Creating Effective Lesson Objectives

Person writing at desk desk

Cavan Images / Iconica / Getty Images

Lesson objectives are the key element in creating effective lesson plans. The reason for this is that without stated objectives, there is no measure of whether a particular lesson plan produces the desired learning results. Therefore, you need to spend time before creating a lesson plan by writing effective objectives.

Focus of Lesson Objectives

To be complete and effective, objectives must include two elements. They must:

  1. Define what students will learn;
  2. Give an indication of how the learning will be assessed.

Lesson objectives—there are often more than one—tell students what they will learn. However, the objective does not end there. If it did, a lesson objective would read like a table of contents. For an objective to be complete, it must give students some idea of how their learning is going to be measured. Unless your objectives are measurable, you won't be able to produce the evidence necessary to show that the objectives were met.

Anatomy of a Lesson Objective

Objectives should be written as a single sentence. Many teachers start their objectives with a standard beginning such as:

"Upon completion of this lesson, the student will be able to...."

Objectives must include an action verb that helps students understand what they are going to learn and how they will be assessed. In Bloom's Taxonomy, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom looked at verbs and how they relate to learning, dividing them into six levels of thinking. These verbs—remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating—are an excellent starting point for writing effective objectives. A simple learning objective that meets the criteria listed above might read:

"Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius."

By stating this objective from the start, students will understand exactly what is expected of them. Despite everything else that might be taught in the lesson, students will be able to measure their own learning if they can successfully convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. In addition, the objective gives the instructor an indication of how to prove that learning has taken place. The teacher should create an assessment that has students perform temperature conversions. The results of this assessment show the teacher whether students have mastered the objective.

Pitfalls When Writing Objectives

The main problem that teachers encounter when writing objectives is in the choosing of the verbs that they use. Though Bloom's Taxonomy is a great place to find verbs for writing learning objectives, it can be tempting to use other verbs that are not part of the taxonomy such as "enjoy," "appreciate," or "grasp." These verbs do not lead to a measurable outcome. An example of an objective written using one of these words is:

"Upon completion of this lesson, students will grasp why tobacco was such an important crop to the settlers in Jamestown."

This objective does not work for a couple of reasons. The word "grasp" leaves a lot open to interpretation. There were a number of reasons why tobacco was important to the settlers at Jamestown. Which one should students grasp? What if historians disagree about the importance of tobacco? Obviously, because there is a lot of room for interpretation, students would not have a clear picture of what they are expected to learn by the end of the lesson.

Additionally, the method for measuring how students "understand" a concept needs to be clear. While you might have an essay or other form of assessment in mind, students need to be given insight into how their understanding will be measured. Instead, this objective would be much clearer if it was written as follows:

"Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to explain the impact that tobacco had on the settlers at Jamestown."

Upon reading this objective, students know that they will be "applying" what they have learned by explaining the impact that tobacco had on the colony. Writing objectives is a blueprint for success for both teachers and students. Create your objectives first, and many questions that need to be answered about your lesson will fall into place.