Setting Objectives : Part Two

If you are following a training course, such as the CELTA or DELTA, you will be asked to write out your lesson objectives as part of the lesson plan you present before your teaching practice. Why is this necessary? Firstly because your tutor needs to understand what is in your mind, exactly what you are trying to do, in order to be able to evaluate whether the lesson was appropriate for the students and how well you succeed in doing what you wanted to. But even more important, writing out your objectives (as with all the other sections of the lesson plan) forces you to clarify your own ideas. If you have difficulty formulating a clear and precise objective (and don’t worry, everyone does!), it’s often a sign that you haven’t really thought through what you want to achieve in the lesson.

What are the different types of objective which may be included in the lesson ? Those that spring immediately to mind are language system objectives (functional/structural, lexical, phonological) and skills objectives. Here are some examples :

Functional/Structural Objectives
  • Students will be able to talk about past events with a present result using the present perfect simple
  • Students will be able to make polite requests for action using Would you mind + Ving
Lexical Objectives
  • Students will consolidate and extend their knowledge of lexis associated with crime and the police : robbery, fraud, a trial, to be tried …, to be charged with … to be sentenced … etc
  • Students will understand the use of the prefix over- with adjectives and verbs to mean too much : overweight, overtired, overcook, oversleep etc.
Phonological Objectives
  • Students will be able to distinguish receptively and productively between the phonemes /k/ and /g/
  • Students will be able to produce the rising then falling tones of questions offering closed alternatives : Is he French or Spanish? Is her name Louise or Luisa?
Skills Objectives
  • Students will consolidate their ability to infer unknown words from context in a reading text.
  • Students will start to develop the ability to “listen between the lines” to infer implicit but not explicitly stated information.
  • Students will consolidate their ability to use circumlocution strategies to explain words which they don’t know in English.
  • Students will be able to recognise and produce topic sentences for paragraphs in a text discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a particular thematic area.
Objectives are not always fully clear without knowledge of the teacher’s assumptions. For example the objective focusing on the present perfect. Have the students already met other uses of the present perfect? If so, then obviously the teacher can assume knowledge of the structure itself and needs to focus only on the new use. If not, then the focus must include the structure – the use of Have auxiliary + the past participle, and the negative and interrogative patterns.

However, the lesson may also have other objectives concerned not so much with what the students learn but rather with how they learn. These objectives may focus for example on learning strategies, or affective variables and classroom culture :
  • Students will be discuss five different methods of recording vocabulary in their vocabulary notebooks and evaluate their effectiveness for promoting learning.
  • Students will start to get to know each other as people and to develop a group identity.
  • Students will start to get used to changing seats and partners regularly during the lesson.
What traps do teachers often fall into when formulating objectives? Each of the following objectives illustrates one or more common problems. See if you can identify them before you read the analysis which follows.
  • To teach the present continuous
  • Students will learn question tags
  • Students will do a roleplay
Let’s look at the first objective : To teach the present continuous. Two problems here. Firstly, it’s very imprecise. Which functions of the present continuous – temporary on-going events or future arrangements. And which forms – affirmative? negative? interrogative? short forms? The second problem is the verb to teach. Stated like that, I could lecture to a group of teddy bears and still claim to have reached my objective. Objectives need to focus not on what you do but on what the students will learn.

So is the second objective OK? No. Learn is still too imprecise. What does it mean – understand the meaning when they see or hear the tags, or be able to use them appropriately themselves? And again, which question tags are we talking about – those used to invite confirmation (It’s cold today, isn’t it?) those used when the speaker is genuinely not sure (What do you mean you’re going to the hospital. Your appointment’s tomorrow, isn’t it? ) or those used when the speaker is being ironic or confrontational (Oh, so I’m a fool, am I?) Not only does the use differ but so do the structural and intonation patterns of the three types.

What about the third? This is actually not a lesson objective at all but an activity. The objective is not the roleplay itself but the language or skills the students will consolidate by doing it.
Once you know what your objectives are, you can start to think about how you need to stage the lesson in order to reach them. We'll look at this in the next article in this occasional series on lesson planning.

Photo provided under Creative Commons Licence by Dyl-tron! via flickr

Further Reading ...

Woodward, T. Planning Lessons and Courses CUP

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