Lesson aims: should students set them?

It is pretty difficult to achieve your goal if you don’t set it, right? That is why the necessity of setting lesson aims is not under the question. Now it is time to think: how many of your lessons meet students’ needs? How often do they feel satisfied leaving the classroom (even virtual ones)? How attentive are you to what a student wants? In order to be one step closer to a really student-centred approach, it is important to make students involved in setting lesson aims. In this article, we’re going to share some ideas.

What kinds of aims are there?

In most cases, the aims of the lesson are set by a teacher. He/she usually says the aim or writes it on the board. It is of great importance to set aims not only to raise the student’s interest but also to draw a conclusion and check the outcomes at the end of the lesson. There are several different types of aims you should have on a lesson plan, typically the main aims of the lesson (typically in a grammar, lexis or function lesson your main aims might be to introduce/ revise and practise a certain language area in a certain context), the subsidiary aims of the lesson(e.g.if your lesson focus is grammar, a subsidiary aim might focus on providing fluency practice), your personal teaching development aims as well as an aim for each stage of the lesson.

Below, I’ve presented another classification and collected three types of aims that teachers usually set.

Linguistic aims

From the name you can guess, that this aim has something to do with language systems: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and discourse. You can set one or several aims. The more precise aim you set, the easier it is to achieve it.

Skills aims

Here, it is important what skill you’re going to improve: reading, listening, speaking or writing. Most probably, on one lesson you won’t concentrate on more than 1-2 skills, and you will develop all of them in turns on different lessons. Again, while setting the aim, try to be precise, for example: By the end of this lesson, the student will have practised writing skills by writing an e-mail to a friend about the last holiday,

Communicative aims

Here is where we set aims to develop certain real-life competence. For example:  By the end of this lesson, the student will have learned how to ask directions while visiting another city. or By the end of this lesson, the student will practise speaking about his plans.

Why should students be involved in setting lesson aims?

If a student helps you to set the aim, he/she will clearly understand what you expect him to do. When students are involved in the process of setting aims, they are more motivated to reach them. They understand that what you do in the lesson is particularly useful for them. Once setting lesson aims with students becomes a common practice in your classroom, students will be more autonomous, they will feel their own responsibility for the result and will study harder.

Moreover, at this stage, the aim can be personalised, and it can be matched to the student’s needs. What is even more important is that you can get priorities straight and highlight something, on what students’ attention should be concentrated.

How can that be done?

  • Teachers might set main lesson aims and ask students to brainstorm subsidiary aims of what they expect to get by the end of the lesson. 
  • Definitely, most often students set communicative aims. Some students may need skills or linguistic aims, especially if they are getting ready for the exam. However, if a student learns English for general purposes, he/she can choose the area that will be of most use. 
  • Very often, teachers have to stick to syllabuses. But even within the syllabus, students can decide what to study. For example, there are the following subtopics to the topic “Food”: Healthy lifestyle, Things we eat, Setting the table, Manners of eating, Food traditions, At the shop, At the restaurant, History of chocolate (or any other product), Hunger, Eating disorders, Food safety, Psychology of eating, etc. Students are to choose what is interesting for them and what is important. 
  • You can create a questionnaire at the beginning of the course to know exactly what students need. Ask students to write down their goals and every lesson go back to that goal and let students look through the lesson materials and discuss how the lesson might be connected to their «big goal». 
  • At the beginning of each module, discuss what outcomes the students want to have. 
  • Most importantly, after the lead-in at the beginning of the lesson, make students guess the topic. Here are some ideas on how to introduce the topic. When the students have already understood the topic of the lesson, write on the blackboard “By the end of the lesson, we will have learned…”. Students should give you some ideas of what they want to learn, you choose some of them and write them down on the board.
  • At the end of the lesson, discuss what the students have achieved and what they want to learn next.

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