11 Simple Strategies to Help Elementary Students Achieve Goals 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Keep students motivated and moving toward their goals!

One of the most important skills we can teach students is how to set goals and keep working on them. When children feel confident that they can make progress, they will be more likely to try new things and think they are capable. There are a number of ways to teach students how to set goals and model for them, but sometimes we need a couple strategies to move the process along. Let's dive into 11 of those strategies to help elementary students achieve goals.

3 Essential Parts of Setting Goals

1. Create an Action Roadmap

One of the best ways for upper elementary students to set their goal is to create a plan that outlines the steps needed. When helping students create this roadmap, ensure they are realistic in what they include in each step and the timeline they give themselves. It often works to set benchmarks along the way to the goals. These are also great points to check-in and revise goals.

help elementary students achieve goals

2. Set SMART Goals

When setting goals, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Using the SMART formula allows students to break down big goals into smaller tasks that are easier to track. 

help elementary students achieve goals

3. Make it Personal

Often, when students work on goal setting, they focus on what other people are wanting them to change, improve, or achieve. Before deciding what to work on, have students brainstorm possible goals. This can often open a discussion about the areas to improve that they may be more resistant to.

help elementary students achieve goals

11 Strategies to Help Elementary Students Achieve Goals

These strategies are simple and overlooked. Sometimes, a small tweak or hack can help them break through a plateau or progress faster.

1. Chaining

Chaining is a goal-setting strategy that leverages our current routines to get into the habit with something new. It involves attaching something new to an already existing routine

For instance, if you wanted to start a skincare routine, then you could add it into your morning routine. You would be more likely to do it since it's paired with something that is automatic for you.

A fourth grader may want to improve their organization. They regularly forget to take home the materials they need for homework. You could use chaining with their normal end of the day routine and add on a review of their planner or the whiteboard. A simple pack-up checklist would be a great supplement.

By adding it to an already established habit, they will be more likely to reach success.  The goal will become part of that chain rather than a random activity requiring different attention.

2. One At A Time

Taking on a goal all at once can be overwhelming and make it hard to stay motivated. So instead, we want to break it into smaller, achievable tasks so they can focus on mastering each part before moving on. 

A sixth grader may want to improve their grades. However, they can first focus on improving their math quiz grades rather than trying to improve every subject all at once.

The "One at a Time" strategy makes goal setting more accessible and lets progress little by little. Also, it makes sense to start with a part of the goal where the student will see early success. 

3. Remove Small Barriers

Sometimes there are tiny obstacles standing in the way. Once you remove these, students can start to see some real progress.

For example, maybe a student is often late to school, and they want to improve their attendance. However, when you look closer, you realize that the morning is chaotic. To help, they could start by packing their backpack and picking out their clothes the night before.

4. Positive, Encouraging People

Positive and encouraging people are a big part of achieving goals. They can help a student stay motivated when things are challenging. Try a simple activity where students take stock of their support system. Use a blank piece of paper to create a web map or use this free Caring Cup craft.

SEL Support Systems

5. Celebrate Progress

Celebrating progress toward a goal is one of the most important strategies for staying motivated. It's also a great way to recognize all of the hard work that went into achieving something, no matter how big or small it may be. When students acknowledge successes, it motivates them to keep going, even when things get tough. 

Try having them post small successes where they are visible. Maybe a small win bulletin board in your office where students can put up post-its each week. In the classroom, students can get into the habit writing down a small win they had each day.

6. Take Breaks

It's easy to become burnt out when working on something. Taking breaks allows students time to recharge, so they don't get discouraged or give up altogether! 

7. 1% Better

When we are trying to improve something, you can become impatient. A helpful mindset shift is to focus on getting 1% better

You can tell students it's like being in a football game; you want to get to the goal line, but focusing on moving the ball down the field little by little is the best way to do it. This goal-setting mindset helps maintain motivation, appreciate successes, and stick to a plan.

A visual of the the benchmarks on the way to a goal may be helpful. You can use this football themed goal setting resource to help students understand this mindset.

football goal setting resource

8. Don't Swim Upstream

When a student sets a goal, they must be honest with themselves. What can they achieve right now? Maybe they need to learn another skill first. Perhaps they have too much going on to dedicate the time to this goal. 

This doesn't mean low expectations or underestimating themselves. Goals should be challenging AND attainable.

You can have student go through different scenarios and determine which ones are attainable and which ones are out of reach. Spending time reflecting on what limitations (e.g., time, resources, current skills) they might have is a good practice to start.

help elementary students achieve goals

9. Self Talk

Self-talk helps students focus on their goal in the moment. It's easy to give up when you meet an obstacle. When this happens, self-talk helps them keep going. They can try saying something like "I can do this" out loud or silently to themselves. When used regularly, self-talk can become a powerful tool for helping students stay motivated.

Try a simple activity where students brainstorm self talk phrases and choose one for themselves.

Positive Thinking Craft

10. Visualize Success

This one always seems silly, but can be really work. Have students use visualization techniques like creating a movie in their head where they can see themselves achieving their goal. They can also create physical vision boards as a reminder about what they are working toward. 

11. Self Reflection

Students need to take time to reflect on how far they have come and what steps need to be taken to reach their target. Encourage your students to think about what has been accomplished and what needs further effort. This is a great practice as they achieve small goals along the way. It drives home the point that we are constantly working on our goals. 

help elementary students achieve goals

Goal setting is an essential skill for any student, especially upper elementary students who are just beginning to understand being independent with their aspirations. You can use any of these strategies when you want to support a student and give them a hack to reaching their goal

Getting Started with Goal Achievement

If you are looking for some activities to help students create clear and measurable goals, grab this SMART goal resource.

Shop the Post


SMART Goal Setting Lessons

Five 15-minute lessons in print and digital that break down the goal setting process into manageable chunks. Perfect for in-person instruction and distance learning.

Setting Goals Football Theme

Football-themed resource visually shows progress on goals as their football moves down the field to the end zone.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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