Goal Setting for High School Students: Tips & Lessons

As students grow, so do their responsibilities. When students transition from primary to secondary, they increasingly take charge and set the course of their learning and goal setting. This happens the most in high school, and for good reason. 

Read on for why goal setting for high school students is important, tips for teaching student goal setting, and classroom resources to help you do it.

Why is Goal Setting Important for Students?

Goal setting is important because it gives students the opportunity to assert their growing independence, manage their own tasks and the emotions that accompany them, and take the wheel in driving their learning. It’s also developmentally important for students to increase their self-management and self-awareness over time, and goal setting can help build those social-emotional learning skills. This is especially important in high school as students look ahead to adulthood. 

However, goal setting is not something that students inherently know how to do; it has to be taught. Without the guidance of knowledgeable, compassionate educators, students may set goals that are unattainable or too vague. This can lead to students feeling frustrated and abandoning their goals when they don’t see progress. In order for high school students to grow, their goals need to be motivating and achievable. This is a key component of goal setting that will allow your students to see its many benefits.

Benefits of Teaching Goal Setting for Students

Some of the major benefits of goal setting include:

  • It engages students in the process of personalizing and differentiating their learning by giving them agency and choice.
  • Students develop self-awareness about their strengths and the interconnected nature of emotions, behavior, and actions through self-reflection.
  • Goal setting centered on progress over results helps students develop a growth mindset.
  • Students feel in control, empowered, and motivated to learn and grow.
  • Goal setting creates a self-management framework through which students can take on more responsibility.
  • Accomplishing self-set goals can build up self-efficacy, and by proxy self-esteem.
  • Students learn how to identify, communicate, and advocate for their learning needs.
  • Goal setting now will help set students up for success later in goal-driven environments like college and work. 

With these benefits in mind, it’s equally important for teachers to develop a strategy for implementing goal setting in class.   

4 Ways to Teach Student Goal Setting in High School

To help get you started, here are four strategies for teaching goal setting throughout the school year, or during reset moments like back to school, New Year’s, or an extended school break. (And the resources you need to teach it!)

1. Get Students Invested: Ask students goal-setting questions to encourage introspection, critical thinking, and deeper engagement.

Not only will these questions bring students more deeply into the learning process, but they will also help students practice the foundational SEL skill of self-awareness. This skill is essential for setting attainable goals because they are subjective and personal, so strong goal-setting hinges on students’ understanding of their beliefs, values, and strengths.

Resources for Goal-Setting Questions

Identifying Your Goals by Informed Decisions

Grades: 6-12

Yellow, gray, and white resource cover reads "New Year's Conversation Starters and Writing Prompts" and shows a jar with paper prompts on a wooden table.

New Years Conversation Starters & Journal Writing Prompts – Goals & Reflections by Thinking Zing Counseling

Grades: 7-12

Blue and white resource cover is titled "Goal Setting Conversation Starters: Middle & High School" and shows a spread out stack of aesthetic card prompts, the College Counselor Studio logo, and the sticker text "100 Prompts."

100 Conversation Starters for Middle and High School | Goal Setting by College Counselor Studio

Grades: 9-12

2. Change up the Pace: Use a goal-setting video with students to break down information and strategies creatively, visually, and succinctly. 

In general, videos and their accompanying activities can be a great way to engage visual, auditory, and tactile learners all at once. So why not apply it to your goal-setting lesson? By incorporating a variety of mediums into your lesson, you can also spark students’ interest in what tools they can use to reach the goals they set. 

Resources Using Goal-Setting Videos

Lined paper is shown against a pale wooden surface with the activity title "Unit 1: Study Skills - Lesson 6: Accomplishing Goals" and the subtext "Videos - Activity - Review."

Unit 1 Lesson 6: Setting and Accomplishing Goals Video/Activity/Review by Life and Study Skills SEL Series

Grades: 5-12

A group of teens are shown having fun in this resource cover, along with the title, "Goal Setting Intro," resource breakdown "Video - Handout - Digital Resource," and the subtitle "Just Start: SEOT Steps to Success 001."

Goal Setting Lesson Handout Video ▶️ SEOT 001: Just Start (ADVISORY LIFE SKILLS) by Educircles-org 21st Century Skills

Grades: 7-10

3. Provide Hands-On Practice: Build the skill by incorporating goal-setting activities for high school students into your lessons.

Goal setting is like a muscle: it’s a skill that needs to be exercised. Practice is essential for this! Provide more guidance at the start and begin with smaller tasks or lower stakes before working students up to bigger or more in-depth goals, projects, or activities. 

Goal-Setting Activity Resources

A clipart woman holds up a sign that says "Perseverance/Goal Setting for Middle or High School." Also shown is the Fish Climbing Trees logo and the subtext "Print & Go Workbook."

Executive Functioning Perseverance Goal Setting for Middle or High School by Fish Climbing Trees

Grades: 6-12

Mentalidad de crecimiento actividad reflexión – SPANISH Growth Mindset Activity by La Misi de Espanol

Grades: 7-10

This activity can also be bought in English.

"Goal Setting Lesson for High School Students" resource cover shows a laptop with a slide from the lesson that says "Roadblocks."

Goal Setting Classroom Lesson for High School Students by Counselor Clique

Grades: 9-12

4. Apply the Skill Over Time: Have your class fill out a student goal-setting template with real goals they want to achieve, track, and reflect on over the term.

Goal setting is also a skill that requires consistency in order for it to become a functioning habit in students’ lives and mindsets. Using templates, you can have students track their goals so that they are reminded to think about them — not just set them and forget them. This also allows students to visualize their progress, which can encourage a growth mindset, and understand that goals take time to achieve. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

Goal-Setting Template Resources

"Goal Setting for High School Students" is shown in rainbow and cursive fonts, along with two pages of the resource and colorful borders.

Goal Setting for High School Students by Culbert the Chemist

Grades: 9-12

Pro Tip: Browse more goal-setting templates made for high schoolers on TPT. 

Goal setting is ultimately a transferable skill that students will take with them beyond your classroom and throughout their lives. By teaching your high school students about goal setting, you’re setting them up for success, not just in your classroom or in school, but in the many multi-faceted aspects of their lives. And the impact is huge — even if it can’t be shown in a goal tracker.

Need more support in teaching goal setting? Check out more high school goal-setting resources on TPT.

This blog post, originally published in 2022, has been updated for 2024.

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