Growing Elementary Literacy through Career Exploration

By Kenneth McKee - October 1, 2019

It’s never too early for kids to explore careers. Younger students are often intrigued by the jobs adults do, and they love to discuss what they’d like to be when they grow up. However, many traditional resources for introducing career information are rarely accessible to younger students because they are too advanced. Young learners may lack the vocabulary for understanding career content or the background knowledge necessary for making connections. These challenges present obstacles to both literacy proficiency and career knowledge.

Fortunately, VJS Junior presents an engaging opportunity to support students in developing critical literacy needs while they explore careers! The digital platform helps students learn about different career clusters through self-paced lessons featuring the Career Crew (four animated characters known as Beep, Fact Dragon, Volt, and Zuri). These animated characters engage younger students with adventures that explore career clusters, including insights to specialized careers, along with the skills necessary to become successful workers.

As students work through VJS Junior lessons, they build literacy skills through the introduction of key vocabulary terms specific to the world of work. But the lessons additionally lend themselves easily to classroom-based literacy activities and extensions that teachers can either couple with VJS Junior content or use as follow-up to completed lessons. Let’s consider VJS Junior’s embedded and expanded supports.

Embedded Literacy Support

Acquiring New Vocabulary

Embedded throughout each VJS Junior lesson, the Career Crew introduces students to new words. Some word activities introduce terms that build students’ understanding of related concepts. For example, in the energy cluster lesson, students learn about fossil fuels and alternative energy sources. They then work to sort and categorize resources; are these resources examples of fossil fuels or alternative energy sources (elementary science ideas). This new vocabulary is helpful to students as they read science texts and news articles. Any time students simultaneously build literacy and science skills, it’s a win-win for everybody.

In some adventures, students are introduced to “Tier 2” words (slightly more challenging academic words that can be encountered in any subject area). Tier 2 words are usually the words students find most difficult when reading increasingly complex texts. These are the words that we may assume they know or understand or that we don’t have time to introduce through explicit vocabulary lessons, but they are nonetheless important to comprehension.

Acquiring Tier 2 vocabulary knowledge supports student effort to effectively read and comprehend complex texts that may be introduced in social studies, science, math, or reading lessons, or that they may encounter when reading books, magazines, and web-based articles or texts during their non-school hours. In addition, some of the introduced VJS Junior Tier 2 career vocabulary words are broken down by the roots and affixes to show students how some complex words have individual chunks that reveal their meanings. By showing students how to break down a challenging word to understand its meaning, students acquire a vital literacy skill that will support life-long reading comprehension.

Building Background Knowledge

Each VJS lesson builds knowledge about the career cluster of focus. This information is not only helpful for understanding the career of the moment, but also supports a foundation of knowledge that students can use to understand other texts they read, hear, or view. The number one influencer of how well students comprehend a text is their level of background knowledge on the topic. In other words, how much we know about a topic before picking up any text impacts how well we absorb new facts and figures.

Consider Recht and Leslie’s (1988) Baseball study; a literacy research project that grouped students into subgroups based on their level of reading skills and knowledge of baseball while they read and answered questions about a text on baseball. The study found that students with low reading skills and high knowledge of baseball scored higher than students with high reading skills and low knowledge of baseball.

This study supports the idea that the best way to grow elementary student career knowledge is to continuously build a solid foundation of core career facts and understandings that support future career lessons and texts.

Word Recognition and Fluency

The closed-captioning component (which appears below the VJS Junior career video content) is especially helpful for developing word recognition and reading fluency. Many teachers and parents are unaware of the power of closed-captioning to improve students’ reading skills as they watch videos. It’s an oft ignored tool to support literacy in American schools. Some even believe that closed-captioning on nearly all of Finland’s television programs contributes to the nation’s high literacy levels (Trelease, 2006).

Literacy Learning Beyond VJS Junior

In addition to the platform’s embedded literacy supports, there are many creative ways to extend VJS Junior learning throughout the year and to get students talking and writing about the information they’ve acquired. Consider these examples: (1)Word Walls, (2)Mock Career Days, and (3)Use of Text Sets.

(1) Morphology Interactive Word Wall:
Career language is littered with content-specific words that are rich with morphemes (often called roots and affixes). VJS Junior lessons break down some of these words, teaching the meanings of specific morphemes and how they were combined to create words with specific meanings. Teachers can draw from the content-specific words in the lessons to build an interactive word wall of roots and affixes for their students. The word wall can serve as an anchor for students when they read other words that contain the morphemes. This reference can help students better uncover the meanings of unfamiliar words they encounter.

As a bonus, students can play games using the word wall. For example, the Pyramid Game (loosely based upon the game show The $20,000 Pyramid) is a fun activity for students to practice remembering the meanings of each morpheme. Students work in pairs, with one student facing away from the wall and one facing toward it. The student facing the wall will give the other student clues to help him or her guess the correct morpheme.

(2) Mock Career Day
Students can be placed into research teams (either by students’ choice or by the outcomes of taking the VJS Junior “Career Clusters Interest Survey”). Each research team member can use the Career Center to watch videos and read information on a specific career in the cluster. Then, students can take on the persona of someone in their chosen careers in a whole-class presentation or at a PTA/PTO event. Students could even interview one another about careers, using a note-taking guide to take information down about what they’ve learned. These activities can help students strengthen their speaking, listening, and note-taking skills.

(3) Text Sets
An interesting way for elementary teachers to help students build background career knowledge outside of VJS Junior use is through the introduction of supporting non-fiction texts. A text set is literally a collection of readings, from different sources, that point to a common idea or knowledge base. Exposing students to multiple readings around career content can take them far. For example, some of the VJS Junior career videos introduce students to entrepreneurs. A text set might include simple biographies of real-life entrepreneurs, interview transcripts, or even fiction texts that involve an entrepreneur at work.


It’s never too early for students to learn about potential careers. In fact, career investigation with younger students can provide valuable vocabulary, background knowledge, and reading skills that will serve them well as they grow as readers. Check out VJS Junior today to get your elementary learners excited about careers!


Recht, D. and Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of Prior Knowledge on Good and Poor Readers' Memory of Text. Journal of Educational Psychology 1988, 80(1), 16-20.

Trelease, J. (2006). The Read-Aloud Handbook. Penguin, 6th edition.


Bio blurb:

Kenny McKee is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught English Language Arts in secondary grades and reading courses for undergraduate students. He currently works as a high school literacy coach, writer, and educational consultant in Asheville, NC.

Free Product Demo
Experience the leading
career exploration
platform today!
Schedule My Demo