Helping ESL Students Set Goals

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn strategies for helping English as a Second Language (ESL) students set goals. The strategies provided can be adapted for a variety of ages and grade levels.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Goal-setting is an important precursor to learning. Without goals, students are often aimless and lack motivation because they aren't sure what they're working towards. Helping students set goals can inspire them to work hard to achieve success.

With traditional students who are native English speakers, goal-setting can be as simple as keeping a journal or writing an essay on goals they wish to achieve. With ESL students, however, the lack of English proficiency can sometimes be a barrier to establishing goals.

Let's look at some specific strategies that you can use with ESL students in your classroom to help them define and reach their goals.

Goal-Setting Sentence Frames

For starters, ESL students may lack the language necessary to create goals. Sentence frames are pre-written templates that students fill in to complete a sentence. Providing students with sentence frames takes pressure off of them to create a grammatically correct, comprehensible sentence. It allows them to focus on what they're saying rather than how they're saying it.

Sentence frames also model the correct structure of a complete thought, so they serve as a model for students. Eventually, with the reduced stress associated with writing, along with modeling the correct form, students become more proficient writers.

Here are some examples of sentence frames that can be provided to ESL students for setting goals:

  • My goal is to _____.
  • I would like to _____ by the end of _____.
  • To achieve this goal, I will _____.
  • When I achieve my goal, I will reward myself by _____.
  • One long-term goal I have is _____.

Here are examples of how students might complete these sentence frames:

  • My goal is to learn new vocabulary words.
  • I would like to learn 10 new vocabulary words by the end of January.
  • To achieve this goal, I will write down new words on note cards and study them.
  • When I achieve my goal, I will reward myself by getting a new book.
  • One long-term goal I have is to work at a bank.


Students often need support from classmates in order to do their best. You can make goal-setting a collaborative classroom activity by encouraging all students to set goals and share them with their classmates.

One way to do this is to use some empty wall space in your classroom, or a bulletin board, to create a large grid with tape, paper, or markers. Inside of each square on the grid, each student can post a sticky note with their name and one goal they hope to accomplish by the end of the month, quarter, semester, or some other interval. As a class, you can visit the goal-setting grid regularly to check-in on students' progress. Students might even want to add a sticker to their note whenever a goal has been achieved.

This collaborative process can be highly motivating for ESL students and can help reinforce the importance of setting academic goals.

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