Creative Activities as Teaching Tools

By Ying Tang

In contrast to the rest of the interactive and challenging "hands-on" type of counseling courses in counselor education, the career counseling course has often been considered as the least attractive (yet required) course. Traditionally, students in this course are taught theories in a way that emphasizes memorizing material. Even though memorization is important, educators should also encourage students to think critically and creatively (Sternberg, 2004).

The rationale of utilizing creative activities in a career class is to stimulate creative thinking and to guide students through the personal journey of self-exploration. The author has created and adapted a set of creative activities to foster students' self-exploration and raise their self-awareness. The author's curriculum design expands upon Krumboltz and Henderson's learning theory (2002) which suggested that there are factors which influence an individual's beliefs about their abilities, career options, and their plan of action in career search. These four factors are (a) genetic endowment, (b) environmental conditions, (c) learning experiences, and (d) task approach skills. These must be addressed during the process of career counseling. Among them, "the learning experience" is where educators can have a significant impact.

The use of expressive art is also included as one of the creative activities used by the author. According to Malchiodi (2005), "art making encourages the creation of a tangible product and helps individuals visually express and record experiences, perceptions, feelings, and imagination" (p.98). Play therapists, art therapists, psychologists, school counselors, social workers, and others often utilize art activities in their work with children. Connor and Willis (2004) have also used creative arts activities, such as movement, art creations, creative writing, etc., in the career counseling class. The artistic process evokes emotions, promotes relaxation, and accesses intuition for decision making. Even though the use of creative arts in career counseling has been very limited, the author believes it has great potential in assisting students in expressing their feelings, hopes, and dreams, and even in obtaining catharsis. The idea of art making is not only fun and thought-provoking, but stimulates personal reflection and classroom interaction.

A Guided Self-Exploration Process: Creative Activities

Based on the author's design, there are five activities which were used to guide students' self-exploration in the career class. These activities are

  1. unstructured autobiography (Lock, 2005),
  2. structured autobiography (Lock, 2005),
  3. life line (Pope & Minor, 2000),
  4. creative art, and
  5. career portfolio.

The first activity, unstructured autobiography, requires students to answer the question "who am I?". The answer to the question can be simple, but students have to be able to explain in detail the rationale behind their answer. Any experiences or personal stories may be included. The second activity, structured autobiography, requires students to write an autobiography using a list of guided questions which focus on different areas of their life, such as work experiences, childhood interests, and life roles. The third activity, lifeline, requires that an individual draw a line from birth to death and mark significant events and experiences that have affected his/her career decision making (Pope & Minor, 2000). The purpose of the "lifeline" is to reveal lists of various experiences and factors that influence an individual's career path. The fourth activity, creative art, requires students to design art work that represents who they are, their journey, and their aspirations. Last, a career portfolio concludes the creative activity. The career portfolio is not only used to organize the results of all the creative activities, but also includes writing a reflective essay based on their semester-long self-exploration process. It is required that students reflect and analyze their past, present, and future career direction, and identify a connection between a career counseling theory and how it applies to their career journey. At the end of the semester, students are required to present their career portfolio and their art creation in class.


The first exciting outcome of using the creative activities was the difference in the students' attitudes toward the class, career theories, and the creative process. When the author first introduced the idea of "art making" in the syllabus, most students were very skeptical and others were concerned about their creative abilities. Contrary to their initial reaction, at the last class meeting students proudly and happily presented their art work to their fellow classmates with great enthusiasm. During their presentations some students admitted that they were very surprised by their creativity as well as their ability to apply the career development theory to their life experiences.

Secondly, the activities provided a framework for building constructive interaction, conversation, and encouraging reflective learning. Students were noticeably more alert and showed increased interest in participating in activities and the class discussion. Students also had very positive comments regarding the creative activities. One student wrote on the course evaluation, "I really enjoyed this class. I especially enjoyed the creative activities."

Since the preliminary students' feedback was very promising, a formal evaluation should be developed.  Pre and post tests could also be utilized in assessing the differences between students' preconceived notions toward the career counseling course and their attitudes and understanding of themselves after they have completed the activities. Readers of Career Convergence who wish to discuss each activity in detail or to share ideas may do so by contacting the author at tangy@oneonta.edu.



Connor, M. and Willis, C. (2004, October) Creative arts activities for teaching career counseling. Paper presented at the annual conference of North Atlantic Region Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, Mystic, CT.

Krumboltz, J. & Henderson, S. J. (2002). A learning theory for career counselors. In S. G. Niles. (Eds.), Adult career development: Concepts, issues, and practices (3rd ed.). Columbus, OH: National Career Development Association.

Lock, R. D. (2005). Taking charge of your career direction: career planning guide, Book 1 (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole. 

Malchiodi, C. A. (2005). The impact of culture on art therapy with children. In E. Gil & A. A. Drewes (Eds.), Cultural issues in play therapy (pp. 96-111). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Pope, M. & Minor, C. W. (Eds.). (2000). Experiential activities for teaching career counseling classes and for facilitating career groups. Tulsa, OK: National Career Development Association.

Sternberg, R. J. (2004). Teaching college students that creativity is a decision. Guidance & Counseling, 19 (4), 196-201. 


Ying Tang, Ph.D., NCC is an associate professor at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling. Her research interests include comprehensive career counseling, counselors' disposition, evaluation, and accountability. She can be contacted at Tangy@oneonta.edu.

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