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Using Action Verbs for Learning Objectives

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

Writing learning objectives can be tricky. This lesson describes how to write specific learning objectives using action verbs. It also discusses choosing the right action verb for different types of learning as well as pitfalls to avoid.

What are Learning Objectives?

Learning Objectives are written statements that indicate what students are able to do at the end of a lesson. It's not sufficient to have students understand or know the material, but they need to be able to demonstrate their learning. Objectives should be specific and measurable, which is why we use action verbs in writing educational objectives.

Do you ever have trouble writing learning objectives for your lessons? Often we know what we want our students to learn, but more importantly, we need to decide what we want our students to be able to do after a particular lesson or class.

For example, we can teach a lesson about United States Geography, but what do we want our students to be able to do afterwards? List the 50 States? Label them on a map? Describe geographical differences between States? Redraw State boundaries according to the population density of each State? There are so many choices!

Depending on what you want students to be able to DO at the end of a lesson, it will help us choose the right action verb for writing an instructional objective. Instructional objectives often will depend on the overall curriculum plan and the level of the learners, but it also involves the teacher's influence in designing a lesson.

Classifying Action Verbs

Objectives are often classified according to different types of learning outcomes. The most commonly used is Bloom's Revised Taxonomy where there are six different classifications of cognitive learning: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.

For each classification, or domain, there are common action verbs which target the level of learning outcomes we want students to achieve.

Here are some examples, but there are many more!

If we want students to REMEMBER something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: define, recall, spell, select, list, or find.

If we want students to UNDERSTAND something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: compare, contrast, demonstrate, relate, summarize, or explain.

If we want students to APPLY something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: apply, model, solve, develop, construct, or use.

If we want students to ANALYZE something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: analyze, classify, distinguish, compare, contrast, or categorize.

If we want students to EVALUATE something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: recommend, assess, evaluate, judge, prioritize, or decide.

If we want students to CREATE something they've learned, we may use some of these action verbs: build, design, improve, plan, modify, construct.

Choosing The Best Action Verb

You'll notice that some action verbs can be used in more than one classification. For example, compare and contrast can be used to show understanding of lesson content or it can be used to analyze what students have learned. When designing a lesson, you can consider all the options and choose your action verbs accordingly. Not only will our lesson objective direct how we teach the material, but it will also be used when developing the testing criteria.

You'll also notice that verbs such as remember, learn, or know are not listed. These are more general verbs and are better for writing goals, not specific learning objectives. Because they are not action verbs they are difficult to measure. It's hard to describe how much you want a student to remember, learn, or know, so we use more specific action verbs instead.

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