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!


#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!

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas everyone! Today’s post is a final round-up of festive activities – I’ve tried to choose fun ones that don’t take too much prep time. If you’re teaching today it’ll be a unique experience, but try to make the most of it.

Christmas Videos

Larry Ferlazzo has a great list of Christmas videos  to use with your students – some of these are extracts from longer films, others stand-alone in their own right. Once you’ve chosen a video, Claudia Pesce has some good ideas of how to use them at busyteacher.org.

Christmas Games

There are lots of different ideas for Christmas games and activities at tesolzone.com. If you’re teaching young learners on Christmas Day it’s a nice idea to make it into a Christmas party lesson using a mix of EFL games and traditional childrens’ party games.

Good EFL games:

Bingo, Pictionary, Hangman, 20 Questions/Back to the Board (use Christmas vocab throughout!)

Childrens’ party games:

Musical statues, Musical Chairs, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, Pass the Parcel


I’ll be taking a few days off from the blog between now and New Year, so have a happy and peaceful Christmas, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Elly x

EFL Advent Calendar – 24th December


Christmas Adverts – 24th December

Yesterday I talked about Christmas music, and it made me remember another thing Chrismas wouldn’t be Christmas about: Christmas adverts on TV! I love using adverts in class (especially the Christmas ones) as there’s definitely been an increase in recent years in ads that are more like mini-films. They’re complete enough that your students feel like they’ve watched something (and therefore done something fun!) but short enough that you can fit lots of activities around it, and it’s possible to rewatch the advert a few times getting the students to focus on different things each time. On doing some research, it seems like lots of other EFL teachers feel the same! Here’s a round-up of Christmas advert activities:

Lesson plans based on John Lewis adverts from 2011-2014 (including Monty the Penguin, the Hare and the Bear, the Snowmen and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want). These lessons are at B1 level.

Another lesson plan (this time for B1-C1 students) based on John Lewis’ the Snowmen advert.

A B1/B2 lesson plan based on the Sainsbury’s Christmas Truce advert.

An A2-B1 lesson plan based on Mog’s Christmas Calamity (Sainsbury’s Christmas advert last year and probably my all-time favourite Christmas ad!). There are also a variety of non-EFL teaching ideas based on this advert here, some of which I think could easily be used with higher-level children or teens.

Finally, if you just want a round-up of all the Christmas adverts on UK TV this year (there are definitely some I haven’t seen here!) The Telegraph presents their best Christmas adverts of 2016 (with embedded video).




EFL Advent Calendar – 21st December


Application for Santa Visit – 21st December

Christmas is fast approaching now – can’t believe it’s only four more days until the big day itself! Children in the UK and US will have already written their letters to Santa, but it’s not too late for your students to get in on the act. Even if your students are a bit too old to write a letter to Santa, it’s still possible to use this theme as a topic with teen or adult students. Wondering how? Read on and find out… 

My first resource today is one that was shared with me while working at BKC International House, Moscow. Ever thought that simply asking your child to write a letter  was far too simplistic to secure a letter from Santa?  The Application for Santa Visit lets you know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. Be warned, the language in this is advanced, but it’s a fun activity for your high level students (or might make your colleagues smile if it’s too tough for your  students). I like the idea of getting students to interview each other and complete the form with their partners’ answers.

You can download the PDF document here: application-for-santa-visit

If you’re looking for a similar concept, but with slightly easier language (or if your students aren’t quite sure how good they’ve been!)  LanternFish  have a ‘Kindometer’ and a ‘Notometer’ for your students to fill out. Once your students have completed their own (or their partner’s) answers, they could interview their teacher, come up with alternative questions, or plead their case!

You can download the ‘Kindometer’ and ‘Notometer’ here: notometer    kindometer (both Word Documents)


EFL Advent Calendar – 20th December


Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean! – 20th December

For: Children, teens or low-level adults

Level: Elementary plus 

The lesson plan and resources I’m sharing today have been an absolute life-saver – I think I’ve used them at least once every Christmas I’ve been teaching (apart from this year when one of my colleagues got there first!). For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Bean, it’s a British sitcom following the (mis)adventures of a bumbling ‘man within a child’s body’. As the comedy is mostly physical and there’s very little dialogue involved, it’s great for low-level EFL learners and it also gives them a valuable insight into British culture. 

David Mainwood at The EFL SMARTblog has a great set of worksheets for use with the video (which can be watched on Youtube if you don’t have access to the DVD). If you scroll down to the bottom of the page there are printable versions, which include an ordering task, true or false questions, discussion questions, review of past simple, and a Christmas wordsearch. Choose the activities which are most appropriate for the age and/or level of your class, or simply show the video and ask the students questions at intervals – either based on what they have just seen, or what they think is going to happen next.  

As many of the elements of ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Bean’ show a traditional British Christmas (carol singing, cooking a turkey, sending Christmas cards, hanging up stockings, kissing under the mistletoe) this video also allows you to show students how we usually celebrate Christmas (rather than simply talking about it or using a listening/reading exercise on the topic). 



EFL Advent Calendar – 19th December


Christmas: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – 19th December

For: Adults

Level: Intermediate

Don’t worry – I haven’t turned into Scrooge and lost all Christmas spirit. I have noticed, however, that a great way to engage adult students and get them talking (particularly those who are often reluctant participants in the lesson) is to let them have a bit of a moan.

Today I bring you a resource that’s going to give your students the opportunity to do just that: Keith Sand’s ‘Christmas – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, (courtesy of the British Council) in which he bemoans the commercialisation of Christmas. There’s an audio version as well as a downloadable PDF so you can choose whether or not to use this as a listening or a reading activity, as well as a follow-up True/False reading activity.

It’d be easy to create a whole lesson around this article: ideas include discussing how this compares to the celebration of Christmas (or other main holidays) in students’ own countries, a class debate (Should Christmas be banned?), or a Room 101 type activity, where students create their own list of pet hates surrounding a particular theme and then vote whether or not they should be placed in ‘Room 101’ and removed forever.

If you’d like to explore these ideas further with your class, the British Council has a similar article (and associated activities) about Consumerism.

EFL Advent Calendar – 18th December


Santa, Where Are You? – 18th December

A combination of resources for very young learners to practise prepositions of place… and have a bit of fun too! 

Super Simple Learning, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the site, is a fantastic site full of free resources that are great for pre-school or kindergarten/first grade students. Today I’d like to share just one of their Christmas resources: a song called ‘Santa, Where Are You?. 

You can find the video here (with lyrics and suggested actions if you scroll down!).

There are accompanying flashcards, as well as worksheets, colouring pages, and games. Use a variety of them together, and you have one Christmas VYL lesson!