Jackie Taylor-Pendergrass
  This lesson was implemented as part of an Action Research Incentive Grant to develop work-focused Families First classrooms in Tennessee. For our project, learners opened a small business, a photo studio, to gain work skills and to experience how money can be earned. In order to be fair in dividing up all of the tasks, this learning activity was developed.

  Adult basic education, Employability, Job skills, Life skills, Work environment

Learner Level:
  Basic Skills, grade level 5.0-8.9

Time Frame:
  Several class sessions

Learner Grouping:
  Individual, Small group, Whole class

  This activity was presented to a Families First class that met 5 days a week for 4 hours a day. There were 5 learners in the class. Families First is the Tennessee program to provide training for those welfare recipients who lack basic education skills. While learners do work toward a GED, emphasis in these classes is shifting toward the knowledge, skills, and attitudes learners need to acquire and keep a good job.
This activity was the first lesson of an entire unit of activities on how to open a small business. The focus of the first activity was to implement a point system that kept track of learner participation as well as the tasks the learners had completed or needed to work on, and to provide an incentive for learners to work towards a common goal.

  Not available

  Families First

Type of Program:

Student Population Served:
  Basic skills (grade levels 5-8.9)

Rewarding responsibility and accountability: Outstanding entrepreneurs

Learners are given points daily based upon their participation and efforts in attempting to open a small business, in this case, a photo studio. Learners choose which tasks they want to complete and ultimately decide how many points they wish to score. Weekly, monthly, and seasonal awards are granted to learners who have earned the highest points. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Learners will take increasingly greater responsibility for their learning as indicated by taking part in the point system and accumulating a set number of points.
Learners will take ownership of their small business by demonstrating increased self-initiative in determining their own daily business goals.

Primary Skill:
Take responsibility for learning

Secondary Skills:
Personal qualities, Reflect and evaluate, Solve problems and make decisions

Learner Needs & Goals:
Several learners had said they would like to learn how to make money without always working for somebody else. They were curious to discover how to become "your own boss." As part of the work place, employees must take responsibility for certain tasks, and they are accountable for the actions those responsibilities demand. Ironically, despite their interest in becoming "your own boss," I had difficulty in the beginning of our project encouraging the learners to show up for class to participate in the tasks that lie ahead. When I spoke to learners individually, they each expressed concerns of the class' ability, as a whole, to make this project work. In order to make the overwhelming task of opening a small business possible and easier to manage, I wrote up the job descriptions and implemented this point system.

Learning Activity Description:
The action research project my class participated in involved the opening and operating of a photography studio. Opening a small business is an intricate process involving literally hundreds of steps. Although being able to open the doors for business makes all the effort worthwhile, I needed to do something to provide an ongoing incentive for multitude of steps my learners were going to have to make, and to illustrate the grandeur of the work they had accomplished. I initiated the small business project with a few lessons over self-esteem, marketing research concerning what business opportunities were open to us, and a field trip to our local Small Business Development Center in Chattanooga. But the point system itself was an ongoing process initiated towards the beginning of our project that lasted the duration of our small business project, providing documentation of what steps were necessary in implementing a small business, and who had borne the weight of that responsibility. We carried out our project daily by reviewing what tasks needed to be accomplished that day. I allowed the learners to choose any tasks they wished to complete, ultimately allowing them to take responsibility for their learning by deciding how many points they wished to score. As the process evolved, learners began taking ownership of the business by taking the initiative to complete unexpected or remaining tasks at hand, deciding for themselves what needed to be accomplished on which day.

To Initiate the Point System:

  • Divide the class into teams or partners. Seat them together with their team or partner around a large table for group discussion. Ask them if they were playing ball, what actions of their team members would make them upset during a game? (Answers will vary, but will reflect how the lack of efforts by one team member can hurt the whole team, potentially causing a loss for that team.)
  • Discuss and list on the board expectations learners would have of their fellow ball team members. Hand out copies of the project's job descriptions, point system rules, and a sample record chart. Discuss how the qualities of being a ball team member relate to being a team member or partner when opening a small business.
  • Explain point system rules. (See below for rules.) Have teams brainstorm a list of steps they believe must be accomplished in order to start a small business. Time the brainstorm - 5 minutes. The point of the learners' brainstorming activity is to get the learners into the mode of thinking in terms of "What needs to be done next?" The practitioner circulates among the teams to answer questions.
  • Review the learners' lists as a class. Have the learners keep their lists as a sort of brainstorm sheet to add to as new ideas come to mind.
  • Give learners the first daily list (pre-prepared) on the blackboard of what needs to be done. On a "first come, first served" basis, teams can sign up for duties by writing their names next to the task on the board.
Operationalizing the Point System:
  1. Make a poster of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) necessary (see below) to acquire and keep a job as well as job responsibilities applicable to business operations.
  2. Make a chart with the learners' names on one axis and the dates on the other axis.
  3. Daily, as each of the job responsibilities and KSAs are achieved, put the number of points earned by each learner's name. Each of the KSAs and job responsibilities are worth one point.
  4. On the blackboard, list additional duties that do not fall within the realm of anybody's job descriptions. Prioritize the duties according to which week each needs to be accomplished. Only list the duties that can be achieved within one day's time on the blackboard. Extra duties should be worth more than daily duties to provide an incentive for learners to become self-motivating. Extra duty points are awarded only when daily duties are completed.
KSAs and Job Responsibilities Poster:
  • Works well with others
  • Cooperates
  • Exhibits teamwork
  • Creative
  • Self-Motivating
  • Takes initiative
  • Works on typing skills daily - Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing program
  • Writes in Journal
  • Maintains organization
  • Uses proper phone etiquette
  • Uses the computer when necessary
  • Asks well-formed questions
Weekly: Career Person of the Week
  • Picture is posted on the bulletin board
  • Certificate of Achievement
  • Choice of 3 products from school store
Monthly: Partner of the Month
  • Portrait on a plaque at place of business
  • Portrait on classroom bulletin board
  • Certificate of Achievement
  • Choice of 5 products from school store
  • Special employee of the month parking
End-of-Project: Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Trophy or plaque to take home
  • Portrait on bulletin board
  • Newspaper recognition
  • $50.00 gift certificate at Wal-Mart
Loss of Points:
Points will only be lost when the learner is absent from class. Absences are only excused when an emergency arises and documentation of that emergency is brought in.
  1. Unexcused absences deduct points from weekly score.
  2. Any employee who scores into the negative domain is fired.
  3. Any fired employee may elevate her status by becoming the company's "volunteer," earning points by completing KSAs and acting as "gopher" to all business employees.
  4. The volunteer will continue to maintain supportive duties until such time that her points re-enter the "positive" domain.
  5. Once a volunteer re-enters the positive domain, she may fill out an application for employment and turn in a typed resume.
  6. If the application and resume "pass" her peers' inspections, the volunteer will qualify for an interview.
  7. To succeed at the interview conducted by her peers, the applicant must express what she can contribute to the success of the business, articulate herself clearly, and dress for success!

Materials and Resources:
Practitioners should prepare job description handouts in advance, as well as the table on which learners record individual points and the bulletin board that will display the current information and award winners. Practitioners should also prepare a syllabus on the project that is going to be completed, illustrating topics week-by-week to clear up any confusion and encourage participation.

Attachments: (For Internet Explorer users, right click on link then choose "Save target as". For Netscape users, just hold down the shift key and click on the link.)

Learners should keep daily logs of their business activities in a journal for the practitioner to review. The first objective has been met if the learners earn points on a weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis. The points are an assessment of their efforts towards achieving a common goal. Showing initiative by taking on extra jobs and seeing jobs that need to be done but are not listed are good indications that learners are beginning to feel like they "own" the business.

Initiating the point system on the first day took more time and explanation than on following days, which only consisted of reviewing the daily tasks and allowing the learners to choose which ones they would be responsible for. The key to this process is providing ongoing feedback, and I found it difficult, considering the more pressing tasks at hand, to award the Career Woman Of The Week in a timely manner. If I were to do this again, I would consider providing only the monthly and seasonal incentives. Instead of providing a weekly award, which is time consuming and fund depleting, I would provide levels of achievement that anyone in the class could work towards if they so desired. For example, I would give the learners a set number of points that, when reached, would earn them a new status in the business like "associate," "manager," and "partner." A career ladder could be mapped on the classroom wall, and photographs of the learners could be moved along the ladder reflecting their newly earned career status. I would also precede this lesson with more teamwork, confidence, and self-esteem building lessons than I did, so that the learners could develop a greater sense of confidence in themselves and in their "business partners'" abilities and talents.


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