Looking at Labor

In this lesson, students will examine the many kinds of work that people do, and discuss why certain jobs are better paid and often more respected than others. The class will then discuss and decide if such assessments are valid.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to

  • examine and assess the importance of 25 jobs based on their personal opinions and viewpoints.
  • discuss and write about their views and society’s views towards various jobs, and explore biases.
  • recognize the value of jobs that they may not have previously thought important.
Essential Questions
  • Are all jobs created equal? Why or why not?
  • Why do people take the jobs they do? Does everyone have a choice when it comes to his or her career?
  • Enduring Understandings
  • All jobs are not created equal because they require different kinds of knowledge and skills, but all jobs have a role in helping people and in contributing to society.
  • People choose to work in jobs based on their background, skills and interests and the availability of jobs in their community.


day laborer [dey ley-ber-er] (noun) a worker who is hired and paid one day at a time, with no promise that more work will be available in the future

labor force [ley-ber fohrs] (in the U.S.) the body or group of people who are either employed or available for employment

socialist [soh-shuh-list] (noun) person who advocates or practices Socialism, the economic and political theory advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of production and distribution of goods

CEO [abbreviation] (noun) letters that stand for Chief Executive Officer, which is the title of the executive with the chief decision-making authority in an organization or business.


Suggested Procedure

Discussion items

Before starting the lesson, write the questions below on an easel pad or whiteboard.

Then invite students to write responses to the questions. Give them five minutes.

1) What does the holiday Labor Day represent?

2) Should a doctor be paid more than a truck driver? Why or why not?

3) What three jobs do you think are the most important in keeping your community functioning?

After you have completed the lesson, invite your students to respond to the same three questions again. Explain that this is an attempt to see if and/or how their thinking has changed. Once more, give them five minutes. Ask them to reflect on the results in their journals, responding to the prompt: “To what extent did the lesson enhance your achievement of our lesson’s learning objectives?”

Additional questions to discuss before starting the lesson. Indicate whether each statement is True (T) or False (F):

_____ Immigrants take jobs away from native-born Americans.

_____ Immigrants concentrated in low-skilled jobs drive down wages.

_____ Immigrants don't pay taxes.

_____ If there weren't so many immigrants taking jobs, unemployment would be lower.

_____ Immigrants send most of their earnings to their home countries and as a result, they don't stimulate the economy.

1. Ask students to work in pairs or small teams and instruct them to do the following: “Review the handout listing occupations. Then rank the jobs by number based on those you think are most important—with 1 as most important and 25 as least important. When you have completed this task, discuss the question: Was it difficult to rank the 25 jobs? Why?

2. Present the following instructions: “Imagine you live in a society where there can only be five jobs. Working in the same pairs or teams as you did before, list the five jobs that you think are most important to society. This list may be based on occupations listed on the handout, or it can include others. Then each pair or group will share the five jobs and reasons for picking them. Finally, as a class, you will examine the differences/similarities of the job choices and reasoning behind your choices.”

3. Ask students to divide into new teams of three, and discuss: ”Why do you think some jobs are generally more respected and better paid than others? What would happen if everyone was paid the same regardless of what job they held? What could be the benefits? The drawbacks?”

Ask them to consider the following points:

  • the level of skill or education required can affect salary;
  • jobs typically held by women tend to be lower paid;
  • jobs requiring physical labor and "blue collar" jobs, even if they are highly skilled, often command lower wages;
  • jobs that are often held by immigrants such as taxi drivers, house cleaners, janitors, nannies, dishwashers, and handymen, are often poorly compensated, even though they provide crucial services.

4. Instruct students: “Randomly pick one job. Imagine there is a benefactor who wants to give a grant to improve working conditions for one form of employment. Make a convincing argument explaining why that particular job should get the grant. Form a small group and take turns sharing your arguments orally. After presenting your argument, provide feedback to each other pointing out which argument you found most persuasive.”

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.6, R.10, W.1, W.2, W.3, SL.1, SL.3, SL.4, L.1, L.4


Extension Activity

1. Ask students: “Individually, make a list of job titles that you think are held by day laborers. Share your list with a partner. How is your partner’s list like yours? With your partner, predict what percentage of day laborers are male and female; make sure the total percentage equals 100. Share your predictions with the class. Discuss your predictions.”

Note: Here are some likely responses: Farm worker, construction worker, workers who are undocumented immigrants. Point out that although many people think of day laborers as male construction workers or farm workers, in fact women make up 44 percent of day laborers.

2. Ask students to break into five groups to review the true or false statements from the start of the lesson. Let each group discuss one of the five statements focusing on whether each is a myth or fact about immigrant labor. Tell the groups, “Check a variety of resources to determine if your group’s statement is a myth or a fact. When you return, you will present your findings to another group.”

Myth or Fact?

— Immigrants take jobs away from native-born Americans.

— Immigrants concentrated in low-skilled jobs drive down wages.

— Immigrants don't pay taxes.

— If there weren't so many immigrants taking jobs, unemployment would be lower.

— Immigrants send most of what they earn to their home countries and as a result, they don't stimulate the economy.

Note: All five statements are common beliefs, yet each can be disproved. This section of the activity is based on the book, “‘They Take Our Jobs!’ and 20 Other Myths About Immigration,” by Aviva Chomsky.

For an excerpt of the book visit Immigration Mythology: The Rules Apply To Everyone