Traffic Light CV

Should I stay or should I go?
Just hope your learners are a bit more decisive than this…

Non-linear writing

Some texts are easy – you start at the beginning, and you end at the end – but are there loads of texts where it’s much better to start somewhere else – sometimes that’s in reading (you could try something like this: Argos lesson). However, here I want to look at texts that are written in a non-linear way.

CVs are are challenging text type for most learners; the power imbalance between the reader and the writer means that conventions and function become very important. There is a clear function in that a CV is the writers attempt to show that a) they are a suitable candidate for a job and b) that they are more suitable than anyone else (who has applied). However unlike an advertisement, it is important that CVs remain within the boundaries dictated by convention.

This means that learners often see CVs as being merely informative, recounting a ‘neutral’ history of their professional and academic life. We should also remember that these conventions are very much culture bound, varying from one country to the next. The amount if self-promotion you can do on a UK CV is different to that in other countries. (for more on cultural differences in the job application process – interviews rather than CVs, see Roberts, Celia & Sarah Campbell, 2007, Talk on Trial)

Red Amber Green

To try and get learners to focus on this I decided to use the following template to support them: Traffic Light CV. It is a word document that I either add to learners’ VLE page or (in small groups) let them copy from a USB stick. I did try sharing it via dropbox and creating a link in – but that was blocked by the college filter.

The idea is that it in order to write a CV effectively, it is best to start from learners’ experiences and relate this to the job that they want. For this reason I colour-coded the template.

I assumed that I wouldn’t have to help learners much with their personal details (at this level) so I left that red to come back to later. The key bit is the amber section (ok, it’s yellow). I don’t want learners to think about their skills and profile until they’ve picked out the key features from their experience and education.

I get learners to find a job ad, or preferably, a person specification. To find sample person specs just add “person specification” file type:pdf to your search in Google for the job title. After this I get them to list their studies, and/or work experience in the green bit of the template, before adding three things about the job or course that correspond with something in the person specification.

Then it’s easier for learners to go back and put something in the skills and profile sections of their CV. I do always make it clear to learners, that they then have to think of the design of their CV and change the colours back!

A worthwhile approach?

What do you think of this technique? Do you think it could be productive? Do you think it could work for other text types?


I also wrote these CV writing exercisee here and here for ESOL Nexus.

There are some nice CV writing activities here: Next Steps ( thanks to Charlotte Assomo for the link)
This is a nice CV exercise from Skills Workshop: 21 Questions

Cover letter exercise

If you are looking for an exercise to support learners in writing cover letters – you might want to have a look at this page I created


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