Bringing lesson outcomes to life
What are lesson outcomes?
Lesson outcomes, sometimes called intended learning outcomes, learning objectives or student-focused goals, are measurable, observable and specific statements that clearly indicate what a student should know and be able to do at the end of a lesson. Lesson outcomes should be focused and centred on the actual intended learning.
The predominant outcome of an English lesson ought to be our students learning language or skills which they can then transfer to other genres, situations and topics. The aim of English lessons is to guide linguistic, cognitive and affective change in students. This may be achieved by supporting the lesson outcomes with activities and materials/resources, selected according to the identification of students’ learning needs and interests as well as preferred teaching styles.
What different types of lesson outcomes are there?
In English lessons there are three main types of outcomes:
- language outcomes (grammar, vocabulary and functions);
- skills outcomes (reading/viewing, writing/representing, listening, speaking);
- life skills (rapport, empathy, social and emotional intelligence, etc.).
How do lesson outcomes benefit teachers and students?
Writing lesson outcomes is fundamental to good lesson planning. A review of the lesson-planning literature in curriculum studies (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Gronlund & Brookhart, 2009; Pollard, 2014; Savage, 2015) shows five major benefits from writing intended lesson outcomes.
First, the process of deciding what will be taught in a lesson allows the teacher clarity of purpose and enables a predictive focus on student learning. Identifying the outcomes means there is a clear focus to each lesson. Second, writing learning outcomes for each lesson allows learning to be staged and sequenced. Identifying the key learning outcomes of one lesson allows it to be connected to the next and built upon and integrated by students. Third, by explicitly articulating lesson outcomes, the teacher’s assessment of the intended learning of each lesson can be much more precise. Fourth, clear and explicit learning outcomes enable internal coherence in a lesson as these precise statements of the intended learning of a lesson become the drivers of the lesson. If the teacher uses these clear lesson outcomes to select all the other elements of the lesson – teaching strategies, learning activities/resources, planned teacher language and assessment – the lesson is much more likely to be coherent and focused. Fifth, perhaps paradoxically, having specific lesson outcomes planned does not prevent teachers from being flexible and creative in their teaching as individual teachers may teach a lesson with the same learning outcomes in completely different ways. When teachers purposefully and thoughtfully select activities, materials/resources and assessment according to their own teaching styles, educational settings and the needs and interests of their students, they provide different routes to the same lesson outcome.
As lesson outcomes help teachers clarify their thinking about language teaching and assessment during their preparation of a lesson, and serve as a tool for reflection once the lesson is over, writing learning outcomes is fundamental to good lesson planning. When identifying and writing learning outcomes for a lesson, there are two key factors teachers should bear in mind.
1. Backwards planning
Backwards planning is to start with your ultimate objective, your end goal and then work backward from there to develop your plan. Identifying and writing specific lesson outcomes helps teachers in backwards planning. The teacher should plan a lesson starting from the lesson outcomes so that specific activities and materials/resources can be planned to meet each lesson outcome. The lesson outcomes, rather than the lesson activities and materials/resources, have to direct planning. Teachers need to be clear about what they are going to teach before considering how they are going to teach it. The how may then be determined in the selection of activities and materials/resources to achieve the outcomes of the lesson.
2. Lesson outcomes should state aspects of language, cognition and affect
As we have already stated, the aim of English lessons is to guide linguistic, cognitive and affective change in students. Lesson outcomes should therefore state principally aspects of language, cognition and affect rather than behaviour as this ensures the focus of the lesson is on learning rather than doing and allows for individual teacher flexibility and creativity in the selection and design of activities and materials. Teachers should refer to aspects of language, cognition and affect by using active verbs from a learning taxonomy such as Bloom et al. (1956).
Examples of Action Verbs according to Bloom's Taxonomy
listen to others with respect
be aware of
Examples of lesson outcomes
- By the end of the lesson, students will be able to categorise words by using the prefixes re, in and un.
- By the end of the lesson, students will be able to write to explain cause and effect by employing connectors such as consequently, therefore and as a result.
- By the end of the lesson, students will be able to identify and accurately pronounce the short i, o, and long ou (as in found) vowel sounds.
- By the end of the lesson, students will be able to enjoy and respond to the creative use of metaphor in a song.
- By the end of the lesson, students will be able to distinguish similarity and difference through the use of comparative and superlative adverbs in an article.
Language Hub has clear learning outcomes which are clearly outlined throughout the course and are achieved through relevant activities using a robust skills, grammar and vocabulary syllabus.
Sharing lesson outcomes, activating students’ schema and assessing lesson outcomes
Once a teacher has identified and written the learning outcomes of a lesson, the teacher needs to share these outcomes with students, activate students’ prior knowledge about the topic of the outcomes and involve students in the assessment of the outcomes. The factors explored here are informed by formative assessment, the monitoring of student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by teachers to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning, and the work of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, two of the leading proponents of formative assessment. You can find out more about formative assessment in an excellent Macmillan Advanced Learning article by Jason Skeet.
3. Sharing and understanding lesson outcomes
Having identified and written the lesson outcomes, these have to be communicated to the students.
The WALT acronym is a good way to make lesson outcomes accessible to students. WALT stands for ‘We Are Learning To’ (the lesson outcome).
Examples of WALT sentences
- ‘We Are Learning To’ predict meanings of unfamiliar words in familiar contexts using context clues.
- ‘We Are Learning To’ write a series of simple sentences on daily habits and routines using the present simple tense.
- ‘We Are Learning To’ ask and answer questions in the present, past and future tenses.
- ‘We Are Learning To’ identify main ideas and supporting details or examples in familiar reading passages.
- ‘We Are Learning To’ use techniques of comparison/contrast and cause/effect to write short paragraphs on familiar topics.
It’s fundamental to share the WALTs at the start of a lesson and to ensure that everyone understand them. One suitable technique for checking understanding of a lesson outcome is to show an example of someone else’s work as students find it easier to analysis and critique other people’s work as it is less emotionally charged. For example, if the lesson outcome is, ‘By the end of the lesson students will have written a short story using the past narrative tenses’, we could show an example of a short story from a previous course and ask students to discuss questions such as ‘What’s good about the story?’ and ‘What areas for improvement are there?’
4. Activating students’ schema about lesson outcomes
When a teacher shares a lesson outcome with students it’s important to try to activate students’ schema, or prior knowledge, about the topic of the outcome. Teachers have to activate existing schema and build new knowledge or skills to achieve the outcome. One of the most effective ways to activate students’ schema is through the use of a graphic organiser such as the KWL chart created by Donna Ogle in 1986 which tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic, and can be used at the beginning, during and at the end of a lesson.
At the beginning of a lesson, KWL charts:
- activate students' background knowledge and get students thinking about what they already know about the topic to get them ready to connect prior knowledge to new learning.
- establish the purpose for the lesson and set the outcome/s for learning, letting students know what to anticipate from the lesson.
- engage students in asking questions about the new content and pique their curiosity, giving them the chance to share their questions with one another.
During the lesson:
- students recognise that the lesson is answering their questions. These answers can be written down as soon as they learn them.
- students can keep track of their learning by seeing that they have unanswered questions to follow up on.
- students may add new questions that occur during their learning as they deepen their understanding of the new concept.
When closing the lesson:
- students use KWL charts to summarise their learning outcomes using simple, easily expressed ideas.
- students can compare their learning outcomes to their classmates' and add ideas that they left out to make a more comprehensive list of their learning outcomes.
- teachers can use KWL charts as informal assessments to determine whether students really achieved the lesson outcomes and how to modify their teaching approach for the students who struggled with the new content.
What I Know
What I Want to Know
What I Learned
Students use this space to discuss their prior knowledge about the topic of the lesson.
Students look at what they already know about the topic and note some of the questions sparked by their prior knowledge.
Students summarise their learning here and note whether the lesson answered the questions they had at the beginning.
5. Involving students in the process of assessment of lesson outcomes
Individual students play a fundamental role in the process of assessment of lesson outcomes – evaluating whether the lesson outcomes have really been achieved. Students can be involved in this assessment of lesson outcomes in two ways:
- through ongoing dialogue with the teacher;
- through discussions with each other so that they are able to share, compare and combine their ideas.
Ongoing dialogue between the teacher and student
Assessment of lesson outcomes requires ongoing dialogue between the teacher and student. Teachers have to plan opportunities in the lessons to speak to individual students or small groups to check on their progress in achieving learning outcomes. The elements of this ongoing dialogue include:
- ensuring every student understands the learning outcomes for a lesson and how to judge their own progress in relation to achieving these outcomes;
- giving students feedback regularly to help them move their learning forward;
- helping every student to produce some form of evidence showing what they learned. This evidence, which may be written or spoken, helps teachers and students to check and consolidate the learning. One very effective way of getting students to provide evidence of their learning is through a review of learning at the end of the lesson in which students discuss questions related to the lesson and learning outcomes such as:
- What did you learn from the lesson?
- What new vocabulary/grammar/concepts did you use?
- What did you enjoy about the lesson?
- What did you find most challenging about the lesson?
- What did you find most memorable about the lesson?
- What would you like to remember about the lesson?
- How will you remember what you have learned?
- What would you like to share from this lesson with a friend?
Getting regular feedback from students about the lesson outcomes is also essential. Teachers can use, for example, exit tickets with specific questions or prompts about the lesson on a piece of paper. Students respond to these questions or prompts and give the piece of paper to the teacher before they leave class. These exit tickets provide teachers with immediate feedback on how successfully students have achieved the lesson outcomes and also help teachers to identify specific gaps in understanding that can then be addressed in the next lesson. In addition, exit tickets can be used to check on specific aspects of the learning or to get feedback about activities and teaching approaches that have been used.
An example of an Exit Ticket:
One thing I have a question about
Two things I have learned
Three things I can build on
Students help each other with their lesson outcomes
Getting students involved in helping each other with their lesson outcomes through discussions and cooperative learning activities is an important way to involve students in the process of assessment for learning. Cooperative learning tasks such as ‘Think, Pair, Share’ (Lyman, 1981) help students to share, compare and combine their ideas. For example, if the lesson outcome is ‘At the end of the lesson, students will be able to comprehend the narrative in a short film’, the teacher can ask the class to discuss the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) to understand all parts of the story. Students take a few minutes to think and write their answers individually, then they can talk to a partner to check their answers before they share them with the class.
THINK, PAIR, SHARE
Question or topic: _______________________
What I think …
What my partner thinks …
What we will share …
Lesson outcomes are fundamental to lesson planning and effective language teaching and learning. To optimise the use of lesson outcomes, we need to share these outcomes with our students, activate students’ prior knowledge about the topic of the outcomes and involve students in the assessment of the outcomes.
Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles Policy and Practice, 5(1), 7-73.
Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London: King’s College London School of Education.
Bloom, B.S. (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives. David McKay: New York.
Gronlund, N. E., & Brookhart, S. M. (2009). Writing instructional objectives. Upper Sadle River, NJ: Pearson.
Lyman, F. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion. In Anderson, A. S. (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest. College Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education.
Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.
Pollard, A. (2014). Reflective teaching in schools. London: Bloomsbury.
Savage, J. (2015). Lesson planning: key concepts and skills for teachers: David Foulton.
Skeet, J. (2020) What is assessment for learning and why is it important? Macmillan Education Advanced Learning.
Wiliam, D. What formative assessment is and isn't. (2020) YouTube video.
About the writer
Kieran Donaghy is a freelance award-winning writer, international conference speaker and trainer. He is the author of books for students and teachers of English as a foreign language. His publications include Film in Action (Delta Publishing), Writing Activities for Film (ELT Teacher2Writer) and Video, The Image in ELT (ELT Council) and Language Hub (Macmillan). He trains teachers in Barcelona and online at his specialist teacher development institute, The School for Training. His website Film English has won a British Council ELTons Award, an English Speaking Union Award and the MEDEA Award. He is the founder of The Image Conference and co-founder of the Visual Arts Circle. You can find out more about Kieran at his author website http://kierandonaghy.com/.
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