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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