Teaching Students About Goal Setting

Building efficacy through goal setting is a great way to give your students the tools to succeed.

By Andrea Ferrero

Goal Setting Lessons and Activities

Motivating students is critical, but sometimes difficult. I can recall many times when I have said encouraging things to bolster and boost my students' self-esteem, and it didn't work. Some students think that teachers make positive comments because they have to, rather than because they believe what they are saying. In order to motivate all students, it is necessary to teach them how to set and attain goals themselves. In this way, they can build self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Student Expression and Goal Setting

Students are full of ideas and ambitions and there are many ways for them to express themselves.


  • Dream boards are beautiful student-crafted collages made using magazines, newspapers and other art materials. They can use poster boards to depict their goals and life ambitions. They might share things they want to do, see, be a part of, or own.
  • A web organizer is a great tool to get students thinking about their goals. In the center of the web, students can choose a broad topic, such as goals, or a narrower sub-category, such as goals for this month.
  • Lists are a simple and fun way for students to record the goals that matter most to them. Their lists can vary in size and scope. Some of my students favorites have been: 10 places to visit, 10 things I want to learn, 10 books I want to read, 10 people I want to meet, what I will do in the next five years, and what I will have done by the time I turn 100.
  • Polls and graphs can allow students to share and analyze classroom goals. For example, one of my classes created a bar graph representing their summer goals. Each student completed a small survey about the things they wanted to do for the summer, such as reading 10 books, visiting relatives, writing a short story, spending time outdoors, etc . . . We created a graph showing the top five summer goals. I used this data later when sending home summer work packets.
  • Journaling opens a world of opportunities for students to share written goals. I tell students that writing down their goals increases their likelihood of reaching them. They can craft poetry, jot down lists, lay out plans, share their reasoning, and much more.

Modeling, Prioritizing, and Organizing Daily Goals

With so many fantastic things to do, and goals to reach, it is easy to get distracted or lost along the way. For this reason, I teach my students different strategies. One of the strategies I share with students is the use of a list of the six most important things to do. This organizational method teaches students to prioritize by choosing the six most important things that need to be done each day. They tackle these first, then move onto other tasks that are not as pressing.

Celebrating and Recognizing Student Accomplishments

Although reaching their goal is important, being recognized for the achievement can be as well. By celebrating achievements, you can reinforce and affirm students' positive behavior and choices. There are many different ways to do this:

  • Certificates
  • Small statues
  • Medals
  • Plaques
  • Group cheers
  • Newsletters home with an honorable mention

All of these items can be made by students, the teacher or bought. Many craft stores offer unique ways to create and personalize them. Here are some more goal setting lessons and activities.

Goal Setting Lessons and Activities:

Personal Education Plan

Setting the tone with a quote from Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” This lesson lays out how to guide students in setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Specific). Students' academic goals are used to craft a personal education plan, empowering them to take an active role in their learning.

Goals, Goals, Goals

Students are introduced to the idea of goal setting and then led through the process of identifying goals and planning action steps to reach them.

Goal Setting: Mission Statement

After watching inspirational PowerPoint presentations from popular movies and hearing excerpts from notable heroes of history, students choose a personal hero. They use this person as a motivation to formulate their own personal mission statement. The mission statement includes personal beliefs, values, and goals. This lesson includes links to a variety of resources including PowerPoint presentations, other websites, and a bibliography.