Back to school: 5 ways to establish SMART goals

establish SMART goals

We’re at the start of a new term. With many students starting courses in September, now’s the perfect opportunity to help your students establish their learning goals for the year.

Early goal setting is essential as it helps with motivation, focus and a sense of direction. Defining those goals, however, can be overwhelming.

Use this goal-setting checklist to make sure your students are on the path to success.

Make your goals SMART

SMART is an acronym that you can use with your students to help guide goal setting. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. 

1. Specific 

To make a goal specific you must focus your attention on what you want to achieve. Instead of saying ‘I want to improve my English’, a more specific goal might be ‘I want to be able to pass a retail job interview in English’. Your student will still be learning English, but their goal is more focused.

Note – the Global Scale of English (GSE) Teacher Toolkit is a great tool to help you set specific learning goals, especially when it comes to jobs. It allows you to look for specific language objectives for different professions, meaning you can tailor your classes to your students’ career interests and consolidate the knowledge of students already working in those fields. 

Read more in our post: Preparing learners for the world of work using the GSE Teacher Toolkit.

For work and education-related goals, your student may also need to prove their level of English, which leads to new goals like: ‘I want to pass an exam such as the Pearson Test of English (PTE) General to prove my skills in English.’ 

To help your students set specific goals, get them to ask questions such as – ‘What do I want to accomplish?’ ‘Why do I want to accomplish it?’ and ‘When do I want to achieve it by?’

Broad goals: 

  • To learn English
  • To improve vocabulary
  • To improve reading 

Specific goals: 

  • To pass an interview in English
  • To read a whole book in English
  • To pass my Level 3 PTE General exam in English

2. Measurable

Goals need to be measurable, so you and your students can see when progress is being made. To make a goal measurable, guide students with questions such as ‘How much/many do I need to do?’ ‘How do I know when I’ve reached my goal?’

This indicator should be something visible or tangible. It could be moving up a level, getting the exam grades they need to get into university, or reading a certain amount of chapters of an English book.

Measurable goals:

  • I aim to add 10 new words to a vocabulary list every week
  • I aim to read one chapter of a book in English a week
  • I aim to complete one Level 3 PTE General practice exercise a week

3. Achievable 

A goal must be achievable. This means students must feel challenged but the goal must remain possible. To help consider if a goal is possible, look at if the student has the right resources available to them. For example, if they want to improve their listening skills at home, do they know which websites to visit and do they have a plan of action?

If passing an exam is their goal, do they have the correct preparation material to give them the best chance? If they don’t have the right resources, how can they access them?

Other questions they should ask are: ‘‘Have others in the same position done this before?’ ‘Can I realistically do it in the time frame I have?’ and ‘Am I able to commit?’ 

Achievable goals: 

  • I will learn 10 new English words a week (rather than 50)
  • I will begin by reading a graded reader in English (rather than a complete novel)
  • I will pass Level 3 PTE General (not level 5) 

4. Relevant 

The goal should be personal and relevant to the student: if it matters to them they will be more likely to accomplish it. 

Encourage students to ask questions such as, ‘Am I interested in this topic?’ and ‘Is this the right time for me to achieve my goal?’ And have them consider why it’s important to them. 

Improving situational communication skills, for example, might be relevant for a student who is about to spend a year abroad in an English speaking country. Or a child that loves stories but struggles with writing, might decide to write a story in English by the end of the first term. 

Relevant goals:

  • I struggle using a wide range of vocabulary in English so I am going to learn 10 new words each week
  • I love sports so I am going to spend 15 minutes every morning reading BBC Sport
  • It’s my dream to study abroad and therefore I am going to pass my Level 3 PTE General 

5. Timely

The final consideration when setting a goal should be the deadline. Students should consider ‘When is the start and finish date?’ and ‘When will I need to achieve this goal by?’.  

If you think of completion of the chapters of a book or practice papers as your micro-goals, they should eventually result in a finish line such as finishing the book or taking the exam. Providing time restraints is useful because it pushes for action and provides a sense of urgency. 

Timely goals:

  • I aim to take my PTE General exam in June next year
  • I will build a list of 200 new words in English in four months
  • I will finish a book in English in one month

Examples of SMART goals for learning English

Eventually your student is left with a breakdown of a goal to focus on. To make sure it is clearly defined ask them to review what they have written and write a summarising SMART goal.

Encourage them to record it as part of a bigger language learning plan and tell them to refer back to it regularly. Take a look at these examples of SMART goals to get you and your students thinking.

Broad goal – I want to improve my listening in English:

  • Specific – I will subscribe to an English podcast
  • Measurable – I aim to listen to one podcast a week 
  • Achievable –  I will download them to my phone so I can listen on the way to school
  • Relevant – I will choose a topic that interests me to keep me engaged
  • Timely – I will listen to one podcast a week for 6 weeks and then reassess 

SMART goal: I will listen to a different English podcast once a week, for six weeks, on my phone. I will listen to a range of topics that interests me, and I will listen on my way to work to build the habit. 

Broad goal – I want to move abroad 

  • Specific – I will use role plays to improve my situational conversation skills in English
  • Measurable – I will use my phone to record practice dialogues of myself and a partner speaking in English
  • Achievable – We will record one dialogue per month to give us time to meet and prepare 
  • Relevant – I will choose 12 common situations in English to base the role plays
  • Timely – I will set a deadline of one year before my plans to move abroad

SMART goal: I will record one English dialogue between me and a friend once per month on my phone. I aim to have a collection of ten situational dialogues such as going to the doctor, or going to the bank, that I can then refer back to before moving abroad. 

A SMART goal for teachers

Broad goal – I would like my young learners to feel motivated in English

SMART goal: I will prepare my class of young learners for the PTE Young Learners exam and will measure their progress with practice papers. I will use textbooks and my own material to help prepare them with the aim of taking the exam in June next year. 

Next steps

When goals are SMART they are much more focused, easily tracked, important to the student and therefore more likely to be accomplished. 

When you return back to school, why not consider creating goals for yourself and help your students create their own goals?

Find out more information on SMART goals and take a look at the benefits of goal setting in education.

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