CELTA - FAQs about lesson aims

lesson planning
FAQs about lesson aims for CELTA and TEFL
Some thoughts on common questions trainees ask about lesson aims for CELTA and TEFL

Trainees on courses often ask these kinds of questions about lesson aims. What's the difference between objectives and aims? Should my aims be SMART? Should I say what I'm going to teach or what they're going to learn? And should I tell my learners what my aim is at the beginning of the lesson? I'm Jo Gakonga. I'm an experienced CELTA tutor. And in this short video, I'm going to try and answer those questions for you. This is a sample video from my course, Lesson Planning Made Easy, so if you like this, then you might want to check that out at ELT-Training.com. Right, let's see if we can answer those questions.

Q1. What's the difference between aims and objectives?
Now, you've probably come across these terms, aims and objectives. And they're often thought of as different. Usually the difference is that aims are broader, and objectives are more fine grained. So you might have an overall aim, and three or four objectives to get you there. Now, other people will tell you that an aim is more to do with a purpose or an objective is to do with achievement. To be honest, I'd say that if you find it helpful to differentiate these things, or if your institution says that you have to, then then do so. But otherwise, I tend to stick with just aims and then I have stage aims in the procedure that tell me what the aim is for each different part of my lesson. That's what I've always found most helpful. So I don't identify objectives per se. But as I say, this isn't a must. It's a personal choice, really, or maybe institutional choice.

Q2. Should my aims be SMART?
So you might have heard the term SMART aims. SMART stands for an aim that's Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic, and Time referenced. So these things, of course, are all good. And they're really useful to keep in mind for sure. But I think there's a danger in having SMART targets in that they atomize learning. And it's easy to get the impression that you can break the process down into small parts, and then we can just tick them off until you finish, like building a wall. Now, it's worth keeping in mind what we know about learning a language, it's not a 'learn it once and you never need to learn it again' wall kind of model, that's just not how we learn language. Teaching someone a language is much more like planting and tending a garden than building a wall. It's a much more organic process. So you plant some seeds over here, and they start growing. And then you have to deal with some weeds over here and cut back some undergrowth, there. And then you go back to your seeds, and you find that some of them need watering. And actually, some of them have already died, and you have to plant them again. So you probably get the picture. So making your aims SMART is a good idea. But you have to keep in mind that it doesn't mean that you learners have 'done' this, and they won't need any revision, because they will.

Q3. Should my aim say what I'm going to teach, or what my learners are going to learn?
Now, this is a really good question. And there's no right answer. I think teaching and learning are not always the same thing at all and that's worth remembering. So you know what you're going to try and teach. But are they taking it in? Are they learning it? Are they learning something else? Because of this, some people say that you should write aims that look something like this, 'the learners will learn and practice vocabulary associated with driving, rather than to teach and give practice of vocabulary associated with driving'. I personally think that it's not very important either way. Mostly, it's personal preference. My personal feeling is that you'll never be able to prove what they've all learned or how well they've learned it, especially not in a bigger class. So I personally prefer to write aims in terms of what I will teach, but you can make your own choice here and as I say sometimes it's institutional recommendations.

Q4. Should you always tell learners your aims?
Should you tell them what you're going to do in the lesson? A lot of teaching organizations like the idea of this; of telling learners the aims of the lesson. Should you do it? Well, you know what your aims are, so you would think doesn't it make sense for the learners to know where they're going? And as with many things, I think here again, the answer is, it depends. I think learners, especially adult learners, often feel more comfortable in a learning environment if they know what's coming. So it gives them confidence in you as a teacher as well. But if you start off every lesson by writing your items on the board, especially if it's in language that teachers use 'to give controlled oral practice that the present perfect for experience', for example, it's likely to be meaningless, and probably just turn people off, I think. So it's probably just enough to say, today we're going to practise how to talk about your experiences. I think that would be more appropriate. Also, I just think variety is a good thing. Sometimes as a learner, I might want to know where the road's taking me. And sometimes, I might find it more interesting just to relax and go on a magical mystery tour, as long as I trust that the teacher knows where we're heading. So, those are those few issues that I wanted to clear up to start with.

Now let's move on to the important bit. How do you express your aims? (Want to know more? Check out my course CELTA Lesson Planning Made Easy)
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