Lesson Plan Guide: Setting Effective Goals

By Matt Andrews

CONTENT AREAS: Explore Your Path


  • 1-3: Students use a process to set long- and short-term goals, and act to achieve these goals.

Set effective academic goals and discuss how to ensure that they are realistic, specific and measurable.


  • A:B2.1 Establish challenging academic goals in school
  • A:A1.5 Identify attitudes and behaviors that lead to successful learning
  • A:A1.3 Take pride in work and achievement

No prior knowledge necessary


  • Notebook paper and pencils; colored markers or pencils could also be used.
  • Article from Student Paths, “GOALS: From Finding the Right One to Following Through”


This lesson involves personal journaling during which students write thoughts on paper that no other person will see; students are then asked to select one learning goal they are comfortable sharing with others.

The journaling provides students an opportunity to think about their goals and what they need to learn in order to accomplish their goals.

The primary task for the instructor in this lesson is to find a way to develop better relationships with students while helping students better engage in productive work toward their own goals.


During activities, observe what students find exciting. Be sure to let students keep their journals private—so do not collect or assess them beyond observing that pencils are moving on paper—and encourage students to talk about the important things written in their journals with mentors, friends, and family.

This lesson shows students that self-assessment of their own goals is an important activity for learning in life. At the end of the lesson, students write one goal on a piece of paper that they are comfortable sharing with the instructor and class.

The instructor should keep these goals until a later time when it is possible to check in with students about progress toward their goals.

The students’ self-assessment requires that they understand what it takes to set realistic, specific, and measurable goals. There is no way for an instructor or student to know for certain that any of these criteria have been met until time has passed while they work to accomplish these goals.

Self-assessment requires understanding of uncertainty, making sure that short-term goals are congruent with long-term ones and that ownership is taken for goals. These are difficult things for anyone to assess, but they are some of the most valuable life skills for students to learn.


The suggested activities for this lesson are short, and instructors are encouraged to take extended time to talk about questions that arise during the journaling process. This could be done individually and in small groups while other students continue to write, or the whole group could engage in discussion between activities.

Introductory writing exercise (5 minutes):

Before students enter the class, write this instruction on the board: Write everything you know about transitioning from high school to college.

Some students may need to be encouraged to continue writing, and it is permissible for students to write about knowledge they may have about doing anything else that they think is important in life, such as getting a job or enlisting in the military. The writing should stimulate questions from the students, and the instructor can facilitate a discussion accordingly.

During and after the exercise, remind students that many students do not know very much about the college admission process, and that today is an opportunity for each student to figure out what they need to learn about it. Students probably know more than they think, but they may not have thought about it as a process or written it down.

It is important for students to think about the high school-to-college process as broadly as possible—where some students work full time while attending classes at night, other students will learn through military training. Some students continue to live with their parents, while others move into a new place. All students should begin thinking about how learning in school is preparing them for life after high school.

Goal writing and prioritizing (10 minutes):

Instruct students to use a different piece of paper to write down more than 25 goals for their life. This will be a challenge, and students may determine by the end of the activity that they will not pursue some of these goals, but encourage students to try to get every one of their wishes, dreams, ideas, and values in life down on paper.

No other person needs to read this, but the activity will allow students time to think about what is important in life. Remind students that evaluating one’s goals is difficult to do, and that these activities introduce one method to think about achieving one’s goals and are only part of the process.

Read Student Paths article (3 minutes):

Instruct students to read the Student Paths article “GOALS: From Finding the Right One to Following Through.” Ask for a volunteer to read the first paragraph aloud. Read the entire document aloud with volunteers from the class. Nothing in particular needs to be discussed further, but allow time for questions because students will use this information in the next activity.

Evaluate goals (10 minutes):

Instruct the students to evaluate their own goals in light of this new information. Students should circle some of their “best goals,” “most realistic goals” and “easily measurable goals” with an understanding that each student must do this for himself.

Various colored markers, pencils, or symbols could be used by students to further identify which goals are realistic, specific, measurable, short-term, long-term, and how they are influenced by different people in life.

Connecting to educational goals (5 minutes):

The final journal writing is to help students connect what they are doing in school with their more ambitious goals for life. Instruct students to write about more immediate goals for things that they need to learn. Hopefully, these goals were already listed in the previous brainstorming of 25 goals. Encourage students to describe the things they are currently doing in their life to accomplish their goals, and how smaller goals will help them accomplish larger ones.

Choosing one goal to share (2 minutes):

Instruct each student to tear off a piece of paper to write down one goal they are willing to share with the instructor and class.

Each student should write his or her name on the paper and turn it in to the instructor before leaving class.

In a few weeks, the instructor can return these goals to students to follow up about progress toward each goal.


GOALS: From finding the right one to following through

About the Author

Matt Andrews