Defining aims with clear lesson objectives

What is the goal of your lesson?

When you design a lesson, it’s really important to have a clear picture of the lesson objective. In other words, what do you want the children to be able to do at the end of the lesson? The clearer your objective, the easier it is to design a well-focused lesson with space for differentiation. The objective serves as the touchstone for your lesson activities, as you can use it to answer the question of whether or not a given activity helps your children achieve that objective.

In my work as a teacher trainer, I regularly come across examples of lesson objectives including the words ‘know’, ‘understand’, or ‘has insight into’. For instance, ‘At the end of the lesson, the children will know how to count to 10.’ Sounds okay, right? Until, of course, you have to figure out exactly how you will see that the children actually know how to count to 10. We cannot open up their heads and look inside, so the children have to do something in order to demonstrate that knowledge.

One question we need to think about is whether or not the new knowledge will need to be applied receptively or productively. Will they need to demonstrate understanding of the new knowledge through listening or reading tasks, or produce output during speaking or writing tasks? Examples of receptive application might be ‘the child can point to the correct number when it is named,’ or ‘the child can match the number with the correct amount.’ Examples of productive application might be ‘the child can correctly count aloud the number of objects by pointing at each one,’ or ‘the child can write the correct number when it is named.’ Each of these objectives include an observable behavior, making the child’s learning visible.

In turn, these objectives define the kind of lesson activities you design. If the child needs to learn how to match numbers and amounts, then you need to create activities where children practice this. You can make it interactive by giving children cards with various numbers and amounts. They can find their ‘other half’ by walking around the classroom and asking their classmates what they have. This activity has the added benefit of increasing learner speaking time and gives them space to practice matching numbers and amounts. You can also reinforce the concept of matching number and amount with a game of memory, where – again – the children practice naming the numbers and amounts they see on the cards.

Then there is the question of what kind of thinking you wish to stimulate in your classroom. Many foreign language lessons focus on rote learning of new words, practicing grammatical structures, and practicing sample dialogues. These lessons focus on what are called lower-order thinking skills (LOTS). They are useful and necessary, but don’t stimulate children to use the language creatively or in more open contexts. A lesson that encourages the use of higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) will give children space to use the language in new ways, for instance to write their own dialoges, to change a story, or even write their own song.

This is where Bloom’s taxonomy comes in handy. Bloom’s taxonomy is a way of looking at different kinds of thinking. There are six basic kinds of thinking: remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating, and creating. The first three are considered lower-level thinking, and the last three are higher-level thinking. Here is an illustration of the different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

This video is a very clear explanation for how teachers can use this in their teaching:

LOTS objectives form a needed basis for children’s learning, but HOTS objectives are the ones that will inspire them to use the language in new and challenging contexts. For instance, a LOTS objective might be, ‘Children can name ten animals Old MacDonald had on his farm.’ A HOTS objective might be ‘Design a farm for Old MacDonald for at least ten different animals.’ There are differences in the insights a child will need in order to complete the second task: what animals are there, on Old MacDonald’s farm? Are these animals large or small? What does a farm look like? Do the animals live in a coop, a barn, on a meadow, or on a pond? The HOTS lesson objective may require more time to achieve, but the children will be more involved in the lesson as they design a farm that will meet the needs of each animal and learn to talk about it with their classmates.

In short, a well-written lesson objective includes a verb describing observable language behavior. It describes the sort of language use you want to see – receptive or productive – and defines the level of thinking you want to stimulate in your lesson. This lesson objective creates focus in your lesson, so that you select and design activities that contribute towards the successful completion of the given objective.

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