Teaching Employability Skills with “The Pursuit of Happyness” Movie

When I first started teaching about employability skills, my lesson was pretty dull, a real snoozer! Over the last few years, I’ve reworked the lesson to make it more interesting and engaging for my students. One of my all time favorite movies, The Pursuit of Happyness, is also incorporated into this lesson because it contains a ton of examples of employability skills in actiont! Check out the lesson below if you need to spice up your employability skills materials!


  • Play the Human Knot Game with your class. Depending on class size, either do the activity as one large group or break your class down to two teams and make it a competition. There are also several variations of the game, so choose the one that works best for you!
  • Students love this game; it’s super fun and engaging! After the game is over, have teams or each team member answer the following questions and be prepared to discuss with the class.
    • What did you learn?
    • What skills did you utilize or need to accomplish your task?
    • What did your team do well?
    • What does your team need to improve upon?


  • iPads or Laptops
  • Projector & Screen
  • The Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness (affiliate link)
  • Butcher Paper & Markers (optional)


  • Ask students if they are familiar with the term “employability skills”. Ask them to define what they think it means in their own words. Share their ideas with their shoulder partner.
  • Then ask student partners to have a Google Race, on the count of 3, to see who can use their device to look up an actual definition of the term. Count off and go…have the fastest person in each group stand. Once all groups are represented, ask them to share the definitions they found.
  • Provide students with a copy of “Title These Employability Skills” and have them individually match up the headings for the skills characteristics. This chart was created based on information found at this website. Go over answers and then have them complete the questions that follow. If you are not 1:1, you will have to copy the web article and project the video clip on the screen for your students. Collect and correct this section.
  • Pass the assignment back to students to use as a reference as they view the movie The Pursuit of Happyness and explain examples from the video that show how Chris Gardner exemplifies each of the employability skills. One word to watch out for: During the scene where Chris is walking his son to daycare, his son asks him a question about the f-bomb. I encourage you to preview this movie so you know exactly where to hit the “mute” button to avoid this lovely word !
  • Students then complete the concluding opinion questions before turning in their chart for a grade. I like to have my students share their examples with the class. This can be done in small groups, whole class or even as a moving activity. Hang large pieces of butcher paper around the room with an employability skill heading on each one. Students circulate and write their example on the paper. When each skill and examples are referenced, students provide detail and explanation to their example.
  • As a conclusion, have students go back to the human knot game and share how employability skills were utilized or could be utilized during the activity. You could also play variations of the game, showing how the skills used change.



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5 comments for “Teaching Employability Skills with “The Pursuit of Happyness” Movie

  1. Lindsay
    September 27, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    What grade do you use this lesson with? I was thinking of using it with my 8th graders, but I was afraid it could be a little advanced for them. Thanks!

    • K.Graybill
      September 28, 2018 at 5:24 am

      I use this with my high school students in grades 10-12. It might be a bit much for junior high students, although you could still introduce them to the concept, maybe in another way.

  2. April 17, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    This is an interesting way to go about teaching employability…particularly the "soft skills." Do you ever combine this with mock employment interviews with actual local HR representatives or other similar situations?

  3. Dominique Scaief
    August 22, 2022 at 6:54 am

    Thank you for this lesson plan! I'm downloading it today!i teach high school. This is a high-quality plan. I am very excited about it. The links are broken to the articles, but that is ok. I found plenty of articles online that will fill in the gaps!

    • K.Graybill
      August 22, 2022 at 7:55 am

      Thank you for your kind words and for letting me know the article link was broken. I have fixed the links and updated the assignment documents so all should be in working order. Good luck!

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