Identifying learning outcomes and sharing success criteria



Learning intentions (outcomes, objectives, goals or targets) and assessment criteria (rubrics) vary greatly. They can be detailed or general. They can focus on knowledge, skills or understanding, or even target attitude.

  • How do you make it clear to EAL students what you expect them to learn each lesson?
  • How do you make it clear what you expect them to be able to do after an assessment?


EAL students need to know what they are learning and why they are learning it. Teachers therefore need to make the learning intention(s) for EAL students explicit. The learning intention for a lesson or series of lessons is a statement describing clearly what the teacher wants the students know, understand and be able to do as a result of the learning and teaching activities.

  1. Focus on student behaviour: The ability to translate knowledge and understanding into a demonstration, performance or product is crucial as it gives learning a practical purpose. It applies knowledge in a practical context. How well learning can be applied and how willing the student is to demonstrate learning provides evidence of student engagement.
  2. Begin each statement with a verb: The teacher knows why the students are engaged in a particular activity, but the students are not always able to differentiate between the activity and the learning that it is meant to promote. A carefully framed learning intention will direct students’ attention to the learning. The learning intention emphasises what the students will learn (and why), rather than what they will do.
  3. Communicate intentions to students: The teacher shares the learning intention(s) with her students, either orally or in writing. Sometimes the learning intention is presented at the beginning of a lesson or unit. At other times it is not introduced until after a warm-up or engagement activity. By telling students what they are learning and why they are learning it, students can focus beyond the lesson itself and understand how the skill contributes to the purpose of improving their English.
  4. Tell students how they can measure their progress: By including a measurable or observable goal as part of the learning intention, students accept responsibility for their learning and feel a sense of achievement: “I didn’t know that or couldn’t do that before, now I understand and can use this knowledge to …”
  5. As language acquisition is a cumulative process, building progress markers into learning intentions can help to reinforce the small achievements in the journey.

For EAL students, the learning intention must use accessible student-friendly language. If the intention cannot be expressed clearly as a single statement, use multiple short statements rather than a complex statement. If the meaning of a key word may not be understood, include a definition.

Here are some student-friendly definitions for thinking skills. Click here if you would like to print a version for your students. 

infer I can make a reasonable guess based on the information.
generalise I can use different pieces of evidence to decide what they have in common. Then I can make a statement that is true for this evidence and is likely to be true in similar situations.
predict I can use what I already know to guess what will happen next.
draw conclusions I start with a general statement. If the statement is true I can think of a situation or example which will also be true because it is logically connected to the first statement.
identify cause and effect I can explain two events by answering the questions:

  • What happened? (effect)
  • Why did it happen? (cause)
compare I can tell how things are alike.
contrast I can tell how things are different.
evaluate I can identify important criteria which help me to express an opinion or make a judgement.
summarise I can make a short statement about the main message in what I read (hear, view).
find the main idea I can find the most important idea in the text
find supporting details I can identify the facts, arguments or evidence which give the main idea strength.

Benefits of learning intentions



Parents / care-givers

Know what to teach

Know what to assess

Choose activities with a purpose

Can look back at learning rather than content

Can track progress

Understand the aim of the lesson

Accept responsibility for learning

Can self-assess

Feel a sense of accomplishment

Understand feedback

Know what the students are learning

Can help at home using the same    terminology

Help interpret feedback

Understand reporting information

Can track progress


What problems might be avoided if clear learning intentions are set for each lesson and communicated clearly to students?

Success criteria and rubrics

This section explains what success criteria are and how they can be designed and used effectively in classrooms with EAL learners. Whereas learning intentions specify the progression of learning that is intended, success criteria indicate how the student can demonstrate the extent to which s/he has achieved the learning intention. Used together, the learning intentions and success criteria enable the teacher and the students to form a clearer idea of what successful learning looks like and what areas might need further work.

The following example shows how one learning intention has several success criteria:

Learning intention Success criteria
Students will understand how conjunctions can link two contrasting ideas in one sentence. I can identify

  • two main clauses within a compound sentence
  • the main clause within a complex sentence
  • the conjunction which links the two clauses.
I can select an appropriate conjunction to join two contrasting ideas.
I can

  • write my own sentences to show how my life is different from my friend’s life
  • rank my sentences from simplest to most complex.

In this example, the success criteria form a rubric with descriptors of different levels of performance. Verbs are shown in italics to make it clear what the learner has to do. The rubric organises the criteria so that students can monitor how their learning is progressing in relation to the learning intention.

A rubric can also describe levels of performance that relate to that criterion. It allows students to recognise that skills such as learning a new language are acquired incrementally rather than in leaps and bounds.

Learning intention Students will write an explanation indicating at least 3 ways in which earthquakes occurring under the ocean differ from land-based earthquakes.

Success criteria

I have:

Developing Intermediate Successful
used an informative text which explains The text is informative but describes rather than explains The text separately explains effects of the two types of earthquake The explanation highlights differences by contrasting the two types of earthquake

included three ways the location of an earthquake affects its characteristics


Some links are made between where the earthquake occurs and its characteristics Three effects of location are included for each type of earthquake The links between location and earthquake characteristics are clearly explained
used and identified some conjunctions to indicate contrast within a sentence Includes but and although to contrast ideas Includes but and identifies at least two different conjunctions used to contrast ideas within a sentence Includes at least four complex sentences using different conjunctions to link contrasting ideas. Conjunctions are correctly identified.
included and identified at least one connective to show contrast between separate sentences Includes a simple connective such as also Includes two connective phrases such as In contrast Correctly uses less common connectives such as however; whereas; nevertheless; in spite of



  1. Either on your own or with a colleague, match the category of learning intention to its description: attitude; performance; product; knowledge; thinking skills.
  2. Rank each category according to how often it is a focus for your lessons. Are some missing from your regular practice?
  3. Do you make the learning intentions clear to students at the beginning of each lesson? Note how you communicate the goals to students in the final column. Does your method vary with the focus of the lesson?
Learning intention type Description How students know
  Factual information, process required to do something, concepts  
  Critical reflection for interpretation and understanding  
  Physical demonstration of skill  
  Creation of an artifact to meet specifications  
  Affective goals: disposition; interest; motivation; engagement  

Reading and Resources

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) summarises learning intentions and success criteria.

Prof. John Hattie describes the importance of both setting learning intentions AND sucess criteria in the YouTube video: Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. He highlights the importance of showing students what success looks like.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) summarises success criteria on their web site. 

In Writing Measurable Learning Outcomes (2007), Osters and Tui write that to achieve a learning outcome, students need precise information about what they must be able to demonstrate. The authors provide a number of examples of measurable learning outcomes for programs and students.

In Word Study in Action Success Criteria (developed by Canadian Curriculum Services), a teacher exemplifies how to involve students in identifying success criteria.

Read “What are rubrics and why are they important?” by Brookhart (2013). This article discusses why rubrics are an important and useful tool for students and teachers. It includes several examples indicating how the level of detail can vary according to the purpose. The final section explains how rubrics are useful for teachers, ongoing programs and students.


Use learning intentions to plan a lesson you are about to teach.

Q        What do I want my students to learn?

           Hint: Express as knowledge about the topic, skills needed to demonstrate learning, and understanding which can be applied to future learning.

Q        How will my students know when they have met the learning intention(s)?

           Hint: Break the goal or outcome down into achievable steps.

Q        What classroom activities will help my students focus on the learning intention(s)?

           Hint: Check that the activity is directly enhancing learning and is not a distraction.

Now add the success criteria so students will understand the progress they are making.

Q        How can students use the success criteria to evaluate their own progress?

           Hints: Levels of success need to use language the students understand and include words that indicate quantity and quality.

Provide examples so that students know exactly what to check for. Check that the criteria are measuring aspects or performance that are useful and meaningful.

Q        Will the rubric give enough feedback to students?

           Hint: A well-designed rubric which is also used for self and peer assessment will save you time as there will be very little extra to say.


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