How To Set Lesson Goals To Boost Student Achievement

By | First Published: | Last Updated: 27 September, 2021

One potentially powerful way you can increase how well your students do at school is to set lesson goals and to set them the right way.

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Great lessons (or small sequences of lessons) start with a clear focus, and lesson goals provide that focus.

Research shows that teachers who are clear about what they want their students to learn as a result of each lesson have a higher impact on their students’ results.

When used in isolation, they have an effect size of d = 0.51. When used as part of clear teaching, lesson goals have an effect size of d = 0.75.

lesson goals impact diagram


Why You Should Set Lesson Goals

The short answer is that setting them is easy, inexpensive and has a huge effect on student results that:

  • Rivals the effect of socio-economic status
  • Surpasses the effect of many other techniques, including holding high expectations of your students, classroom management and effective questioning

Writing a lesson goal takes seconds. Writing a day plan with them takes no more time than writing any other form of day plan. You can download a sample day plan here.

How They Help

Setting lesson goals allows you to focus on relevant activities in a way that topics do not – and that is what this article is about.

Imagine the wide range of different activities that you could include with a topic-based, ancient history lesson on the River Nile. You could learn about the river god, Hapi, or you could learn about Papyrus. You could even build a model Shaduf.

Now compare this to the more focused activities that you would include in a similar, goal-driven lesson. The lesson goal is that children should be able to explain three ways the River Nile helped the ancient Egyptians. By clarifying this goal, you focus the activities you would include

Similarly, a lesson on prime numbers could go in many different directions. Yet, a lesson with the goal that students should be able to compare and contrast prime and composite numbers would be far more focused.

What They Look Like

A good goal must describe the knowledge and skills that you want your students to learn, typically in a format such as:

  • The children should be able to …
  • By the end of the lesson, you should be able to …

Here are some examples of poorly written lesson goals:

  • Today we will be doing page 88 in our Math’s textbook, which is about equivalent fractions.
  • It’s time for silent reading.
  • Now we are going to read chapter 13 of our class novel.
  • Sit on the carpet, I have a great book to read to you.
  • Today we are going to learn about the Nile River.

Here are some examples of well-written goals.

The children should be able to:

  • Add fractions with different denominators.
  • Compare the Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods using a Venn diagram.
  • Use a dichotomous key to identify an insect.
  • Identify examples of persuasive devices in a text.
  • Use the ‘organised list’ strategy to solve mathematics problems.

Use Them To Focus Your Lessons

  • Start writing your day plan using lesson goals.
  • Consciously start to focus your lessons to be more in line with those goals.

For More Information

If you want to know more about lesson goals, I recommend Designing & Teaching Learning Goals by Robert Marzano.

To gain a fuller understanding of how lesson goals should influence your subsequent teaching, see Teacher Clarity: A Potent Yet Misunderstood Teaching Strategy.

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(MEd., MLead.)

Shaun Killian (me) is an experienced and passionate teacher, as well as a past school principal. After a heart transplant and having both my legs amputated, I am not yet capable of returning to work. Yet, my passion for helping students succeed has led me to use my time to research teaching and associated practices. I then share what I find in practical ways through this website. The greatest compliment I have ever received from a past student was I never left any student behind. That is mission of most teachers and I hope you find the information on this site useful.

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