Goal-Setting with English Language Learners

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Part of any curriculum should involve goal-setting. Ideally, goal-setting should occur at the beginning of the year and be a collaborative effort between students and teachers. Each year, I look for a better approach to getting students to really ponder their language learning goals. Recently, I tried getting my language learners to add their goals to a class Padlet. Before students post their goals, they reflect upon their reasons for learning English. I ask students to discuss their reasons for learning English and show them this video. My students really enjoyed listening to the reasons why different learners feel learning English is important. The video is extremely useful in that students from various countries with different accents were interviewed. Additionally, the video includes word art of the responses!

After watching the video, I asked each of my students to tell me which reason they thought was the most important for them to learn English. We had a round table discussion and the students were very responsive to the video. I was excited to see so much discussion on the first day with a pre-intermediate group of adult learners.

Ways to Study

Successful student goal-setting must translate into action. Therefore, I had the students work in pairs and read Berni Wall’s article, An A to Z of Effective Language Practice. The student pairs chose 5 of 26 tips to discuss. Each pair chose 2 language practicing activities they would most likely do or have accomplished. Each pair also chose 2 activities they could not picture themselves doing. Finally, they chose a tip they did not understand. Once again we had a very interactive discussion with each of the student pairs sharing their responses with the other student pairs. The least likely activity was karaoke. Most students admitted they were too shy to sing karaoke. Most decided they would practice their vocabulary, categorized under words.

Goal-setting Statements

The last step of the lesson was having students work on their goal statements. However, I first asked each student how to accomplish the chosen practice. For example, one student committed to increasing their vocabulary by doing word searches at least two times a week then looking up the words in a dictionary. This student’s goal statement looked like this:

I will improve my English vocabulary by doing word searches in the morning at least two times a week and writing down the definitions.

Another student chose to increase their vocabulary by reading an English newspaper and another by reading English news online. Others committed to singing English songs while driving and a few decided to listen to podcasts. I stressed to the students that I wanted them to establish manageable goals that fit in with their schedule. So far the students have stayed dedicated to their goals!


Reflection is key to establishing these goals. Students must reflect in order to set goals that will intrinsically motivate them to achieve. This is where Wallwisher helps. Wallwisher is a free and easy Web 2.0 tool that acts as an online bulletin board where students can place sticky notes by simply clicking on the board. The words they type can be followed by a link to a motivational quote, picture, song, podcast, or video. The educator can then embed this bulletin board on a wiki. Below is an example of the goal statements my English language learners made at the beginning of the semester. Visit my wiki to view the rest of the lesson.

At the end of the class term, my students reflected on these goals and we discussed what they had and had not achieved. For my students these goals were tied to personal reasons. We discussed why they wanted to learn English. For your students, they should reflect on why they want to learn your subject. If students struggle with this question, then ask them why it is important to learn the subject. Have the students provide real world examples when they have used the knowledge in their everyday lives. Making these connections helps students realize the importance of the learning.

Continuous Learning

Successful student goal-setting must translate into action. Students can create a Wallwisher in which they have to list interesting ways they can continue their learning. This learning can tie into their personal goals.


Have your students create learning goals. First, have them reflect on why learning the material is important. Then have the students collaborate in determining what actions they can take to accomplish the goal. Finally, have the students write down the goals and commit themselves to following through with these goals!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/ShellyTerrell, and on her blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/ShellTerrell/presentations


  1. Hi Shelly. This article went straight to my Delicious. Getting students to set goals is something I have always liked the idea of but never achieved very successfully. The usual “rate these goals in order of importance” style questionnaire is a bit of a bore and not very effective. I wish it was the beginning of the year so I could try these ideas out now. Keep up the great work.

    • Hello Simon,

      Glad this helped! When I first saw Lindsay’s video I was really inspired by it and thought the students would be too! I used to just ask students in the beginning to write goals but I realized they had not really reflected on why they should follow these goals or how they would accomplish them.

  2. This is a great post and a very important topic on my mind. I think motivation is 50% of education especially For English teaching. These are some great tips that I can put to use right away.
    What I usually add to this is specific short term (6-12m) and a final long term goal (e.g. Get a job translating). And then take steps back from that goal. Walking them through each step.
    I also try to set tasks as goals. For example, being able to understand a disney movie or being able to hold a good conversation for 15 minutes without major mistakes.

    Great tips. I learned somethings for next time. Thanks Shelly!

    • Neal,

      Thanks for adding more advice on the topic! I definitely think long term and short goals part of the process and am always looking for better ways to incorporate these and have students actually follow through!

    • Berni,

      I plan on using this with all my classes to start with! It is really a useful article! We had a lot of fun, especially when I had to model some of the ideas with my students. They nearly cried when I pulled out my compact mirror and showed them how I move my mouth to check my pronunciation of difficult German words.

  3. As always, great post!

    I think anyone would agree on the importance of setting goals. But why lecture, why provide questions, why provide one-on-one meetings when goal setting can be made into a lesson? Lots of qualitative thought, lots of analysis, a lot of honest answers.

    Great idea and thank you for sharing!


    • Chris,

      I rather have students arrive at conclusions then spoon feed any day, because really at the end of the day if I lectured they will just forget what they learned when the goal is for them to use what they learned!

  4. Great piece Shelly, and really nice incorporation of different media (of course I love the video). I did something similar with my learners too, but I didn’t know about the A to Z article, which I will track down now!

    Thanks again for sharing

  5. Hi Shelly,

    Thanks for these insightful ideas! I always make students reflect on their reasons for learning a second language with the aim of helping them make commitments. What’s great is the introduction of a video in which they can see other students doing the same and the A to Z article. I’ve bookmarked all this material for my next year classes.
    Thanks a lot!!!

  6. Thank you for the great lesson. Lots of great ways to integrate technology into learning about goals. Will use this one for sure with my incoming class.

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