INTRODUCTION:  I teach a Career Planning class in which students are given a myriad of assessments to explore their interests, personality and values. I think it’s also important that they recognize their unique combination of skills and talents in order to make informed judgments about appropriate careers. In addition to the information available from standard assessments, I wanted students to identify their own unique pattern of talents or abilities that they have utilized in the past and could apply again in the future.

This activity could be used in any class (e.g., math or English) or circumstance (e.g., counseling session or student government) where the educator wants to help students become more aware of their personal talents and abilities, thus strengthening self-esteem. This activity also gives students practice in active listening and effective note taking.  


  • To have students identify past accomplishments

  • To have students identify the skills and talents used to create each past accomplishment

  • To improve students’ listening and note-taking skills

  • To have students list possible careers that would utilize their personal skills and talents

  • To strengthen self-esteem


  • HANDOUT: Identifying Talents (appended below)


1. Discuss the concept of “Talents.” Explain that each of us has a unique set of skills or personal talents that we have used in the past to create positive outcomes and experiences. Conclude the discussion by pointing out that we can call upon these same talents to help us be successful in the future.

2. Distribute the handout “Identifying Talents” and have students do Step A: “List below 10 experiences you’ve had in the past when you feel you did something well and enjoyed doing it.” To model the activity, you may wish to provide examples of your own accomplishments (in addition to those on the handout).

3. Have students do Step B on Handout: “Now prioritize your top five experiences and identify what Talents of yours allowed you to have the experience.”  Once again, you may find it valuable to model the activity by sharing the personal qualities or skills you used to create the accomplishments that you identified in Step 1 above.

4. Divide the class into trios. Designate each member of the group as A, B, or C. “A” shares his/her top 5 accomplishments one at a time. “B’s” listens carefully and identifies aloud the “Talents” present in each of A’s accomplishments. “C” records the talents (skills and abilities) identified and then hands that sheet to “A.” Rotate roles until each student has played each part.

5. Ask groups to discuss/brainstorm what careers each member might excel in given the talents or skills they have identified. Then have them complete Step C on the handout.

6. Lead a class discussion, exploring what students have discovered about the relationship of their talents and possible career choices. Where possible, expand on the possibilities for individual students.


Even though I have encouraged students to identify their “Talents” in the past, the small group’s help in identifying each person’s skills and the brainstorming (Step 5) seemed to give the talent a lot more power.  I found students listening intently with the task of identifying which skills were used.  I especially enjoyed the sharing that went on in the large group when they helped each other brainstorm careers that would require those particular skills.

Here are some student comments about this activity:

“I discovered that I like what I’m doing now. I’ve tormented myself with thinking that I should get a new career but what I discovered is that I am working in a field (with children) that I’m good at and I enjoy. I just need to upgrade my skills and learn something new. I’m simply tired of doing things in the same old way.”

“I was amazed at the experience I had doing this activity. I learned that I’ve always been attracted to sports and outdoor activities. I’d already decided to be a teacher, but I had never put the two things together. Now I want to be a P.E. teacher!”

“After doing this exercise I realized how much I miss cooking and how good I was at it. I think I’m going to get back into the Culinary Arts program again.”

“I learned that I’ve always been inspired and have strong feelings about political issues. I need to do something where I work for a cause!”

“Sometimes you don’t really know the bond between the things you enjoy until it is staring you in the face. This exercise really helped me organize my thoughts.”

One of the goals I have for students in my Career Planning class is that they emerge with a much clearer sense of who they are and what their natural gifts are. This activity seems to get to the heart of the matter and students leave the class with a nice natural high from having recalled their best accomplishments. They learn a lot about each other along with learning to analyze how to use and apply personal skills.


I really like doing this activity with my students. It’s an opportunity to help students solve problems and gain much needed direction.  We are rarely urged to look closely at what we do well, and I was surprised how hard it was for me to write down my own accomplishments. I don’t give myself much credit for what I have accomplished and it was a struggle to concentrate on what talents of mine caused me to have the experiences that I felt good about. I was surprised at how consistent my good experiences from the past were with what I enjoy doing now. I realized that what I do for fun allows me to be really good at what I do now. For instance, my love of entertaining and creating fun with friends is the same talent that helps me be creative in planning staff development activities and classes for my students.

SOURCES: This activity is my adaptation/application of the work of Bernard Haldane, Ph.D, work which was later developed at the University of Washington under the direction of Dr. Jerald Forster. For more information on their work, see


HANDOUT: “Identifying Talents”

A. List below 10 experiences you’ve had in the past when you did something well and enjoyed doing it. Examples might be: leading a fundraising project for community service, writing an 18 page research paper, designing the interior of a bedroom, learning to ride a bicycle, resolving a conflict, winning a basketball game, or caring for your younger brother/sister.











B. Now prioritize your top five experiences and identify what “Talents” of yours allowed you to have the experience.  Examples of personal qualities or skills include: athletic ability, troubleshooting, leadership, design expertise, organizational skills, research abilities.






C.  What three careers do you think would best utilize your “Talents”?

–Rita Jones, Faculty, Career Planning & Grant Administrator, Orange Coast Community College, CA

Forum Image OptionIdentifying Talents Forum