Goal-setting with Students (including FREE worksheet!)

I had a really positive response to my blog post about goal-setting for 2017, and it’s prompted a few other teacher bloggers to start sharing their own goals for the year too. I have to say that I’m in awe of the amount some of you have got planned! One thing I have realised, though, is that goal-setting isn’t only important for us as teachers – it’s important for our students as well… and it can be worth taking a lesson (or part of a lesson) to teach our students how to set (and work towards achieving) appropriate goals for themselves.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve asked students to set English language-learning goals for themselves, and they’ve come up with some or all of the following:

  1. I will watch films or TV shows in English.
  2. I will learn more words.
  3. I will speak English more.

None of these are necessarily bad goals in themselves… but there are some definite problems with them.

Today we’re going to discuss how to get your students to set goals for themselves that they want to keep… and that they’re able to achieve too!

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#1 What do they really want to achieve?

One of the first problems I often notice with student-goal setting is that students choose something that ‘sounds like’ a good goal: something that they’ve been advised to do by a teacher or that they’ve heard other students talk about, rather than actually thinking about whether or not it’s relevant or important for them. Choosing a goal that you don’t really care about keeping is an obvious way of setting yourself up for failure! So, how can students be coaxed out of this ‘my teacher told me to’ type goal setting? Well, by thinking about what’s important for them, as learners and users of English.

Try to encourage students to think of ‘real-life’ applications for what they want to do, and avoid ‘language-based’ targets such as ‘I will learn more adjectives to describe people’ or ‘I will learn the second conditional’. In my experience language-based targets are less motivating for students (they’re seen as something they have to do rather than something they want to do), and maintain the mindset that English is something they do in their English lessons, rather than something that can have a practical communicative purpose outside of the classroom.

For lower-level students to consider:

  • Where do I want to speak English?

(at work, on holiday, at the doctors, at home…)

  • Who do I want to talk to in English?

(people I work with, a doctor, shop assistants…)

  • What do I want to talk about/do in English?

(ask for directions, talk about a health problem, order food…)

Lower-level students’ goals in learning English are more likely to be concerned with communicating in specific situations.

For higher-level students (B1+) to consider:

  • What would I like to do in English that I can’t do at the moment? 

As a general rule, higher level students’ aims are more likely to be broader and will include a wider range of activities than simply speaking/listening to/writing English. As their goals are ‘bigger’, they’re more likely to need more individual steps/elements to achieve each goal.**

#2 Break it down.

Once your students have established exactly what they want to do in English, it’s time to think about how they can achieve that. It’s unlikely that their ‘what I want to do in English’ is an achievable goal in and of itself.

Students’ goals are likely to be made up of a combination of the following:

  • Expanding and learning vocabulary
  • Learning about register/increasing their knowledge of formal/informal language
  • Learning how to format different styles of writing
  • Understanding interaction (eg. turn taking, body language, active listening skills)
  • Finding out what is required in order to do something (eg. attending university, doing a particular job…)
  • Exposing themselves to particular types/sources of written or spoken language
  • Trying something they haven’t done before
  • Repeating something that they’ve already tried to do, but unsuccessfully (or that they found difficult)

#3 How are your students going to achieve their goals?

Now that your students have decided what they’d like to be able to do in English, and broken down what things they might need to do in order to do it, it’s time to think about helping them to achieve it!

It’s worth introducing your students to (or reminding them of) SMART goals. If you need a refresher yourself check out my post on goal-setting for teachers. For your students to achieve their goals they’re likely to need to do some (or all) of the following:

  • Refine and practice their study skills (for example ways of learning vocabulary)
  • Set aside a particular amount of time each week for extra study
  • Work on their organisational skills (eg. note-taking, highlighting/underlining key words, keeping their work organised in a folder)
  • Review vocabulary/topics covered in class
  • Ask their teacher questions
  • Ask other students/English-speaking friends or colleagues for help
  • Research things online
  • Complete practice versions of what they hope to eventually do (eg. emails, conversations, application essays…)

#4 Follow up!

It’s all very well encouraging your students to set goals for themselves, but if they’re going to set them and then forget all about them/lose the paper they’re written on never to be seen again, you might as well not bother.

Show your students that you’re as committed to helping them achieve their goals as they are, by following up on it. If your goal-setting lesson is at the beginning of January, why not have a ‘goal-review’ lesson (or part of a lesson) at the end of term, or at Easter? If your students know that they will be being held accountable, they’re more likely to follow through and put in the actual work. If you’d like some ideas on how to work with your students to review their progress, check out Maria Theologidou’s great post on Self-reflection.

As an aside, it’s a good idea to make a copy of your students’ goal sheets (whatever format they may take) before they take them home – no matter how reliable or mature you think your students are, there will always be one who loses it within the first week!

So, there you have it: how to set goals with your students that they will be able to (and want to!) achieve!

For teachers with intermediate (B1) or higher students, I’ve put together a goal-setting lesson plan. This outlines ‘SMART’, asks students to evaluate a selection of potential goals, and then encourages them to plan and set their own English learning goals for 2017.

If you’d like the worksheet, you can download the PDF here: goalsettingforstudents.

Do you set goals with your students? What have you (or they!) learned from the process? 

 

 

 

**As an aside, if you’re doing this activity with teens, and the answer to these questions is *shrug* ‘I don’t know… my parents want me to learn English…’ encourage them to think about things that have nothing to do with traditional learning/being in the classroom. Things like computer games, or football, or film, or music. I have to admit that every time I hear an interview with a football manager/player who’s a non-native speaker, I’m always hit by how motivating and inspiring that could potentially be for a football-mad English learner!

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