“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
“Baby steps.”
“Practice makes perfect.”

All these cliches serve to remind us that very few things just happen. Our accomplishments, big and small, come from multiple steps achieved over a period of time. We set a goal and we go after it. Serena Williams didn’t just walk onto a tennis court one day and become the greatest athlete in the world; she trained for it, every day for years.

Realistic goal setting is an important skill to develop early because it teaches students discipline, patience, and perseverance. Knowing how to develop small goals and achieve them will help your students throughout their life. Giving them tangible strategies to start goal setting now is a great way to build those healthy habits over time.

1. Get the ball moving, literally

For the little ones, this is a helpful way of conceptualizing and introducing goal setting. All you need is a ball (soccer, basketball, bouncy ball, the options are endless) and some paper. Have your students come up with a goal for their classroom — maybe it is finishing the month with great discipline records or a reading goal. Write that down and place it at the far end of the classroom.

Next, have your students brainstorm the steps they need to take to get to that bigger goal. Write these steps out and lay them out in a path to the goal at the end of the classroom. Finally, have each student take turns rolling the ball to the different steps they’ve brainstormed to get to their goal. This is a fun and easy way of explicitly showing small wins leading up to bigger goals.

2. Share Your Story

We all know you can’t just become an educator by walking into a classroom and sitting behind a desk. It takes years of education, training, and preparation to get where you are now. Reflect on your journey and explain what goals you set in the middle to get to where you are now. This is especially helpful for students in high school as they contemplate their next steps after school.

In addition, share the stories of others or bring in guest speakers to talk about the small steps they took to get where they are now. Story sharing can demystify careers, opportunities, and next steps that seem insurmountable to some students.

3. Be SMART About It

SMART Goals are a great thing to introduce in the classroom early and often! The SMART technique is used across industries and teaches students how to really drill down and break their bigger goals into something more manageable. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Challenge your students to create a SMART goal and provide opportunities to reflect on what they’ve chosen.

4. The Climb

It’s not just a Miley Cyrus song, folks. It can (should) be a way of life (Insert Miley gif here)! Have your students draw a mountain and explain to them that they are at base camp and the very top of the mountain is their goal. Have them divide the mountain up into 5 different sections or goals that they will need to achieve first prior to reaching the top. Alternatively, if your school has a nature program, emphasize this on your trips! Hiking is a great way to show how small steps bring you to the top!

5. Celebrate progress

No matter what goal setting activity you choose to do, celebrate once those goals have been achieved! As we all know, sticking to a goal can be very challenging so find a way to recognize students for their achievements. Whether it is a new eraser, a certificate or a pizza party, celebrate students’ hard work and show them it’s worth it to keep the ball moving.

How are you already teaching students about small wins and big changes in your classroom? Share with the EVERFI Educator Network on Twitter or Facebook what’s working for you and how you add your own spin to any of the ideas above.


EVERFICaitlin is currently the Schools Manager for Colorado and started with EVERFI in 2019. She is passionate about accessible, quality education and loves being able to connect with teachers. She has a Masters in Higher Education Administration from The George Washington University and received a Bachelor’s’ Degree in Communication Studies from Christopher Newport University.

Real World Learning Matters

EVERFI empowers teachers to bring critical skills education into their classrooms at no cost. Get activated and join 50,000+ educators across North America!