Setting Intentions: Student-driven Goals in Word Study

By Pam Koutrakos

Pledges and missions set our sights on something big yet imply a certain worthiness that can also feel… daunting. Goals (AKA learning intentions) feel a bit more accessible and possible. When we create next-step-goals based off what we feel is already going well, we gain vision for what can be attained through consistent, focused effort. Dynamic classroom word learning is student-centered and driven by the readiness of each child. Therefore, it makes sense that the goal-setting, reflection, celebration loop would be in place and for these processes to be generated and inspired by the students themselves. 


Goals reflect our priorities and intentions. When goal setting is new for students, tools (like checklists) can provide needed clarity. Here is a flexible process that can be used to guide students toward naming their own learning priorities:

  • Review previous conversations, read alouds, or personal anecdotes around working toward something challenging. Reflect on the knowledge and processes that helped make growth and success attainable. 
  • Do the same for word study. Envision the end goals of word study. Name out the content knowledge and learning habits that might make these goals a reality. OPTIONAL: create a tool, like the checklists shown below, as a reminder of these actions. 
  • Review the list and ask students to consider where they feel most confident. Then invite learners to prioritize 1-2 areas that feel challenging, but also interesting …and like worthwhile next step(s). 
  • Draft a simple action plan. Add in checkpoints for when and how to reflect on and celebrate progress toward set goals.

Here is a quick glimpse into what some of those different “habits” and “concepts” checklists look like across grades and settings: 

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 6.50.43 AM
Above charts from Word Study That Sticks, Best Practices K-6 (Koutrakos, 2018)

…And a couple of the subsequent goals/action plans students created using those checklists:

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 6.52.55 AM

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 6.53.05 AM
These tools spotlight success and help learners identify the places where they want to grow. 

Tip: The magic ingredient in using tools effectively is the teaching that happens around the tools. When we hand students a tool (or better yet co-create that tool with students), we also need to teach and support the processes inherent in thoughtfully using that tool.

Reflection may be the most underused tool in teaching. Goals may propel learning, but alone will not carry us through the finish line. We also need to make space for reflection. Consistent and ongoing reflection enables us to figure out how things are going and what might need to be adjusted. Here are a few time-efficient invitations to help students build a habit of reflection: 

Look back and your goal/learning priority. Then…

  • name something you did today that helped you work toward that goal. 
  • put a post it on one page of your notebook that shows evidence of your progress toward this goal. Share and celebrate with a partner. 
  • ask yourself, what part of this work has been challenging? Brainstorm realistic solutions and workarounds to get past these challenges and continue to make progress. 
  • ponder, what wrong turn have I taken? AKA: what’s something that you thought would help… but didn’t? Celebrate that risk taking and think about what else you might try so that your progress doesn’t stall out. 

Tip: When reflecting is brand new for students, it can be helpful to have a tool to clarify and support the process. Simple numerical scales, emoji continuums, and succinct reflection forms are all options. Once reflection has become a habit, students will be better prepared for in-the-moment reflection- no tools necessary! Here are a couple of examples of students reflecting: 

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 6.55.56 AM
Meaningful reflection can happen with and without the support of a formal reflection tool.


Celebration seals the deal, boosting motivation, focus, and willingness to persevere through challenges. Although celebration is very worthy of our time, we don’t always need it to be a big production. Here are 3 ideas that can be used across grades: 

  • Buddy Day: Invite another class in for word study. Quickly create cross-class partnerships. Students teach their buddies a favorite word study routine and then complete the routine together.
  • Reflection Celebration: Students note recent progress and celebrate these efforts by creating personal statements like I used to… but now I… and posting them on digital or traditional classroom bulletin boards. 
  • Show Off Routine: Students quite literally show off recent learning by publicizing it. This may mean quickly sharing with a partner, leading a brief conference with a caregiver and/or teacher, jotting a few sentences, creating an infographic, or “flipping” the learning and teaching peers. In the past, Ed Camps, Flip Grid, Screencastify, Powtoon, Show Me, Wevideo, and Scratch have been student favorites for showing off. 
Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 6.57.21 AM
Students enjoy using digital tools like Powtoon to “show off” their learning and teach classmates about different Greek and Latin roots.

Tip: This printable chart provides additional guidance in finding festive ways to incorporate the celebration of all that’s happened in word study. 

Thinking these ideas sound “nice” in theory, but there is simply no time in the day? I respectfully challenge that idea. Remind yourself that a little goes a long way! Although implementing these ideas does takes time, the engagement, investment, and momentum that result yield a more efficient and productive use of each subsequent minute spent exploring words.  By zooming out and looking beyond a period, day, or week, we are more likely to see the long-term value and benefits these practices produce- both in the classroom this year… and in students’ lives for years to come. 


Pam Koutrakos is an educational consultant with Gravity Goldberg, LLC where she works with students, teachers, and administrators PreK- grade 8. She recently published Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6 (Corwin, 2018) and The Word Study That Sticks Companion: Classroom-Ready Tools for Teachers and Students, K-6 (Corwin, 2019). Both include ideas, lessons, resources, and tools for teachers of all subjects. Connect with Pam on Twitter @PamKou and on LinkedIn.



Author: CCIRAblog

Check out CCIRA's website today at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: