires
  2. Aptitude surveys
  3. Classroom speakers
  4. Job shadowing
  5. Mentorships

In this post, we'll dive into the details of each activity and give you some extra ideas for career exploration.

You'll also find a ready-to-use career exploration activity you can implement in your classroom right now!

1. Interest & Preference Questionnaires

The first step in introducing students to career options is to determine what they like in the first place.

That’s where interest and preference questionnaires come into play!

These questionnaires help students collect their thoughts and place them on paper. For many middle school students, this will be the first time they’ve had to do this.

Some common interest questionnaires include:

While it may sound dull, the results of questionnaires like this can be surprising both to you and your students themselves!

You can take this information a step further as well, letting students derive their personal preferences for work environments, social interactions, and more from a simple questionnaire.

Regardless of the extent to which you analyze these questionnaires, there’s just something about getting those thoughts down on paper that gives students an ah-ha moment for their own lives.

Once they have that moment, you can capitalize on it by discussing career paths that cater to those interests.

Still, students need more than just an interest to start the career of their dreams.

They also need to have skills — or at least an interest in the skills that can point them in the right direction!

2. Aptitude Surveys

Aptitude surveys are the natural complement to interest questionnaires.

While interest questionnaires let students get their thoughts down about what they want, aptitude surveys let them discover the skills they want to (or should) learn for the future.

These tests are great on paper. But aptitude surveys have a strong stigma attached to them — namely, the idea that students who do better on them are overall better than students who do poorly.

The perfect example of this is the classic IQ test, which is rarely used in schools anymore.

Intelligence (and aptitude, by extension) is a difficult quality to measure in a person.

That’s why it’s important to use some carefully-constructed aptitude surveys that can help your students discover their basic talents and how they can move forward.

Some popular aptitude surveys include:

  • Differential Aptitude Test (reasoning)
  • Stanford Educational Mathematics Aptitude Test (math)
  • Modern Language Aptitude Test (reading)

You may recognize some of the names on this list. That’s because both gifted and special ed programs throughout the United States use some of these tests to determine the best ways to teach students.

Combined with their interest profiles, your middle school students now have their first insights into what they can do in the future.

More importantly, they can figure out what careers can make them happy throughout their lives.

Still, tests are just one element of career awareness.

To really understand a career, students need to hear about it from the adults who live those careers every day.

3. Classroom Speakers

When you want to give your students valuable insight into a career, a classroom speaker is your best choice.

Classroom speakers are frequently members of your community who represent the scope of a career.

For example, the CEO of a small business can come to your class and talk about how they got their start.

When you invite a classroom speaker, it's a good idea to have some discussion questions ready for your students to ask. Consider including questions such as:

  • What career did they do first?
  • When did they get the inspiration to start their own business?
  • What is their life like now?

That kind of insight is gold for students thinking about their careers. And while middle school students are known for being flighty and distracted, they’re also capable of engaging with something that interests them.

CEOs can talk about leading a business. Nurses can talk about saving lives. Carpenters can talk about making something with their own two hands.

Every career has a valuable kernel of truth within it, and the individuals in those careers can express it to students.

If you want, you can take the spotlight for yourself for a few minutes to talk about becoming a teacher and what you do every day.

(Your students would almost certainly be surprised.)

But at the end of the day, classroom speakers are lacking a major quality that students need to really get interested in a career.

In-person, hands-on discovery.

4. Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is the practice of getting a student (or group of students) to follow someone in their day-to-day work for a couple of hours.

Job shadowing can take place with any career and in any setting, as long as a business can guarantee the safety of minors in their workplace.

For students interested in being a mechanic, they can spend some time watching one work in a garage.

Students interested in food service can observe meal preparation in a commercial kitchen.

An IT manager can show tech-minded students the company’s server room.

The potential for students is limitless in job shadowing, and it’s an incredible way for them to learn more about a career path.

This is where they can learn more about the specific story behind each career’s representative too.

Did the mechanic go to a career and technical center?

How long did it take a chef to eyeball measure ingredients like that?

What went into the IT manager getting her Master’s degree?

This is the kind of insight that job shadowing provides in a career awareness environment.

And while it’s definitely an “activity,” it doesn’t take place in your classroom!

But there’s still one final option you have for career awareness activities that can make an impact on your middle school students.

In fact, this one can change the course of their whole lives.

5. Mentorships

While today’s traditional education emphasizes learning from books, a mentorship emphasizes learning through experience.

Mentors are invaluable in any individual’s career development. The relationship that a mentor and protégé develop naturally deepens and improves over time, teaching both of them what they want out of life and giving them a valuable person to approach when something goes wrong.

Mentors share in their proteges’ victories, advise them on their failures, and inspire them to continue marching forward with their dreams.

With the right people, a mentorship can even turn into a relationship on par with family.

Still, mentorships take a lot of work.

For you — the teacher — you’ll probably be responsible for creating and maintaining a mentorship program as a whole.

That’s a lot of work on top of your classroom responsibilities, and it might be impossible without help.

Next, you also need a list of reputable, trusted, and established community figures who would be willing to mentor a student in some way.

Third, you’d need students who feel ambitious and excited enough to spend time with an adult, which is a challenge at such a tumultuous time in a student’s life.

Last, you need a way to prove the program works.

However, all of this is small potatoes when you consider the positive potential outcome of a school-sanctioned mentorship.

Lifelong friendship. Unique career experience. Self-determination.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Which Career Awareness Activity Works Best?

When it comes down to making a decision on which career awareness activity to use, it depends on your needs and flexibility!

Each option can be a good supplement to add into your existing career readiness curriculum.

However, if you need a comprehensive CTE curriculum to teach career awareness and exploration among other concepts and skills, consider iCEV.

The iCEV career readiness curriculum contains pre-built lessons, engaging presentations, and hands-on activities to help your students succeed.

It's a great option for anyone just getting started as a career readiness teacher.

To see if the curriculum could work for your classes, download a free introduction activity from the Career Development module.

This career awareness and exploration activity helps your students identify potential career choices and think about the steps needed for those careers.

Click below to download your free activity now!

Get My Free Career Exploration Lesson Plan >