Goal Setting, A Simple Lesson Sequence

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By Rita Platt


Teaching students to set and meet goals is a skill that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. As the teacher-librarian for nearly 400 of the most wonderful children in the world, I teach students to set goals in reading

“What keeps me going is goals.” ~Muhammed Ali

 beginning in 2nd grade. This year, greater than 90% of students met their personal goals and enjoyed the pride and excitement that comes from knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can work hard and achieve! Below, I will share my lesson sequence for goal-setting. Keep in mind, that although my school uses Accelerated Reader (AR)*, your school need not use it to get the same wonderful effect.


Introduce students to the concept that they can “grow their brains.” Researcher, Carol Dweck,  compares the brain to a muscle and reminds students that they can grow their brains through exercise. To drive this home with students, I have them read the short article, You Can Grow Your Intelligence! Together we talk about the implications of the research that shows that human beings can actually raise their own IQs. Students really buy into it!



Teach students about goals and why goal-setting is important. I start by offering  a student-friendly definition of the word goal. A goal is something that you work hard to be able to do. I then teach students that if goals are to be successful, they must be SMART. SMART goals have long been the rage in teacher’s circles, but the concept can also be harnessed to help students set strong goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Students must be taught to set goals that are smart. I always give an example like the one below.


Mrs. Wolfe wanted to teach her students to set goals. She asked her students, “What if I wanted to set a goal to get more fit and I wrote it this way:

 I will get fit!?

Is that a good goal? Probably not. Let’s check to see if it’s SMART.

  • Is it specific? NO! It doesn’t tell what “fit” means.
  • Is it measurable? NO! There are no numbers in the goal at all.
  • Is it attainable? Who knows! We’re not even sure of what the goal means!
  • Is it relevant? Probably, because being fit is good for almost everyone, right?
  • Is it time-bound? NO! There is no date included in the goal.

What if Mrs. Wolfe wrote the goal this way:

I will exercise at least three times per week by walking for 30 minutes each time. By the end of the month, I will have lost between 1 and 2 pounds.

Is that a better goal? Yes! Much better, let’s check to see if it’s SMART.

  • Is it specific? YES!. It tells what I am going to do, how often, and for how long.
  • Is it measurable? YES! I can count the number of time I walk and check to see if I’ve lost weight.
  • Is it attainable? YES! It’s not overly ambitious and it’s doable for me.
  • Is it relevant? YES! I really need to shape-up!
  • Is it time-bound? YES! I know how long I will work out and when to check for weight loss.


Once students have a good grasp on what a SMART goal is, I share goal statements with them and we check them to see if they are SMART. I usually model one as a whole group and then have students work in pairs or fours to decided if the rest are SMART or not. We share our thoughts whole group as we hash each one out.



Show students samples of simple SMART goals like those below.

  • I will read 5 picture books at my “just-right-level” before April 30th.
  • I will increase my oral reading rate from 70 WPM to 85 WPM by the end of the 2nd quarter.
  • I will read four books from the mystery genre by the end of the 1st quarter.
  • I will finish the second Harry Potter book by winter break.
  • I will earn 25 AR points in the 3rd quarter. 

Ask them to think about the types of goals they would like to set. I always have students set a minimum of two. One is for number of books read (or AR points) and the other is for whatever they would like. I share the following suggestions.  Each is linked to the tools I use to help students keep track of and meet their goals.  There are no limits to the types of goals you can help your students set, this is just a beginners list!


Allow students to set their own goals! Have them write down a plan to meet their goals. Remind them to check their own progress frequently. If kids (or adults!) are to meet their goals, they must be front and center. I often pair students with “accountability partners” to check in with each day. I have students “tap out” to show me their

A goal is a promise you make to yourself!

progress at the end of class. Last, I hold students accountable to their goals. When we meet to confer, goals are are at the heart of our conversations, when I talk to parents, I share goal progress, and when the goal-period is up, we assess to see that all students met goals. If they didn’t, we problem-solve together for next time. I remind students that a goal is a promise the make to themselves and my job it to help them keep it.

Below are sample goal sheets from several of my students. If you don’t like my simple goal-setting template. Try one of these!






When students meet their goals, it’s time to CELEBRATE! How?

  • Pull out your cell phone and have students call home and share the good news!
  • Take students to see the principal or last year’s teacher!
  • Give the student a hug, high-five, fist-bump, or elbow-touch (that last one is still weird to me…)
  • Give meaningful praise: WOW! You worked hard to meet that goal! You must be so proud! Or, Good for you! What did you do that allowed you to meet your goal?

*Heard bad things about AR? Nonsense. Any tool is as good or bad as the teacher makes it. Read my article, AR Killed My Dog and Now It’s Coming for You! A Defense of AR and a Plea for Less Drama

Rita Platt (@ritRita Plattaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate student. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls SD in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and consults with local school districts.

One Comment

  1. Sally Mundell ----LIBRARIAN says:

    Thanks A TON for sharing your experience and thoughtd…..really encouraging to others!