Learning objectives, or learning outcomes, define the goals and expectations of a lesson. Learning objectives for individual lessons connect to the broader goals of a unit or course. Not only do learning objectives help you plan your curriculum, they also let students know what they will have learned by the end of a particular lesson.
The key to writing learning objectives is to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Your assessment will tell you whether your objective was specific and measurable enough, while the lesson context dictates the objective’s attainability, relevance, and timeliness.
Examples of Good Learning Objectives
The key is writing objectives with realistic – yet challenging – expectations. Well-written objectives are basically assessment plans, making them easy for the rest of your lesson. Check out these learning examples for elementary and secondary students that are easy to measure and observe.
- After a lesson on bullying, students will be able to explain the difference between a bully and a friend by writing a short paragraph that includes a thesis statement and call to action.
- Students will be able to categorize types of animals into the correct classes with a graphic organizer after reading an article on animal traits.
- By working in collaborative literature groups, students will be able to form predictions about the next chapter of Anne of Green Gables using at least three pieces of textual evidence.
- Students will be able to accurately describe their observations in a science journal after completing a week-long terrarium unit.
- By the end of the reading lesson, students will be able to identify the rising action, climax, and falling action on a plot diagram.
- Students will be able to apply their knowledge of the writing process to a peer editing session in which they provide at least five peers with valid feedback.
- After a lesson on the Pythagorean Theorem, students will be able to correctly solve at least 8 out of 10 geometry problems using the theorem.
- Students will be able to evaluate their classmates’ arguments in a Socratic seminar by taking Cornell notes during each discussion.
- Using the Golden Gate Bridge as a model, students will be able to design their own popsicle-stick bridges that can support at least five pounds of weight.
- Students will be able to accurately name the parts of a compass rose after learning a song about the cardinal directions.
- After reading “The Tell-Tale Heart,” students will be able to contrast Poe’s tone with another Romantic author in a short expository paragraph.
- Students will be able to diagram the life cycle of a butterfly in a graphic organizer after reading From Caterpillar to Butterfly.
- After a lesson on place value, students will be able to estimate how many lemons they would need to start a lemonade stand during a class discussion.
- Based on their independent reading books, students will be able to recommend their book to another class member with a one-paragraph book review.
- Students will be able to differentiate between igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks by choosing the correct rock at least five times during partner work.
- After learning about the American election process, students will be able to justify why they would make a great president by writing a campaign jingle.
- Students will be able to compare and contrast the outcomes of World War I and World War II by creating timelines of significant events that occurred immediately after each conflict.
- Based on their knowledge of long division, students will be able to interpret 10 word problems by expressing them in equation form.
- Students will be able to summarize the events of their day in a personal journal after a lesson on reflective writing.
- After a lesson on civil disobedience, students will be able to defend the actions of a civil rights leader in a formal class debate.
These objectives are designed for the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy. There are additional skills to assess in the psychomotor and affective domains which are typically reserved for younger classes or students with special needs.
Components of Learning Objectives
A learning objective is one of the most important parts of a complete lesson plan. Most learning objectives start with a variation of SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To...), followed by clear and measurable language. A well-written objective should paint a vivid picture of what an observer would see in your classroom.
High-quality learning objectives include four elements. These objectives are the basis of the rest of your lesson plan, including the lesson context, procedures, and assessments.
1. What Students Will Be Able to Do
How will this lesson enhance a student’s education? Using strong, specific verbs, you’ll explain what skills your students will be able to exhibit and what level of knowledge they will attain. Note that action words like “write,” “draw,” or “present” are not the skills you are assessing.
Example: Students will be able to identify triangles.
2. How Students Will Demonstrate Their Learning
If someone were to walk into your classroom, how could they tell that students are learning? Use specific actions here, such as “write an introductory paragraph,” that are different from the skills you are assessing.
Example: Students will be able to identify triangles by choosing paper triangles out of a selection of other 2D shapes.
3. The Context for Learning
What will your lesson provide that students can build from? In other words, you should describe the context in which students will be able to demonstrate what they have learned.
Example: After a lesson on the characteristics of triangles, students will be able to identify triangles by choosing paper triangles out of a selection of other 2D shapes.
4. The Criteria for Achieving Proficiency
How will you know that a student has met their objective? Include specific criteria that will indicate how well a student has grasped a skill or concept.
Example: After a lesson on the characteristics of triangles, students will be able to identify triangles by correctly choosing paper triangles out of a selection of other 2D shapes at least 8 out of 10 times.
Examples of Poorly Written Objectives
The biggest mistake teachers make when writing learning objectives is using generic verbs that cannot be observed or measured. Writing objectives without including a visible product is also an avoidable error. Here are some examples of incomplete or poorly written objectives that do not follow the SMART model.
By the end of the lesson, students will understand the significance of World War II.
Mistake: “Understand” is not a measurable verb. There’s no way for students to demonstrate their understanding of whether World War II was significant.
Students will be able to write a full-length research paper and present their findings by the end of the class period.
Mistake: This is not an attainable goal for one class period. The teacher needs to adjust the time or their expectations.
Kindergartners will be able to recall parts of the story, write a summary of what happened, and predict what will happen next.
Mistake: This objective lists three distinct skills. Each lesson should only have one or two objectives, and one skill per objective.
Tips for Writing Learning Objectives
In writing your own learning objectives, keep some of these key pointers in mind:
- Trade generic verbs for strong academic skills. If the word “understand” is in your objective, replace it.
- Remember that if your students have obtained or deepened one skill by the end of your lesson, it’s been successful.
- Write your lesson assessment immediately after your objective, and use the same wording. Your assessment will tell you whether the expectations in your objective were met.
- Find your verb in Bloom’s Taxonomy. If it’s not there, change your objective. If it is there, see if you can move it up one level of complexity.
- “Completing a worksheet” is an assessment, not an objective. Think about what skills your students are demonstrating as they complete the worksheet.
- Keep it simple. Not every objective needs to be complex; your lesson may even be better if it’s straightforward for students.
- Share learning objectives with your class in an “I Will Be Able To...” format. Participating in their own learning is an important skill itself!
More Lesson Plan Resources
Learning objectives for teachers seem tricky, but if they’re done well, they can help you create a strong lesson plan. Check out these tips on writing lesson plans or match your assessment section to the appropriate rubric type. And remember: no matter how solid your lesson plan is, there’s no substitute for quality instruction.