Help students set their goals - for teachers; how can you set your own goals - for students; personal experience - Natalia Oblogova.


When your students have no clear aim or goal they will not know where they are heading and why they are doing it. The absence of goals may affect motivation, progress, and overall performance. Some students will continue passively attending lessons never making any effort either in class, at home, or really both. Eventually, they might give up frustrated with the lack of any development in their skills and abilities. 

What can a teacher do to prevent that from happening?

 Be smart

One of the most common criteria for setting the right goal is keeping it S.M.A.R.T: 

 Specific - if the aim is too vague it won’t help. Your students need to understand what exactly they are working for.

 Measurable - how are your students going to understand that they have achieved their goals?

 Achievable - it means the goal has to be realistic. Think about the current level and how much time you have in order to achieve it.

 Relevant - they need to know why they are setting this goal and why they need to get there.

 Timed - without the deadline, they can just keep postponing and finding excuses not to work hard.

Have a chat

Ideally, you should sit down with each student individually and have a conversation about their background, plans, and why they really want to study the language. However, teachers don’t always have that opportunity, so we can turn to other means. 

Envision the goal

Ask your students to close their eyes and imagine they have finally learned English. What situation makes them realise that? Let them describe the picture in every detail - what they are doing, where they are, who is with them. It will be different for every person - some may imagine themselves walking around New York with their local friends talking about everything. Somebody may think of themselves reading an English book and understanding all words, phrases, ideas. Yet another person may picture themselves giving a presentation at an international conference to a huge audience. After the situations have been described, ask your students to think of a date. It can simply be a month or a year, but they have to set it. This visualisation may help students make their goals seem more real and tangible. 

Draw a table

Another way of setting goals is to draw a table with three columns. The first one will say what they already know, the third what they want to achieve and the one in between what steps they can take to achieve it. This makes it easier for students to see if their goal is achievable and relevant to them. For example, in order to be able to watch a movie in English, your students may need to start developing their listening skills by watching short YouTube videos and trailers. Knowing this may help you incorporate specific practice into your lessons and help the students work towards their goals. 

Do it all

Finally, the best thing to do is all of the above. And don’t forget to remind your students of their goals and how far they have come in trying to achieve them. What’s more, it is ok to revisit and change goals, because people and circumstances change.

What’s the best way for a learner to set goals?

It’s worth setting time aside on a daily basis to set goals and reflect on your learning. It will help you become more aware of what strengths you have, and which areas need developing. This process of self-discovery is crucial to achieving your goals.

Here are two tools for you to use to help you achieve your learning goals. The first is called a learning log, and the second is a GROW model.

The learning log

This is a practical tool to help you keep track of your learning for the week. It helps you focus on the specifics of what you have covered this week in areas such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. The tool gives you an overview of your week, and what you have done to review what’s been covered.

The very process of keeping a log will train your mind to focus on the detail of how exactly you are spending your time on a daily basis. This way, you can think about what changes you would like to make. You might find that you are not spending enough time on one area, such as grammar, and too much time practicing your vocabulary. Your learning log will highlight this very quickly.

Example of a learning log

Draw a grid or table. Along the horizontal column, put weekdays: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Along the vertical column, put the areas you’re focusing on, such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and self-study.

This is just an example – you should assign your own areas depending on what you are concentrating on.

Monday’s column might look like this:

Grammar: present perfect – ‘I have been to Dublin’

Vocabulary: Crime – a pickpocket, to mug someone, to shoplift

Pronunciation: -ed endings – eg: ‘She was mugged’ /d/

Self-study: revise vocabulary on crime and present perfect

GROW Model

Alongside your learning log, which helps you track your learning, consider what you want to focus on as your goal for the next day, week, month and even the year.

The GROW model has often been compared to how someone might plan a journey.

First, you decide you would like to go to New York. This is your goal.

Next, you consider your current location in Dublin. This is reality.

Then you might think about what might get in the way of you reaching your destination, such as an expensive flight and accommodation and getting the time off work. These are obstacles.

Next, you start to consider what options you have to get there: maybe take on a second job, or cut back on spending to save money.

Finally, you decide what steps you will take to get to New York (way forward).

You decide to save an extra €100 per month for the next six months, while also taking on overtime in work when it arises. In six months, you will have reached your goal and will be happy that you focused on it.

Example of GROW model for a student

Here is an example of a student’s GROW model for the end of the month. This student has difficulty speaking in front of her classmates and wants to focus on this for the next month.

First, she identifies her goal: to feel confident speaking English.

Next, she acknowledges her current reality: she is only confident speaking with a partner, not in front of the class.

She also considers what her obstacles might be, which may defeat her on her path to achieving her goal: fear of speaking, other students with a better level of spoken English.

She considers her options of how she can reach her goal: make more effort in group work, speak to more people outside of class.

Finally, she plans her way forward: talk to the teacher and ask for topics the day before, and to join a speaking club.

What the GROW model might look like:

Draw a table and write Goal, Reality, Obstacles, Options, and Way Forward, spaced along the horizontal axis. Then add information to the columns below each section, as in the example below.

Goal: To feel confident speaking English (group work and with the teacher in class discussions)

Reality: Only feel confident speaking with a partner, doing exercises alone, and when allowed to use a dictionary for new words. Don’t feel confident speaking to the teacher or answering questions in front of the class.

Obstacles: Confidence level. Afraid to speak in class. ‘Other students have a better speaking level than me.’

Options: Make the effort to speak more in group work. Find a way to speak to more people outside of class time to build confidence.

Way forward: Ask a teacher for discussion topics for the following day in order to prepare some vocabulary. This will help build confidence for now until it starts to become comfortable to speak with classmates. Meet more students by joining the speaking club.

Find a friend to help you stay accountable

It’s also motivating to have a ‘goal buddy’; a friend or classmate who is also focusing on a particular goal. The two of you can have a weekly meeting for five to ten minutes to discuss your goals openly and honestly with each other. You might be surprised at how much you achieve when you have to report to someone.

Read more here.


Learning a language is a lifelong process and it can take years. The further the students move on their learning journey, the higher the level is, the harder it is to see the progress. Students need to be able to spot their own progress. When they are aware of their progress, it motivates them, develops a sense of competence, and provides inspiration through challenging times.

(A picture of a climber who has just started climbing a mountain. A picture of a person who is halfway through. A mountain is covered with clouds.)

Set clear and measurable goals at the start of the course

Apart from setting personal goals, make time in your class to get students to look at the course program, focus on the units you’ll be covering in the course and give them some questions to consider:

  • Which of the topics do you know information about?

  • Which of the topics are you looking forward to learning about?

  • Which topics do you feel might be difficult for you? 

  • +questions about the skills

Get them to discuss this with their peers.

At the end of the course, give them the same questions to reflect on and see how they have coped with it and how they feel about the topics now, and the language skills. Where they have progressed and which areas need improvement and revisiting.

Set objectives at the start of the lesson

At the beginning of the lesson, tell the students or write on the board the objectives for the lesson:

By the end of the lesson you will be able to … Try to focus here on the last stage of the lesson which is production, how the students will be able to use the skills or the knowledge of the systems (grammar/ lexis).

At the end of the lesson, invite learners to reflect on their learning, encourage them to summarise a lesson, look at the key points, get them to analyse what they have done well, elicit their ideas about what they can do to feel more confident about the topic.

For this activity, you can write questions on the board or give a handout.

  • How well did you understand today’s material?

  • What did you learn in today’s class?

  • Is there anything you can use straight away?

  • What do you need to do in subsequent lessons?

  • What three things do you take away from the lesson?

From time to time invite students to set their own objectives at the beginning of a lesson.

For instance:

They might want to start using some particular expressions;

Focus on the fossilised mistake they want to get rid of;

Take more a more active part in discussions;

At the end of the lesson, ask them to reflect on their performance during the lesson, whether they managed to achieve their goals and why or why not, what they should’ve done differently, what they should do differently next time.

If you practice this every now and again, your students will soon get used to t and will set their personal aims for the lesson automatically and mentally.

That’s all for now!
Stay amazing♥