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Creative Ways to Set Personal & Academic Goals with Students

January 20, 2023

January is a time when thoughts turn to the upcoming year and the goals we want to set for ourselves. New Year’s resolutions are a great topic to discuss with your students at this time of year! It’s also a fun way to teach them about goal-setting.

Teaching your students how to set goals has many benefits, including:

  • helping learners develop a growth mindset
  • increasing students’ motivation
  • giving students focus and purpose
  • ensuring accountability by putting the responsibility on students to achieve their goals
  • creating a foundation for students to advocate for their needs
  • empowering learners and boosting self-confidence

Try these easy, creative ideas for turning personal and academic goals into an educational experience. You’ll read about some important benefits for both teachers and students when it comes to setting personal and academic goals.

Person with thought bubbles of a guitar, money and person doing push ups

Setting personal goals with students

Personal goals are short- or long-term lifestyle-related objectives (relationships, hobbies, finances, etc.) that your student would like to attain in the new year. 

For example, your student may want to exercise more during the week, learn how to play guitar, or save money to invest in real estate.

There are many ways you can introduce personal goal-setting to your students—from verbal class activities to written exercises.

Small talk

It’s time to get your students talking with some small talk! 

Put your language learners into pairs or groups and have them discuss their personal goals for the new year. You could even do it as a whole class, especially if you brainstormed common New Year’s resolutions first. This topic would work well as a warm-up or filler.


Presentations are a great way to get your students speaking in front of a group, which is an important professional skill to learn. Additionally, the student presenting can provide valuable listening practice for the rest of the class.

Have students prepare mini-presentations about their goals for the year. You could even make them choose one specific goal and get them to present their step-by-step plan for achieving that goal.


Want students to practice writing in English? Have them write a blog-style piece on their personal goals. Try Ellii’'s lesson on How to Write a Blog Post.


Turn goal-setting into a more formal writing assignment by having students prepare an essay with an intro, body, and conclusion about their plans for the new year. This could be done in class or for homework.

Students struggling to focus on their objectives?

Help them get their language learning back on track with simple goals that improve focus.

Student sprinting up steps made of books

Setting academic goals with students

Academic goals are short- or long-term education-related objectives that your student would like to accomplish during the term or course.

Academic goals are a great way to give your learners direction and motivate them throughout their language learning journey. 

An example of an academic goal could be that your student may want to improve their English conversation skills or learn how to write an email in English

For setting academic goals with your students, try these effective exercises. 

Group discussions

Put students into groups and tell them to choose the top three areas that they want to focus on this year in order to improve their English. Have them talk about some of the challenges they will need to overcome in order to reach their learning goals.

Students will appreciate sharing common language learning obstacles with each other through group discussions. Finding out they have similar academic goals as their classmates (e.g., improving pronunciation) means they will feel more connected and be more willing to help each other out.

Having group discussions will also give valuable insight to the teacher about areas each individual student wants to improve. 

Keep a list so that you can focus on each student’s needs throughout the year and offer encouragement or suggestions for improvement in this area whenever possible. Use this information later in the year to point out how much the student has improved in this particular area.

Make sure the goals are realistic!

If a student says, “I want to be fluent in English this year” and they are a low-level student, you can gently remind them that language learning is a long process. Suggest setting a smaller, more attainable SMART goal, such as “I want to improve my vocabulary by learning five new English words per week” or “I want to understand gerunds and infinitives so that I can pass next month’s grammar test.”

Grammar lesson on the simple future

Teaching a grammar lesson on the simple future verb tense will naturally lead to a discussion about future plans.

You can present this verb tense in two ways: 

  1. Teach the grammar first and then discuss future plans.
  2. Discuss future plans first to elicit the grammar naturally, and then teach the finer points of the verb tense. 

Ellii has many teaching resources on the simple future:

Goal-setting isn’t just for students!

From exercising more to learning a new skill, everyone has goals they’d like to achieve—even teachers. What are some personal and academic objectives you’re looking to accomplish in and outside of the classroom this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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