Changing Habits and Reaching Goals

Setting goals and reaching them are two powerful experiences that have a profound impact on children, especially on their habits. Not only does goal setting teach children how to focus on what’s important to them, but it improves their decision-making skills, empowering them to see that they control their futures based on the goals they accomplish. In this New Year, encourage students to think of things they hope to achieve inside and outside the classroom and the practical steps to make it happen.

Elementary and Secondary Lesson

Show students the following video on “Goal Setting”


1. After watching the video, help students define key terms and provide some direct instruction. Use the following script: 

  • “Class, in this brief video, you heard a couple of important words, including 'goals' and 'tasks.' What do you think they mean? (Provide students with an opportunity to provide varying answers.) We define a goal as 'an aim or desired result.' In other words, it is something you want to do or accomplish, such as getting a certain score on a test or learning a new hobby. Tasks are jobs or things we need to complete. Goals can feel hard to reach sometimes, but I have a very simple formula for you to help you set and reach your goals! You just have to remember three steps: realistic, required steps, and reach it. Realistic: Is it a goal that you can actually reach in the time you have to reach it? Required steps: Ask, what do I have to do to meet my goal? These are tasks, in other words. And lastly, reach it: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal?"
  • Provide age-appropriate examples for each step. Have students complete the Goal Setting and Action Planning worksheet, Making My Goals Happen (Elementary) and Action Steps for Goals (Secondary).

2. Break students into small groups of 3-4 and have them share one goal and the steps they plan to take to accomplish that goal. 

3. Conduct a full classroom discussion, giving students the chance to share what they learned about each other about their unique goals. Ask students the following questions and have them share popcorn style: 

  • Why are these goals important to you this year? 
  • How do you think you will feel when these goals are accomplished?
  • Have you ever accomplished a goal before?  

 4. Create a classroom goals list that can be permanently displayed. This should be a compilation of at least one goal shared by each student. Visually acknowledge students as these goals are achieved throughout the year.

Teacher Tips

Many students will share “fun” goals through this exercise. Review with students the importance of setting goals for the things we’re excited about and the things we want to change or improve on. Goal setting and accomplishments also help us change habits one step at a time. Share with students tips on identifying habits they want to change and developing discipline and consistency by repeatedly sticking to smaller goals to change these habits.

Some examples include:

  • "I want to improve my grade in math by one letter. To do this, I will study my math fact flashcards for 15 minutes every day. I also will practice with a study buddy once per week for 30 minutes." 
  • "I want to be more kind to my sister and get along with her better. To do this, I will play a game weekly with her that we both enjoy. I will share something I like about her each day too."