Each morning in Karen Vanek's third- and fourth-grade classroom, you'll find a botanist, computer technician, and paramedic hard at work. Oak Forest Elementary School hasn't budgeted for these extra positions, but the employees don't mind: They're Vanek's students, and they love the responsibility that comes with their “real-world” jobs.

Many upper-elementary teachers find that jobs are a great way to reinforce life skills that students may lack, but for which there is little time for explicit teaching, such as self-esteem, responsibility, and respect. Jobs are also the backbone of a classroom community in which everyone feels he or she has a role to fill. An added bonus? Vanek says that by using real-world job titles, her students get a huge vocabulary boost (see Employment Opportunities: Turning Classroom Jobs Into a Vocabulary Lesson for job titles you may want to use in your classroom). Get your students on board — and in the workforce — with these creative ideas that go beyond basic classroom jobs to motivate and inspire!

Classroom Classifieds

To get kids involved in developing your job list — and to help them take ownership of their responsibilities — first talk with students about what needs to be done to keep the classroom running smoothly.

It may be helpful to take a visual “tour” of the classroom, stopping by the daily calendar and the classroom library, for example, to remind everyone of the many important tasks that need to be completed. Explore the classified section of the newspaper together, noting how jobs are described and listed. Have each student write a want ad for one job from your list. Post all the ads on a bulletin board for students to browse. Later, you can create an easy job chart by pinning a nametag next to each want ad.

Apply Yourself

It's fun and great practice for the real world for students to fill out job applications before assigning their first responsibilities of the year. Students can list their top job choices and explain why they are interested in each position. Encourage them to state relevant qualifications and skills, and submit their forms for your review by the “application deadline.”

Impress the Interviewer

Conducting interviews not only builds oral language and self-presentation skills; it's also a wonderful way to get to know your students! Hold five-minute conferences to review and expand upon the student's interest in a certain job. For instance, you might ask, “I see here on your application that you're good at working with animals. Do you take care of a pet at home? What are your responsibilities?” To create opportunities for self-assessment, tape-record the interviews and encourage kids to review them in a listening center.

You're Hired!

Have a large class? Instead of assigning each student an individual job, try creating “work crews” (small teams that work together to get a single job done). For a fun job chart, label race car shapes with job names and list crewmembers' names on the “pit crew.” If each child will have his or her own job, try this idea from Sue Bragg, a multi-age teacher at Washington Elementary in Kingsport, Tennessee: Make a “business card” job chart by writing the name of your school, classroom, and job on a large index card. Laminate each card so that you can write students names on them with water-based markers and use them all year long.

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation!

Give students a chance to try out different jobs by rotating weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. You can set up a standard system, or provide an incentive for doing good work by letting one or two top performers choose their own roles. When students are about to switch jobs, try this tip from Audrey Kennan's third-grade classroom in Plainsboro, New Jersey: Have a “training day” in which the current “experts” train their successors. Kids will get a kick out of teaching one another, and it will give you a break!

Work Hard for the Money

Add real-life relevancy to your job program by “paying” students for their work. One system that works: Host a monthly sale of student-donated merchandise, where students can spend the “bucks” they earned. To increase accountability, you might put students on “probation” if they are not being responsible employees. Explain that improvement will be necessary to prevent the student from getting “fired.” Be sure to treat students with the respect they would receive in an adult workplace: Discuss goals and improvement strategies in private, one-on-one conferences.

Responsibility Resumes

As the year goes on and students accumulate work experience, invite them to write their own resumes. Share real resumes, then encourage students to keep an ongoing list of each job they've performed, why they were good at it, and how it helped the classroom community. This is a terrific tool for building self-esteem. Students will feel a real sense of accomplishment looking back at the work they've done all year!