Many students, especially at intermediate level, express the feeling that they are not making any progress. This is because their progress is not as noticeable as it was when they started learning English.

Negotiated objectives - methodology article

This tends to have a de-motivating effect on the students and can lead to students losing interest in the learning process. One tactic I have employed over the last two years has been to compile a negotiated list of objectives with the students to try to help them see their progress more clearly and thus become more motivated.

  • Listing objectives
  • Content and method
  • Defining our objectives
  • Reviewing our objectives
  • Conclusions

Listing objectives
This can be a list of communication aims and tasks, functions, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation points from the book, or if they are not using a book, a list of similar points or topics the teacher wants to cover. This is then added to by the students in 'Our objectives'. A typical list might look like this:

Syllabus objectives Our objectives

1. Comparative structures

2. Comparing two cities

3. Adjectives

4. Pronunciation – consonant sounds......

5. City versus country – group discussion

6. Writing based on discussion

7. Video – Wall street

1. e-mail vocabulary e.g. . dot @ at

2. U2 song lyrics

3. Telephone practice

4. Individual activities every class

5. Vocabulary revision every second class

As the course progresses the emphasis can even be taken away from the teacher's list and given to the students first creating their list, depending how much they contribute.

Content and method
Points can be either content (what we study) objectives or method (how we study) objectives. I think it is important to consider how the learning takes place as well as what is being learnt. This helps to cater for different types of learners.

At first I often give students examples of what other classes have come up with by showing them a previous list. I also ask students to think of their previous learning experiences and activities and methods the teacher used which they enjoyed and found useful.

Examples that my students have come up with are:

  • Having a vocabulary bank which is added to each class and used for revision. This contains cards created by the students that either have pictures or translations or definitions to indicate meaning. They are used every second class in a ten-minute revision activity such as guess the word from the definition or pictionary.
  • Doing more individual work. I think many classrooms depend a lot on pair and group work, which suits 'interpersonal' learners, i.e. those who learn best through interaction with others. It was interesting for me to find that students also wanted more 'intrapersonal' activities where they could work alone and absorb material in their own time.
  • Word games often leave a positive impression on students. I have learned many new games from students so it is worthwhile asking them to suggest ones they know.
  • More writing tasks for homework. I find it is best to spend some time preparing the task in class so all students are clear on it before starting.
  • Doing presentations on subjects they know about, whether that be a hobby, their pet, their family village or their work.
  • Choosing a topic from local news and spending ten minutes at the start of the class telling other students about it.


Defining our objective
There are different ways of making 'our objectives' lists. I usually ask students to work in pairs and compile a joint list. I think pair work allows them to offer ideas more freely. It is also great speaking practice as they make suggestions and explain their ideas. It is helpful if the teacher gives them some headings or an example table, as suggested above, before doing this.

Another approach is to give the students a questionnaire. If teachers feel that some of their students are not offering many ideas it may be that they are shy and the format of pair work to negotiate objectives does not suit them. They may be more inclined to make suggestions in written form. Given in class or as homework this questionnaire can ask for feedback on areas such as activities already done (content), the amount of group and individual work (methods) and leave space for other ideas from the students.

Here is an example questionnaire you can use with your classes.
Download questionnaire 54k

I have done this with adults and with teenagers and it has given me great insight into how they feel about their learning experience.

  • One class found the readings in the book too easy and rather dull so I tried making it more tailored to their interests finding texts from authentic sources such as the Internet and from other course books.
  • When completing the questionnaire encourage the students to be honest, as you want to make sure they are getting the most out of the lessons. The students find this motivational as it demonstrates that the teacher cares about their learning.

Reviewing our objectives
After the students have compiled a list we decide which to work on. At the end of the first month the students work in pairs and discuss the list ticking what they feel happy they have learned and questioning what they are still unsure of.

  • Again this is best done in pairs as students are often less inhibited talking to another student rather than the teacher and it is an excellent authentic activity to do in English.
  • It often results in students doing some peer teaching too. They can also talk about which areas they have enjoyed the most and least as in the questionnaire.
  • Later, as they come together as a class, they decide what to carry over and review again in the next month and then offer new things to add. They now have clear evidence of what they have achieved in only one month!


  • It is important to remember that students beyond beginner level have had both positive, and possibly negative learning experiences, and they can draw on these to add to their current learning.
  • Students can often bring fresh ideas to the class and add to the teacher's bank of resources.
  • The students then feel they are a part of the learning process in that class and really start to work together as a group helping each other and learning from each other.
  • This process offers opportunities for peer teaching and demonstrates to the learners that the teacher is regarding them as individuals and trying to address their particular needs.
  • Teachers become more focused on the students when selecting teaching points, as they become more aware of what students actually want and need.


Nicola Meldrum, British Council, Spain


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