Preparing Students for Life After High School

Teaching seniors is a different beast. They seem to fall into two categories: those who are ready to be done with high school and those who are scared to leave.

As a teacher of seniors (or juniors, for that matter), you can help both groups by incorporating some activities that will assist them with their post-high school plans and alleviate any fears or worries they may have. And even if they aren't excited about the activities, their parents will thank you.

One of the best ways to help your students is to assign work that they have to complete outside the classroom.

COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY:  I like to have my students write a personal essay based on the college Common Application questions. Because this type of writing is so different from the standard five-paragraph essay, I use an Introduction to Narrative Nonfiction presentation to familiarize them with the unique style, then we go over the personal essay specifically and how students can differentiate themselves with a powerful response. For this, I use my College Application Essay pack.   Students are able to use this assignment for their actual college application essay because I use the same requirements as the Common App (such as the 250-650 word limit). Plus, it saves me time because I usually have several students who want me to proof their essays before they send them off anyway. 

SCHOLARSHIP ESSAYS: Our community offers many local scholarships for seniors. When the requirements for each are released to the students via our guidance office, I always ask for a copy of the prompts so we can write the essays in class. Ask your guidance counselor(s) if there are any scholarship opportunities they provide students (sometimes they are posted online or up on the bulletin board in the office). Chances are, there are many that students either ignore or just don't have time to complete. By assigning it, students get to use class time AND have an English teacher available to help them write their essays, which will mainly attempt to persuade the audience that they are deserving of the award money.

COVER LETTER & RÉSUMÉ WRITING:  Students who take vocational classes in high school are often required to have a résumé, though many have never written one before. I like to practice this skill in English class because they don't always get the same feedback or input from their vocational teachers. (Let's face it, we English teachers can be very picky!) Because this is a situation where perfection is a must, who better to assign it than an English teacher?

I assign my students a pretend summer internship position that requires a cover letter, résumé, and three references. I have myself as the contact person and allow them to tailor the internship to their desired field. For example, if a student wants to pursue a career in early education, she/he will pretend the internship is for a daycare. If a student wants to work as a welder, she/he will pretend the internship is for an independent sheet-metal contractor. If a student has a real opportunity for employment, I allow them to write their letter and tailor their résumé for that position.

I use my Cover Letter and Résumé Writing pack, which includes editable templates of cover letters, résumés, and a pre-résumé organizer that can be shared electronically with students. It also includes editable rubrics and assignment prompts.

MOCK INTERVIEWS: After students have written cover letters and résumés, give them an opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills with mock interviews.

My senior English teacher interviewed us in front of the entire class and gave us on-the-spot feedback about our lack of eye contact, mumbling, or terrible responses (and sometimes praised us for things we did well). It was frightening but--surprisingly--very helpful.

I, however, think for the first experience it might be helpful to perform these in private so students don't feel embarrassed or humiliated. You could have a volunteer answer a few questions in front of the class at first as an example, though. Download a copy of free editable mock interview questions and sample responses here. You can share these with students so they can practice their answers.

One of my former colleagues would invite a couple of professionals to perform mock interviews with him over the course of a week. Each student had an assigned time for the interview. Students were required to dress up and were sent to the guidance office's private conference room for the interview. They answered a series of questions from the three adults for a pretend position with the pretend company. This took a lot of work to set up and did require my colleague to have a sub to cover his classes so he could sit in on the interviews.

Another way to do this is to perform them in the hallway outside your room or a quiet corner of your room (have a couple of desks set up and try to make it as private as possible). Then assign students a certain day for their interview. While you are interviewing them, make sure you give the rest of the class a reading or writing assignment so they are occupied and busy while you perform the interviews.

If neither of those options work, you could have students partner up and have them interview one another during class. It's not quite the ideal situation, but it does give them the opportunity to think about what types of questions will be asked and how they would respond to them. 

FREE SURVEY: Most of my seniors plan to continue their education either at a community college, trade school, or four-year university. However, I still have a handful who will either join the military or the full-time workforce right after graduation. Before you begin the activities, you might want to do a quick survey with your students to gauge their future plans. (The survey is a free editable document you can customize for your students.) It will help you differentiate your activities and strategies to meet their needs.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES TO PREPARE STUDENTS: My fellow bloggers here have compiled additional resources to help you prepare students for life after high school. Check out these great resources:

Career Readiness Bundle by The Super Hero Teacher
Career Exploration Escape Room by The Classroom Sparrow
Career Research Paper by The Daring English Teacher

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