Have a Classroom Debate on Career Choices & Salary

Students like to talk about career choices. They often have several careers they are interested in and are grappling with big decisions such as picking a college major and a career path to follow. Debate and discussion about career choices helps students sort through their ideas about careers and use their analytical thinking skills to make career choices.

Choosing a Career

Often students will make comments like: “Well, I want to be an oceanographer, but my parents want me to be a doctor.”Or, “I have the career idea I tell people, and then my secret career idea I keep to myself.” Students are under a lot of pressure from themselves and parents to pick a suitable career that will bring them joy in life. They don’t understand that the choice they make in high school does not have to be a permanent choice. When I tell students that most Americans, statistically, will have two or three careers during their lifetime students look perplexed as if they hadn’t yet had the thought that one could switch careers as life progressed.

Debate on Salary

I will never forget the day a student gave me some unexpected career advice during my student teaching. We were doing some resume writing activities and the student asked me: “Why do you want to be a teacher? You’ll never have a good salary in that job.” Jeez, talk about brutal honesty and teenagers!

Teenagers like to debate their opinions. So hold a class debate and let them talk about the salary of a job. Is money the most important criteria for a good job or are other issues more important?


First, have students do online research to find out salaries for different careers. They can find job salary information at websites such as: www.PayScale.com, and www.FedJobs.com/pay/pay.html. Also Google phrases like “salary scales,” “careers with high salaries,” and “fastest growing careers” to find other helpful websites. Students find it fascinating to see all the different careers listed and to learn about typical salaries for each job. This gives them a realistic view of the job market they will enter upon completing their education.

Tell students to take notes while doing online research.They must find 10 key facts about jobs and job salaries to use in the debate. Have students create note cards with one key fact on each card to use during the debate. Instruct students to read at least five articles online about jobs and salaries. Inform them that they must pick one side of the issue for the debate: Is Money a Key Criteria for Job Selection?

The Debate

Then, have students sit in two groups, one group for each side of the issue. Have the two teams start to put together their debate plan. They will talk about the key facts they want to present and the key examples or issues they will use during the debate. Have each group prepare a list of facts and issues and then each team member will create their own set of note cards to use during the debate.

Tell the class to prepare for a 30 minute debate. They will need sufficient facts and examples to fill that amount of time. Give the class a chance to have several nights of homework assignments involving interviewing family, neighbors, and community members about whether salary was a deciding factor in their job choice.

To evaluate students for this debate project: collect and grade the note cards they prepared for the debate, give a grade for the online research they did to prepare for the debate, and assess their skill during the debate and provide a grade for that speaking activity too. Prior to the debate give students a rubric you will use to grade their debate participation.