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Teaching Skills: Resume Writing for Students

Jordan Catapano

It’s never too early to start preparing a resume, and schools just might be helping their students more than they realize if they use teaching skills to introduce them to this professional task. This is an important professional task to introduce our students to while simultaneously reinforcing many other important teaching skills we’ve likely covered in our courses. Here’s an easy overview of the why and how of teaching our students to write resumes.

Teaching Skills: Reinforcing Writing Through a Resume

There are several important skills resume writing can help reinforce. If we approach this task as both an opportunity to learn a professional skill while relating it to other essential concepts we’ve covered, then students are very likely to see the relevance and effectively synthesize their learning.

First, any good communication – whether an email, conversation, speech, or resume – has a definite purpose. Communicators are most effective when they are aware of their purpose and craft every detail of that message to accomplish it. The same is true for resumes, and composing a resume helps students focus on clarifying and accomplishing a specific objective.

Second, effective communication requires an awareness of one’s audience. Resume writing has students imagine a very specific audience – usually a potential employer – and reinforces the importance of writing for a real audience.

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Finally, crafting a resume requires that students carefully follow the writing process: Brainstorm, Outline, Draft, and Edit. They cannot just throw a resume together and send it to their audience. Resumes require a degree of precision that’s only obtainable through the patience and feedback of a diligent adherence to the true writing process.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Help Students Write Their First Resume

Of course we don’t just want to tell students to “Go write a resume.” Here’s a short guide that might help you organize a sequence of lessons.

Introduction to Resumes. It is helpful to first establish some context and purpose for resumes. Help students understand what a resume is and what it’s for, and they’re more likely to appreciate the steps that follow. Teach your students how resumes differ from other types of writing they’re engaged in. It’s also important to show students examples of what various resumes look like – consider showing them your own as well!

List Content. Before students worry about the specific formatting of their resume, simply have them generate a list of content they might like to include. After looking at sample resumes, they’ll have an idea of what kinds of information they might like to include. It might be helpful to provide them with popular categories of information on resumes or even a simple template for them. Categories they might consider could be Education, Work Experience, Volunteer Experience, Hobbies and Interests, Awards and Recognitions, and Special Skills.

It could be helpful to have students share and discuss their lists with one another. This helps them receive initial feedback while also getting a glimpse of the kinds of content other students may have included.

Define the Objective. Once students have brainstormed the content they’d like to include on a resume, it’s important for them to consider both the audience and purpose for which they’re putting their resume together. While many students might simply be drafting a resume they have no intention of using immediately, it is helpful to get them to imagine who might be the recipient of their resume. For some students, you might brainstorm with them potential audiences. For all your students, show them sample objective statements on resumes and walk them through how to craft their own.

Write the Thing. Finally the brainstorming and purpose-setting is complete, and it’s time to get students to actually produce the first draft of their resume. While you’ve provided several samples already, it might be helpful to provide actual templates for students to work off of. Microsoft Word offers dozens of resume templates, a Google search for “Resume templates” yields hundreds of downloadable samples, and ReadWriteThing.org has created a Resume Generator specifically for students.

Edits/Peer Review. As with any good writing process, students should edit their resumes after drafting them. First, students should look through their resume on their own – perhaps 24 hours after they completed the draft – looking for errors or areas to improve. Students should also prepare a brief paragraph explaining what they have questions about or where they want a peer reviewer to offer feedback. Then students can group together and exchange resumes, offering one another advice on content, formatting, and organization. Once students receive their resume back, they should have time to edit their resume based on the suggestions of their peers.

Cover Letter. Students might not need to compose a cover letter right now, but it doesn’t hurt to introduce them to this task if time allows.

Save it! Finally, your typical student might not have a specific job they’re applying for right now. Find a way for students to conveniently save this drafted resume so they can easily access it when they do need it, even if that’s years from now. Talk to your students about how to update a resume, and even consider formatting the resume so as to leave space for future components they will likely want to insert.

Reflect and Apply

Once students have officially completed their first resume, talk to them about how and when it can be used. Ask them to consider what is coming up in their future – a possible job, a college application, a scholarship request – in which they might need to pull out their resume. Talk to them about how and why they should update it. Ask them to reflect on the process and consider not only how much they like their resume, but how much they’ve learned about the writing process.

If you’re look for day-by-day lessons, ReadWriteThing.org has put together a fantastic resource for teachers to follow. It’s never too early to help students learn how to compose a resume. In fact, if students don’t learn it with you, then it is possible they won’t compose one until they apply to their first job or college. It is definitely worth it to introduce your students to this unique and important task!


Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.