Goal-setting in the ELT classroom: 5 points to consider

This post was inspired by a discussion I had with a friend the other day about setting goals and what makes it difficult or easy trying to stick to them. Part of our discussion focused on how feasible it is to create a concrete action plan out of goals which can often be vague in nature and whether we can actually have the necessary stamina to see our goals come to life, an issue that was challenging for me as a teen and young adult. This is an issue that I’ve also seen my learners struggle with, partly because goal setting is not always practised in their everyday lives and also because the boundaries between creating a to-do list and a list of goals can often be unclear. Although there are many useful ideas and tools available on goal-setting online, I thought I’d share some practical considerations that can hopefully help you and your learners work more effectively on goal setting tasks. I’d intended to make this post a long list of suggested activities and tasks, but coming down with a head cold hasn’t allowed me to do so yet, there is, however an older post of mine here with some practical tasks you might find useful.

  1. Focus on short-term goals: One of the biggest challenges for most of us is that goals tend to focus on an abstract, envisioned image of our future selves. Although the idea of an improved future self can be very tempting when we set a goal, we soon realize that being able to see so far in the future does not often help us determine how we can get there from our present state of our lives. One way this can be addressed is simply by starting with smaller, short-term goals instead of bigger, long-term ones. For e.g. instead of focusing on what our learners would like to have achieved by the end of the year, we can ask them which skill they would like to have improved in two weeks or one month from now.
  2. Goals should be tangible and about our interests: As a teen I often had difficulty connecting goals to my everyday life and thinking of routines that I could consistently do to practise the skill/habit I had planned to improve. This was because most of my goals weren’t followed by sub-stages or steps of action. Breaking goals down and connecting them to our learners’ everyday routine can make it easier for them to get a sense of accomplishment and also have a better understanding of their own progress. For instance, if our learners would like to improve their reading skills, they can set 5-minute Reading slots throughout their day which can increase in duration over time depending on their schedule. Goals should also be connected to our personality and interests so that they can be more achievable. Following on the reading skills’ goal mentioned before, learners could focus on where they get most of their reading and what reading materials they prefer in general. Using a Reading/Writing/Listening Menu with additional suggestions/materials also helps as learners can be given further prompts of action.
  3. Focus on the Whys: We might believe that we set goals with a specific reason in mind, but very often goals might reflect the needs of others, in the case of our learners what their peers or family might consider important for them to do/achieve. Although it is challenging to address the underlying reasons behind specific goals (especially ones related to academic performance), it is very useful for learners to be able to identify one personal reason why a goal matters to them so that they can engage to the process of achieving it more easily.
  4. Reflect, reconsider, reprioritize: The most important lesson of goal-setting is that it will involve setting new goals, changing our minds about our goals and embracing moments of failure along the way. This is perhaps the hardest part of goal-setting, especially in product-driven societies, where the emphasis is on the end rather than the process of getting there. There’s an amazing Personal Road Map shared in the Edutopia post here that could help learners focus on the stages of the process.
  5. Reflect a bit more: Most of our reflections focus on how we’ve gone about realizing our goals and assessing the effectiveness (or not) of our strategies. We often however overlook the importance of reflecting on our personal growth through the goal setting process. Along with addressing what went right/wrong and what we could do differently, it would be helpful for learners to also discuss how the goal-setting journey has shaped their personality and which qualities they’ve had changed/remained the same in the process.


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