Do you remember when you learned how to set goals?
If you have trouble answering that question, you’re not alone! Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about how we set goals. In fact, many of us don’t even think of goal setting as a skill; rather, it’s just something we do without reflecting on it much.
However, goal setting is a practice that operates on a set of specific skills—and luckily, these skills are relatively easy to teach.
As with most skills, it’s best to start teaching goal setting early. Although parents are perhaps the best source of skill-building and development for their children, it’s vital to have some goal setting material in the school curriculum as well. Learning how to set goals in school and seeing goal setting modeled by peers and teachers is a great way to encourage effective goal setting in children.
This article will explore why goal setting is a great addition to the curriculum from elementary school all the way up to college, and how it can best be incorporated.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free. These creative, science-based exercises will help you learn more about your values and goals and will give you the tools to inspire a sense of meaning in the lives of your children, students or young clients.
You can download the free PDF here.
This article contains:
A Look at Goal Setting in Education
How to Best Teach Goal Setting to Students
A Look at Goal Setting in Elementary and Middle School
Goal Setting for High School Students
Goal Setting for College Students
Recommended Books on the Topic
4 Recommended Videos
A Take-Home Message
A Look at Goal Setting in Education
Setting goals is a vital practice that can benefit anyone with a dream or a vision for their future. Young people who are just starting out on the grand journey of life are at a particularly opportune time to start building their goal setting skills—not only will these skills serve them throughout their lives, but building them now will help them mold their future into one that they desire.
Parents can encourage goal setting in their children—and absolutely should do so—but the importance of this skill justifies its inclusion in our schools’ curriculum. The world of education is an excellent place to introduce children to goal setting, lay the foundations for effective goal setting, and begin to practice setting and striving towards personally meaningful goals.
Why is Goal Setting Important for Youth?
Not only will a curriculum that includes instruction in setting goals teach kids the mechanics and techniques of goal setting, but it will also give them early wins and help them develop belief in themselves. Anyone who has worked with children will recognize the importance of self-belief and self-confidence for early life development.
Further, research backs up the effectiveness of goal setting, both for the children themselves and for schools and systems overall (O’Neill, 2000). When teachers practice good goal setting, the benefits for their students are two-fold:
The students see effective goal setting modeled, and
The school itself is likely to become more effective at facilitating learning.
How Do Children Benefit from Goal Setting?
Aside from helping them believe in themselves and setting them up for success in school, goal setting also benefits children and students in many ways, including:
Increasing awareness of one’s strengths
Increasing awareness of one’s weaknesses
Providing an experience of success
Facilitating effective visualization
Clarifying the path ahead
Defining reality and separating it from wishful thinking
Building responsibility for one’s self
Improving decision making (Goucher College Office of Student Engagement, n.d.)
These are generic benefits of goal setting that anyone who engages in smart goal setting and striving can attain, but a few of them can be particularly effective for children; for example, the benefits of goal setting for youth include:
Provides direction, which most youths are either seeking or trying to nail down.
Helps children clarify what is important to them and focus on it.
Facilitates more effective decision making through better self-knowledge, direction, and focus.
Allows children to take a more active role in building their own future.
Acts as a powerful motivator by giving children something to hope for and aspire towards.
Gives children a positive experience of achievement and personal satisfaction when they reach a goal.
Assists children in finding a sense of purpose in their lives (The Peak Performance Center, n.d.).
Using Goal Setting Effectively with Kids and Teens: A Look at the Research
According to Education World, there are six key secrets to successful goal setting that you can communicate to your students:
Write clear and measurable goals.
Create a specific action plan for each goal.
Read your goals daily and visualize yourself accomplishing them.
Reflect on your progress to see if you are on target.
Revise your action plans if needed.
Celebrate your accomplishments.
The research on this topic provides some extra tips and tricks for maximizing the effectiveness of goal setting curricula:
Set upper and lower limits on students’ goals to teach realistic goal setting (they can always be removed later).
Use games to teach goal setting in a context with low pressure and high engagement.
Hold one-on-one goal-setting conferences with students to give them individual attention and help them learn to assess goal difficulty (Schunk, 1990).
Encourage students to write down their goals rather than simply creating them and leaving them floating around their mind (Matthews, 2015).
Make extensive use of models (teachers and/or peers) in the classroom to show students how it works.
Teach effective goal setting strategies (like setting SMART goals) to increase the likelihood of success and provide feedback on student progress.
Provide direct instruction on goal setting and include instruction on self-evaluation.
Provide instruction on effective learning strategies in general, as students will need these broader skills to build their goal-setting abilities (Schunk, 2003).
How to Best Teach Goal Setting to Students
If you’re looking for some concrete examples of the best ways to teach your students’ goal setting, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for lesson plans, exercises, activities, and examples.
Examples of Goal Setting for Teachers
The Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology, and Related Services provide five great examples—one per each aspect of the SMART goal setting method—that teachers can use to teach their students about setting SMART goals:
Specific – Don’t say “I want to get better grades in school,” say “I will get all Bs and higher on my report card.”
Measurable – Make sure your goal is measurable; in this case, it can be measured by looking at your report card when the next grading period ends.
Attainable – Keep your goals attainable or achievable; don’t say “I will make all straight As on my next report card,” rather say “I will raise all my grades by one letter by my next report card.”
Realistic and Relevant – Goals need to be realistic to achieve and relevant to the student; if the student doesn’t care about their grades, they won’t care about their goal.
Time-limited and Trackable – Encourage students to put a realistic time frame on their goals; don’t set a goal to raise your grades by next week or next year, set a goal to raise them by your next progress report or the end of the term.
3 Lesson Plans for Teachers
There are tons of lesson plans available to help teachers incorporate goal-setting into their curriculum. Three of the most popular and widely-used lesson plans are outlined below.
1. Goal Setting in High School Lesson 1: Identifying Goals
This lesson plan will guide students through identifying goals in six sections:
Can I Do It?
Questions for Assessment
The three objectives of the lesson plan are:
Students will identify the importance of having goals.
Students will recognize that there are realistic and unrealistic goals.
Students will identify goals as short term, medium range, and long term.
All you’ll need to implement this lesson plan is a dictionary, a copy of the “My Goals” activity sheet for each student (on page 7 of the PDF), and a copy of the “On Your Way” activity sheet for each student (on page 8 of the PDF).
Click here to download the lesson plan and the activity sheets if you’d like to use them in your classroom.
2. Florida Department of Education’s Goal Setting and Decision-Making Lesson Plan
This lesson plan from the Florida Department of Education and adapted from the South Dakota Teachers as Advisors Program walks high school students through identifying and creating short- and long-term goals and developing a career and education plan.
It will take one class period to implement the lesson plan and work towards the objective:
Students will identify what is important to them and begin setting educational and personal goals.
The materials required to implement the plan are contained within the PDF:
“Reaching My Goals” handout (page 3 of the PDF)
“My Career Goals” handout (page 5 of the PDF)
Click here to see this lesson plan in its entirety and use it with your students.
3. Growth Mindset Goal Setting Lesson Plan
This lesson plan from Mindset Works is intended to meet one important objective: Students will (learn how to) set growth mindset learning goals.
The objective will be met through guiding students as they:
Take ownership of their learning goals and process.
Know what they want to accomplish.
Set meaningful, appropriate, and challenging goals.
Create a workable plan to guide them in achieving the goal.
Know how to assess their progress.
You’ll need the following materials to implement this lesson plan:
Goal Setting Template (found here)
Assignment list(s) with scores
Recent rubrics (holistic or analytic) that have feedback from a teacher
Recent reports from benchmark tests
Examples of their own work that the student has produced over time
The lesson plan outlines three mini-lessons, each with their own activity:
Mini-Lesson 1: Setting a Goal
Activity 1: Goal Setting
Mini-Lesson 2: Creating an Action Plan
Activity 2: Action Planning
Mini-Lesson 3: Reflection on Progress
Activity 3: Reflecting
Click here to see this lesson plan and download it for your use in your classroom.
4 Goal Setting Worksheets and Templates (PDF)
Templates and worksheets are a must-have for teachers going over goal setting in the classroom. Use the four listed below to help your students learn about and practice effective goal setting.
1. Goal Execution Plan
The Goal Execution Plan template is an excellent resource for older students due to the considerations it includes and the level of detail.
It includes space for up to three goals, with six steps per goal, and provides the following columns for each step:
Goals and Action Steps
Responsible (who is responsible for it)
Starting Metrics (metrics measure goal progress—this is the starting point for these measures)
Budget (if any)
Final Metrics (endpoint for the measures of goal progress)
You may not need all of these columns, but it’s helpful to have prompts to think deeply about each goal. You can find the template here.
2. Student Goal Setting Worksheet
This worksheet is quick and simple, making it a great choice for young children.
The Student Goal Setting Worksheet has space for the student’s name and the current date, then poses these five prompts:
I am good at…
I am bad at…
What I will improve?
How will I make these improvements?
If my plan doesn’t work, what will I do?
Working through this activity will help them start thinking about what goal setting is as well as what direction they’d like to go with their goals.
You will likely need to walk your students through these prompts, so be prepared to provide assistance as needed. You can find the worksheet here.
3. Simple Goal Setting Worksheet
This is another simple worksheet—as the name implies—that can be used with younger or older students to help them figure out the basics of setting and working towards their goals.
The worksheet provides space for students to answer the following prompts:
My goal is…
Goal Completion Date:
Steps to Reaching My Goal: (space for 4)
Two Things That Will Help Me Reach My Goal: (space for 2)
I Will Know I Have Reached My Goal Because:
If you use this worksheet with younger students, you might need to help guide them through it or provide examples, but older students should have no trouble completing it on their own.
You can find the worksheet at this link.
4. SMART Goal Setting Worksheet
If you want to focus your students on setting SMART goals, this worksheet is a great choice. It’s a bit more involved than the previous worksheets, making it more suitable for high school students than younger students.
Here’s the gist of the worksheet:
What is the goal?
Why is the goal important?
SMART goal checklist:
S – Specific – Is the goal clearly written, with no ambivalence? Is it clear who needs to accomplish the goal, and any support they might expect?
M – Measurable – Does the goal answer the questions of how many, how much, and/or how often?
A – Achievable – Can you get the support needed to achieve the goal by the target date? Do you have all the resources needed to achieve the goal? Are the results expected realistic?
R – Relevant – Does the goal make a difference in your career? Is it going to make an improvement in your personal life? Is it going to significantly make a difference to your business/academic career?
T – Time-Bound – Does the goal state a clear and specific completion date?
List potential problems that might keep you from completing your goal.
Goal Completion Date.
At the bottom of the worksheet, there is space to list up to 7 action items and determine when they need to be completed by.
Click here to see this worksheet and download it for your classroom.
3 PPTs to use in the Classroom
If you want some ready-made positive psychology PowerPoint presentations that you can use in your classroom or as templates for putting your own unique spin on goal setting, these three slideshows are a good place to start:
Goal Setting for Students from Accent on Success
Setting Goals for Middle School and Beyond from Mrs. Hoveling
SMART Goals Interactive PowerPoint from Teachers Pay Teachers
A Look at Goal Setting in Elementary and Middle School
Goal setting is a bit trickier in elementary and middle school than in high school. Younger children generally need a bit more guidance and supervision when setting and striving towards goals, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot!
Use the games, worksheets, and activities below to teach goal setting to your elementary and middle school students.
5 Games and Worksheets for Elementary Students (PDF)
1. Pressure Cooker
This game is a great way to get your elementary students to use their critical thinking skills.
It was designed to:
Be highly interactive and energetic
Foster critical thinking
Work in small spaces
It takes only 15 to 20 minutes to play, keeping it within the attention span of the average elementary school student. You can have up to 7 players.
Here’s what you’ll need to play:
A long rope (around 7 meters)
One numbered spot marker per player
Here’s how the game works:
In advance, lay a long rope on the floor/ground to form a large circle.
Collect and number as many spot markers as you have people in your group.
Randomly distribute the numbered spot markers inside the circle.
Ask each person to stand on top of one of the spot markers.
When ready, instruct each individual to move to and touch every other spot in the ascending order of the numbers.
For example, the person standing on spot #8 will move to 9, 10, 11 and 12 (presuming there are 12 people in the group,) before moving
to 1, 2, 3 through to 8.
As soon as an individual has touched all of the spot-markers and returns to their own, they will exit the circle.
Challenge your group to perform this task as accurately and as fast as possible.
Furthermore, challenge your group to solve this problem without stepping outside of the (roped) circle or touching any other person in the process (touching elsewhere within the circle is permitted.)
Encourage your group to make as many attempts as possible within a specified time period, aiming to improve their performance with each attempt.
Allow ample time for planning and problem-solving.
Click here to download the activity sheet and see popular variations on the game.
2. Cat on Yer Head
This silly game was designed to work with crowds and can accommodate medium to large groups.
The benefits of this game include:
Very playful and fun
The more the merrier!
It only takes 2 to 5 minutes to play, making it an excellent warm-up game. All you’ll need to play is some balloons and a stopwatch to keep track of time.
To play the game, follow these instructions:
Choose or invite two volunteers seated in opposing corners of the room.
Nominate one of these people to be the Cat, and the other person to be the Mouse.
Announce that the Cat and the Mouse will soon move positions very quickly.
To help identify where the Cat (or Mouse) is at any time, they must say the word “CAT” (or “MOUSE”) loudly over and over.
The Cat and Mouse move whenever the person with it taps any person close to them on the shoulder.
Practice this calling and tapping movement for 5 to 10 seconds to gauge understanding.
Remind your group that both the Cat and the Mouse can be moved around the audience in any direction, at any time.
Announce that the Cat has 30 seconds to catch (tag) the person with the Mouse.
When ready, call “GO.”
If the Cat catches the Mouse before the time expires, the Cat wins.
If the Mouse survives for 30 seconds, the Mouse wins.
Play several rounds and/or try a variation.
If you’d like to give this game a shot with your students, click here for the full game description and more information.
3. Longest Shadow
This is a quick problem-solving game that requires nothing but the sun! It’s good for up to 7 players and only takes 5 to 10 minutes to play.
Why would you choose the Longest Shadow?
It’s simple to set up.
It inspires creativity.
It fosters collaboration.
It requires no props!
Here’s how the game works:
Invite your group outside on a bright, sunny day within a wide open space.
Challenge your group to work together to position themselves in a manner that casts the longest shadow possible.
Each group starts with their shadow touching a common starting line.
To heighten the challenge and govern fair-play:
The shadow must be one continuous line (i.e., all shadows must be connected); and
Only bodies may be used to cast a shadow (i.e., no clothing or other props).
Allow the group to have as many attempts as possible within 10 minutes.
Measure and record the longest shadow.
To see the full game description and learn about popular variations of this game, click here.
4. Paper Holding
This fun and easy game is great for small groups and facilitates team-building.
You might want to try this game if you’re looking for something that:
Is an innovative challenge.
Is very playful and fun!
It takes only 5 to 10 minutes to play and all you need is some paper.
Follow these steps to play the Paper Holding game:
Form into teams of three to five people.
By way of demonstration, ask two people from a team to volunteer and hold one sheet of paper between the palms of one of their hands.
Each team is challenged to assist two of their group members to hold as many pieces of paper
off the ground by using only their bodies.
To guide fair play, announce that:
Only one sheet of paper can be affixed between any two body parts.
No adhesives can be used to hold paper to one’s body.
Folding the paper is not permitted.
Each sheet of paper must be in contact with both team members.
No two sheets of paper can be touching.
Distribute sheets of paper to each team, and announce “GO.”
Allow up to 10 minutes and survey the results.
If you want to play this game with your students, you can find more information by clicking here.
Click here to see more games you can use to help students learn about and practice goal setting and goal striving.
5. My Goals Worksheet
It’s not as fun as the games described above, but this worksheet is a great way for your students to practice identifying and planning for their goals.
It only requires them to set two goals and gives them ample room to write them down (although they may need your help with this).
After they have identified two goals, they answer the following prompts for each of them:
This goal is important because…
Steps I’ll take to reach this goal are…
It’s simple, easy, and won’t take more than 10 minutes or so, making it an excellent addition to the goal-setting curriculum either before or after one of the games above.
You can find the worksheet here.
8 Goal Setting Activities for Middle School Students (Incl. Worksheets)
If you’re a teacher of middle schoolers (or anyone else that interacts with several middle schoolers on a regular basis), these activities and worksheets will provide you with plenty of options for adding goal-setting into the curriculum.
1. Make a Family Bucket List
Making a bucket list is a great way to set goals, and this activity involves the whole family in the goal-setting practice. It’s a great way to both model goal setting and encourages your children to practice it themselves, all at once.
Here’s how to do it:
Get your family together and collect a piece of paper and some markers.
As a family, brainstorm a list of accomplishments, experiences, or achievement goals that you want to work towards as a family over the next year.
At the end of the year, look back over your list and see what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate the goals you accomplished as a family.
Encourage your children to use online tools like Trello or Evernote to help create this bucket list and/or to create one for themselves.
2. Draw a Wheel of Fortune
The wheel of fortune is a fun way to introduce goal setting in different areas of life. It will show your children that you don’t need to keep your goals limited to school or work, you can set goals in all life domains.
Follow these steps to create and use a wheel of fortune:
Draw a circle and divide it into even segments (like you’re cutting a pizza into slices).
On each segment, write one of the important life domains; for example, you might write “Family,” “Friends,” “School/Work,” “Hobbies,” “Health,” and “Fun.”
For each domain, have your child write out the goals she would like to accomplish. Make sure she keeps the goals to a specific timeline (e.g., a month, 3 months, a year).
Make sure to help her keep track of her progress throughout the timeline you chose.
3. Create a Vision Board
Vision boards are a great way to plan out your goals, especially the big ones that are especially meaningful to you. Helping your children or students create a vision board will challenge them, get them thinking about what is most important to them, and encourage them to stay motivated in striving towards their goals.
Here’s how to create an effective vision board:
Gather some old magazines (you can also draw pictures, use newspapers, print out some pictures, etc.) and have your students cut out some pictures that represent their hopes and dreams for the future.
Help your students arrange the pictures on a piece of cardboard and use glue to secure them in place. You can also provide glitter, stickers, ribbons, markers, and anything else they might like to decorate their vision board with.
Ask your students to describe what each picture represents and how he or she plans to work toward that goal. If your class is too large or you have some shy students, ask them to write it down instead of sharing it out to the group.
Send them home with their vision board or hang it somewhere in the classroom if there’s space for all of them.
4. Play 3 Stars and a Wish
This is a fun and easy game that you can play with your students or your children to help them start thinking about their goals.
It’s a simple activity with simple rules:
Ask your students or children to come up with three “stars,” or things that they do well. The sky is the limit for this activity—the thing they’re good at can be anything from a subject in school to a quality that makes him or her a good friend.
Now that they have their three stars, tell them to come up with a “wish” to complement their stars; the wish should be something that the children need to work on or would like to get better at. Again, they are only limited by their imagination. They can pick any goal, as long as it is meaningful and important to them.
This activity will not only help them come up with important goals, but it will also help them develop the self-belief they need to succeed.
5. Ask Fun Questions
Asking questions is a great way to get your children or students thinking about what is important to them, what they’d like to achieve or accomplish, and how they can get there.
There are tons of fun questions out there, but here are a couple of examples to get you started:
Ask your students “What would you do if you won the lottery?” or “If you had a superpower, how would you use it?”
Listen to their answers and encourage them to be detailed.
Discuss how they can take their fate into their own hands by making a plan to achieve the hopes, goals, and dreams they identified in their answers.
Continue the discussion as often as you can to make sure they are still thinking about their long-term goals and actively planning ways to reach them.
6. Interest Maps
Interest maps are best for older students, so you may want to save this for upper middle school or junior high students.
Here’s how to help your children or students create an interest map:
Ask your students to think about what they like to do. Do they like art? Science? Writing? Sports? Have them think about all of their interests and favorite things to do, and write them down.
Help them look through their list of interests and see if they can find any patterns; for example, maybe most of their interests involve helping other people or being outside.
Have them create an interest map by creating a web of circles and filling them in with their interests in a way that makes sense (e.g., similar interests by one another).
Based on their interest map, assist them in creating goals that are relevant and meaningful to them.
This activity will help your students learn more about themselves, which is a vital prerequisite to setting good goals.
7. Goal Ladders
This activity is good for slightly older children, so upper middle-schoolers or junior high students are best suited for this one.
Help your children or students break their goals down into manageable chunks by using a stair visual, with each chunk on a different step.
Grab a visual of a staircase and guide your child through the activity like this:
First, have your child write down “Dream” at the top of the staircase.
Next, have him write down his first goal at the very bottom step of the staircase and the first action towards that goal.
Instruct him to create the second goal and the first action towards it on the next step up.
Instruct him to create the third goal and the first action towards it on the next step up after that.
Have him continue “climbing” the stairs until there is an unbroken sequence of goals and actions between the first goal at the bottom and the dream at the top.
To see the source for these activities, check out Ashley Cullins’ piece on goal setting for children here.
8. My Goals Worksheet
This worksheet is an effective tool for encouraging children to think more about their goals and plan on how to meet them.
At the top of the worksheet, there is a box for them to identify their goal and a box to note the target date for completion of their goal.
Next, they are asked to identify three actions that will allow them to reach their goal. These should be relevant and realistic actions that will lead them to completing their goal by their target date.
At the bottom, there is space to explain how they will know they’ve reached their goal (e.g., what will it look like when they achieve their goal, what the outcome will be). Plus, they are prompted to come up with two things that will help them stick to working towards their goal (e.g., an encouraging friend, a motivating thought).
To see this worksheet or download it for use in your classroom, click here.
Goal Setting for High School Students
At the high school level, goal setting gets a bit easier to teach, but not necessarily easier to learn and implement for the students! High school brings with it all kinds of distractions that can make setting good goals a challenge.
5 Activities and Worksheets for High School Students (PDF)
Use the activities and worksheets described below to help your older students navigate effective goal setting.
1. Smarties Warm-Up Activity
You can use this activity to get students warmed up and ready to think about goal setting. All you’ll need is two rolls of Smarties candies (or a similar round, stackable candy) per student and 5 minutes.
The students’ task is to stack as many Smarties as they can in one vertical column in one minute—but they can only use one hand. Before they begin, have them set a goal for themselves by estimating the number of Smarties they think they’ll be able to stack.
Start the timer and have the students start stacking! Once the timer hits one minute, instruct your students to stop stacking and count up their candy.
Next, you’ll guide them through the scoring guidelines:
The Smarties must be standing 5 seconds after the time ends to count.
If the goal is NOT reached, each candy stacked is worth 5 points.
If the goal IS reached, each candy stacked is worth 10 points up to the goal, and 5 points for each additional candy stacked over the goal.
For example, say a student sets a goal of 15 Smarties stacked.
If the student stacked 10 Smarties, they would score 5 points per candy for a total of 50 points.
If the student stacked 15 Smarties, they would score 10 points per candy for a total of 150 points.
If the student stacked 18 Smarties, they would score 10 points per candy up to 15 (150 points) and 5 points per candy up to 18 (15 points) for a total of 165 points.
Have the students calculate their score then determine who stacked the most candies and who had the highest score—due to the scoring, this may not be the same person. Discuss any unusual approaches students used, if any.
See more activities and a full lesson plan on setting goals with high schoolers here.
2. Action for Goals Worksheet
This worksheet is a great reminder for students that setting goals on its own won’t get you anywhere—you need to set mini goals and identify action steps on the way to your larger goal.
The worksheet provides an example of a larger goal and the mini goals and action steps that will lead to it:
Overall Goal: I will learn to play a musical instrument proficiently in 5 years.
I will determine which instrument I would like to play.
I will find a tutor/teacher and begin taking lessons weekly.
I will practice daily for 60 minutes.
Using this as a template, students are given the space to write down four goals and come up with 3 mini goals or action steps per goal and provided with these instructions: “In each box below, state a goal that is important to you and then identify the mini goals/action statements needed.”
Completing this worksheet will help your students get in the right frame of mind for goal setting and goal striving, and keep them cognizant of the effort required to actually meet their goals after setting them.
You can find this worksheet at this link.
3. My Goals Worksheet
The My Goals worksheet is a good way to help your students figure out what their goals are and refine them into ones that are relevant, meaningful, and motivating.
Here’s how it works:
There are 4 boxes on the worksheet:
Work or School
These boxes surround one oval marked “Me.”
Students are instructed to “Describe your needs in each of the following categories below; from those needs, determine what good goal statements would be. In the middle box, describe yourself.”
Good goal setting requires healthy reflection and an understanding of who we are and what we want, which this activity is sure to help your students build upon.
View, download, or print the My Goals worksheet by clicking here.
4. Rate Yourself Worksheet
Another great activity to try before setting goals is to rate yourself on your need for goal setting in each life domain—in other words, to determine how much you are in need of improvement in each area.
This worksheet provides you with an easy way to get your students to rate themselves in 12 different life domains. The instructions at the top state:
“Before setting goals for yourself, determine where the need is by completing the scale below. Once completed, prioritize them from greatest to least need.”
The scale given to students for their use in rating is as follows:
Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
The 12 domains listed for students to rate their need are:
Friends and Relationships
Career or School
Sense of Belonging
Hobbies / Sports
To use this worksheet with your high schoolers, follow this link.
5. Goal Setting: Learning from the Past
It’s also important to think about your past goals and taking inventory of what went well, what didn’t, and any other lessons learned. This worksheet can guide your students through that process.
It opens with an explanation of why it’s an important practice:
“Before setting new goals, it’s important to look back to previous goals you have set and learn from them. Analyze why you reached those goals or why you didn’t reach those goals.”
Next, the worksheet presents several questions and prompts to help the user think it through:
Previous goal(s) I have set:
Were goals achieved?
List the reasons the goals were achieved or not, be specific:
What barriers did you encounter with previous goals? What can you do to confront barriers and obstacles to reaching your goal(s)?
In summary, what did you learn from your previous goal(s)?
Be ready to help your students with useful prompts or examples in case they need help, and discuss their answers with them after they’ve completed the activity.
Click here to see this worksheet.
Goal Setting for College Students
Image via Stocksnap
By the time students reach college, they are generally at least somewhat familiar with goal setting techniques and have a minimum level of competence in setting effective goals; however, that doesn’t mean they have no work left to do!
Goal setting and striving are made up of a set of skills that can be increased and enhanced throughout life—there is no maximum level of skill one can have in setting good goals.
9 Activities and Games for College Students
The activities and games described here can help you give your college students the push they need to further develop their goal-setting skills.
Goal Setting for the First-Time College Student
This is a great activity for new college students, as it shows them the importance of setting good goals and planning to achieve them.
Here’s how to get your new students thinking critically about their goals:
Ask them to answer the questions in this activity as profoundly and honestly as they can.
Instruct them to think of at least categories of life goals:
Relationships with other people (family, friends, work relationships)
Work or career goals
Other personal achievement activity goals (hobbies, travel, athletics, etc.)
Have them take a few moments to visualize what their life would be like if it was perfect.
Hand out six 3 x 5 index cards to each student and have them number them 1 through 6.
Allow one minute for Part 1:
On the first card, have your students answer this prompt: “How do you want to spend the rest of your life? Make a list of activities and goals for the rest of your life.”
Allow one minute for Part 2:
On the second card, have them answer this prompt: “What do you want to do the next 5 to 10 years? Again, list activities and goals.”
Allow one minute for Part 3:
On the third card, have them answer this prompt: “If you had six months to live, how would you spend it? List activities and goals.”
Allow one minute for Part 4:
Have them go over the first three cards and add or delete any item that has come to mind since the beginning of the exercise.
Allow one minute for Part 5:
Card 4, line 1: Have your students select the goal or activity from card one that they most desire to achieve and write it there.
Allow one minute for Part 6:
Card 4, line 2: Have your students select the goal or activity from card two that they most desire to achieve and write it there.
Allow one minute for Part 7:
Card 4, line 3: Have your students select the goal or activity from card three that they most desire to achieve and write it there.
Allow three minutes for Part 8:
On card 6, have your students write as many things as they could do in the next 7 days to further the goals they wrote down on card 4. This part isn’t about feasibility, but creativity and comprehensiveness, so tell them not to worry about how possible or likely these things are yet.
Allow one minute for Part 9:
Instruct your students to scratch out any item on card 5 that they don’t actually intend to do or think they can’t do.
Allow one minute for Part 10:
Have your students choose three items from card 5 that they will do in the next 7 days and write them down on card 6.
To further the goal-setting practice, you can share the worksheet at the end of this activity with your students.
It poses 8 prompts for students to answer:
My long-range goals to complete in the next 2-3 years are:
Steps I need to take to achieve these (long-range) goals are:
My mid-range goals to complete in the next 1 year are:
Steps I need to take to achieve these (mid-range) goals are:
My short-range goals to complete by the first day of the semester are:
Steps I need to take to achieve these (short-range) goals are:
My immediate goals for the next month are:
Steps I need to take to achieve these (immediate) goals are:
To see this activity and the worksheet attached to it, click here.
8 Activities to Think About Goal Setting
This list of activities to help students think about goal setting comes from the Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships (STEPP) Program, a program designed to help students with learning disabilities succeed in college. It’s not just helpful for students with learning disabilities though—the activities can be helpful for anyone who wants to improve their goal setting skills.
The activities include:
Thinking About You – What qualities do you like most about yourself? What qualities would you like to improve?
Thinking About Others – What qualities do you admire in others (i.e., qualities you see in specific people, and/or those you admire in general)?
Values – Identify your top 5 values. What is most important to you? Why?
Strengths vs. Weaknesses – What are you good at? What is difficult for you?
Likes vs. Dislikes – Identify things you strongly like and dislike (e.g., places, activities, classes, foods, events, people, etc.). Why do you like/dislike these?
Super-You – Imagine you are a superhero? What would your superpower be? What would your “kryptonite” (vulnerability) be?
Back to the Future – Picture yourself 5 years from today and consider where you would like to be, who you would like to be with, and what you would like to be doing. Then ask the same questions for 10, 20, and even 50 years down the road.
Pushing Up Daisies – Imagine that you have passed away at the age of 100, and someone close to you is about to give the eulogy at your memorial service. What do you most want them to say about you?
These 8 activities will give your students a great head start on thinking about their goals and how they plan to reach them.
Click here to see these 8 activities and other helpful tips and tricks on goal setting for college students.
Recommended Books on the Topic
To learn more about goal setting for children and students, check out these six popular books on the subject:
My Happy Place: A Children’s Self-Reflection and Personal Growth Journal with Creative Exercises, Fun Activities, Inspirational Quotes, Gratitude, Dreaming, Goal Setting, Coloring In, and Much More – Sheleen Lepar and Helene Pam (Amazon)
Future Lady Boss: Goal Setting Journal by Suzie Luv (Amazon)
Student Achievement Goal Setting: Using Data to Improve Teaching and Learning – Leslie Grant and James Stronge (Amazon)
Every Kid’s Guide to Goals: How to Choose, Set, and Achieve Goals That Matter to You – Karleen Tauszik (Amazon)
Levi’s Great & Wonderful Life: A Child’s Story About Overcoming Fears, Setting Goals, & Achieving Success Through Visualization – Brandon Vannoy (Amazon)
My Simple Book of Goals: Goal-Setting Journal for Youth – Alicia Hadley (Amazon)
Then we have an additional article where we take an in-depth look at the best goal-setting books.
4 Recommended Videos
If you don’t have time to read a full book at the moment but want a little more knowledge about goal setting for children, give these four videos a try:
Setting Goals – McMasterUTV
CashVille Kidz Episode 11: Goal & Goal Setting – CashVilleKidz
Goal Setting Growth Mindset – Michelle Turner
Setting SMART Goals – How to Properly Set a Goal from Better Than Yesterday
A Take-Home Message
In this piece, we described goal setting for children, explained why it’s important, and provided some resources to help you teach your children or students about goal setting.
I hope you found this piece helpful and that you have some ideas about how to encourage successful goal setting and striving in your children or students.
What are your thoughts on goal setting for children? Does it need to be approached in a different way than goal setting for adults? How do you think it’s best to get started? Let us know in the comments section!
Thanks for reading, and happy goal setting!
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Goucher College Office of Student Engagement. (n.d.). Goal setting. Goucher College OSE Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.goucher.edu/experience/getting-involved/leadership/documents/Goal-Setting.pdf
Matthews, G. (2015). Goal research summary. Paper presented at the 9th Annual International Conference of the Psychology Research Unit of Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER), Athens, Greece.
O’Neill, J. (2000). SMART goals, SMART schools. Educational Leadership, 57, 46-50.
Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25, 71-86. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep2501_6
Schunk, D. H. (2003). Self-efficacy for reading and writing: Influence of modeling, goal setting, and self-evaluation. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 19, 159-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560308219
The Peak Performance Center. (n.d.). Benefits of goal setting. Peak Performance Center Development Series. Retrieved from http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/development-series/skill-builder/personal-effectiveness/goal-setting/benefits-of-goal-setting/