How to Teach SMART Goals to Elementary Students: A Practical Guide

SMART goals can be a somewhat complex concept for young learners to grasp. This blog post will help you break down these larger concepts into bite-sized, comprehensible pieces.We’ll explore how to teach SMART goals to elementary students, using actionable steps to make the learning process both engaging and effective.

Teaching goal setting in the elementary classroom can be both fun and rewarding. When we introduce the concept of SMART goals to our young learners, we’re giving them tools to dream, plan, and achieve – both in and out of the classroom. Let’s break down how we can make this concept accessible and engaging for our students. (Here are some resources you can use!)

What are SMART Goals?

First things first, let’s define goal. A goal is something you want to happen, so you work hard to make it happen. SMART goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable (some say attainable), Relevant (some say realistic), and Timely (or time-bound). These five elements help transform vague ambitions into clear, achievable objectives. For our elementary students, the key here is the ‘A’ – Actionable. We want to encourage our students to think of goals not as distant dreams, but as something they can actively work towards. ‘Can I take action steps to achieve my goal?’


A goal should be clear and specific so that we know exactly what we’re working towards. For a student, this could be as simple as “I want to read one new good-fit-book book every month.”


How will students know when they have achieved their goal? A measurable goal allows a student to track their progress. For example, “I will read for 15 minutes every night.”


This is all about the steps the student will take to reach their goal. It answers the question, “What will I do to make this happen?” “What action steps can I take to achieve my goal?” or “What’s my plan?”

Relevant / Realistic

The goal should be achievable given the student’s current resources and constraints. It’s about finding the balance between challenging and attainable. “Is this something worth working towards and spending time on?”


A goal should have a deadline or a timeframe which creates a sense of urgency and helps maintain focus. We can always adjust our timeline, but it’s important to have one set when we make our goals. This can be one big deadline, and lots of mini benchmarks along the way.

A Lesson Plan for teaching SMART Goals

Step 1: Introduce the Concept of Goals

Start by asking your students what they understand by the term ‘goal.’ Use examples from daily life to illustrate the concept. (When they say ‘goal like a soccer goal’ help them make the connection between that type of goal and the goals we set.) It’s also a good time to define the word achieve as a class.

Step 2: Explain SMART Goals

Walk through each element of the SMART acronym. Use examples that are relatable for their age group. For instance, setting a goal to improve handwriting, learn a new skill or sport, or learning a new math concept.

Step 3: Differentiate Between Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

Discuss with your students how some goals can be achieved quickly (short-term) and others might take longer (long-term). Explain how both types of goals are important. I like to use the visual of a road. Short term goals are closer, we will achieve them more quickly. Long term goals are far away, and we will pass many signs and buildings to get to that far away goal.

Step 4: Break Down Goals into Actionable Steps

Help students understand that big goals are achieved through small, consistent actions. Encourage them to think about the small steps they can take daily or weekly. Make a plan.

Fun Activities for Practicing SMART Goal Setting in Elementary

1. Goal Setting Journals

Encourage students to use journals to track their goals and progress. You can find a specially designed goal-setting journal in my TPT Store or inside the Teach To Love Learning Membership, which is perfect for 2nd-4th grade learners.

2. Vision Boards

Have students create a vision board that represents their goals. This visual representation can be a powerful motivator. They can also draw pictures of themselves achieving their goals.

3. Role-Playing

Set up scenarios where students can role-play working towards a goal. This activity helps them understand the process of planning and taking action.

4. Goal Sharing Circle

Create a safe space where students can share their goals and the steps they plan to take. This encourages peer support and accountability.

5. Progress Chart

Create a chart in the classroom where students can visibly track their progress toward their goals. This provides a sense of accomplishment.

Why Teach Goal Setting?

Teaching goal setting is important because it:

  • Boosts Self-Esteem: Achieving goals helps students feel capable and successful.
  • Improves Focus: Setting goals helps students learn to concentrate on tasks.
  • Encourages Responsibility: When students set their own goals, they learn to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes.
  • Teaches Time Management: Learning to set and achieve goals helps children understand the value of time.

Incorporating SMART goals into your elementary classroom not only aligns with educational standards but also imparts life skills that students will carry with them long after they leave your class. Remember, by teaching our students how to set and achieve goals, we are equipping them with the tools for a lifetime of success. Looking for more goal setting tips, tricks, and freebies? Check out this blog post.

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