Setting Lesson Objectives in Summary

This post, setting lesson objectives discusses the three domains of educational objectives. It also provides a step-by-step guide on how to set the objectives for each – starting with the cognitive domain.

Introduction to Setting Lesson Objectives

Since I published How to Write Standard Lesson Note in Nigeria, and the differences between lesson plan and lesson note; both have risen to become one of the most popular guides on the subject in the Nigerian cyberspace. Google Analytics also shows that it is one of the posts that our site users read most frequently.

The guides however, are not complete. This is because I only gave the briefest description of the components of a standard lesson plan. Consequently, in this and subsequent posts; I will describe in further details, each of the components. I excerpted this from my on Instructional Design Manual for Nigerian Classrooms. It is the manual that I use for manual in our Instructional Design Training – very comprehensive. If you have missed out of our multiple Instructional Design trainings in the past and will like to have the manual; kindly pick it up on Paystack or chat me up on WhatsApp.

Lesson Objectives

Key to setting Lesson Objectives is being able to correctly define it. Hence, I begin with my definition of lesson objectives thus:

Lesson Objectives are the specific and measurable knowledge, skill and character that a topic is meant for the teacher to impart on the learners.

Lesson objectives is a key component of every lesson plan. And it is also under the design phase of Instructional Design Model. In addition, it is also the central point of every lesson. As a result of this, all Instructional Design Models captures this particular component. The Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model specifically outlined what lesson objectives should contain.

From the definition, you can note that the components of lesson objectives are three – knowledge, skill and character. These three components of lesson objectives are what educators/educationists refer to as the three domains of educational objectives. Educational objectives are the statements of what education (program) aims to impart on learners. Therefore, saying that the general three domains of education objectives to include knowledge, skills and character; means that whenever any education process is taking place, it aims to give the learner some new knowledge, skills (practical abilities) and real change in character. The jargon for these three domains of educational objectives are cognitive, psychomotor and affective respectively – with psychomotor being more professionally narrow in meaning than I imply. I will briefly discuss each of the domains of educational objectives in next section. I explore more details on this in the instructional design manual.

REMINDER: You can get the manual for better understanding. kindly pick it up on Paystack or chat me up on WhatsApp.

The three domains of educational objectives

1.       Cognition or Cognitive Objectives

The cognitive lesson objectives are the mental and conscious thinking skills that a lesson/topic aims to impart on the students. Educational theorist divided the cognitive domain into six subsets including:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

You will find the shortest and simplest explanation of each of these in the manual. For now, I assume you are now able to define/explain the cognitive lesson objectives. Hence, I will proceed with setting lesson objectives for cognitive domain.

Setting Lesson Objectives: Cognitive Domain

Before I proceed to mention the steps in setting a good lesson objective, let me quickly mention this well-known fact. The fact is that setting cognitive lesson objectives is mostly not a problem for Nigerian teachers. This is because our education has unduly been too focused on cognition at the expense of skills and character. Every good scheme of work – or curriculum – does not only contain the topics that it expects teachers to teach learners of a particular level. But it also outlines the objectives of each topic as well as the instructional materials – alongside the teacher’s and learners’ activities.

The snag of

The Nigerian curriculum/scheme is that most part of if only outlines the cognitive objectives. Accordingly, most part of our examinations – for the few practical – only accesses the cognitive objectives of education. This is sadly and especially so with the social sciences and commerce. The affective domain is the most neglected domain in the Nigerian education system.

In fact, I personally believe this is one of the reasons for the current level of decadence in the society. More so, teachers must know that every topic carries with it some (separate/unique) objectives for each domain. As such, I ensure that majority (if not all) of our lesson notes do not only contain objectives; but different objectives for each domain.

In this post, I focus on guiding teachers to set cognitive objectives professionally.

Setting Cognitive Lesson Objectives

The guide to setting lesson objectives (in general) is contained on the definition of lesson objectives. Therefore, to set lesson objectives for any of the domains, we need to refer to the definition. The definition does not only tell us what a lesson objective should contain. But it also gives us the characteristics of a good lesson objective namely specific and measurable.

Characteristics of a good lesson objectives

Lesson Objectives should be specific

The specific characteristics of a lesson objective means that every good lesson objective should be timebound. You specifically state when you expect the learners attain the objectives. The Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model particularly advocated the specificity of lesson objectives.

Lesson Objectives should be measurable

The second characteristics of a good lesson objectives that we get from the definition is measurable. A lesson objective is measurable when there is a standard way of ascertaining its attainment. In other words, how will the teacher be able assess the learners to be sure they have acquired the objectives?

With these two characteristics of a good lesson objectives, we can now adopt a standard step to setting lesson objectives – for the cognitive domain in this part.

Steps to Set Cognitive Lesson Objectives

The steps to setting lesson objectives for any domain is the same. Variations in one domain from another only lies in identifying the goals and the right terminologies for each. I will discuss the general steps and these variations for the three domains starting with cognitive in this post.

The general steps in setting lesson objectives are:

  1. Make the lesson specific
  2. Identify the domain goals for the topic
  3. State the identified goals in measurable wordings
Making a Lesson Objectives Specific

As I explained earlier, specific lesson objectives mean that the teacher has stated the time for the learners to attain the objectives. Depending on the duration of the topic as the scheme has stated, the time for the attainment of a lesson objectives maybe a day, some days, weeks, months or program. But for a typical weekly lesson, teachers make their lesson specific by beginning with:

“At the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:” So begin writing your lesson objectives, start with the phrase above to make it specific.

Identify the domain goals for the topic

By this, I mean that you should list out the targeted mental and conscious thinking abilities that you/the topic expects the learners to be able to perform within the time you specified above. If you are using any standard schemes just like these ones, doing this should be very easy. Our schemes as well as any other standard one contains the cognitive objectives.

However, the objectives so listed are usually do not cover all assessment area as Wiggins & Mc Tighe advocated for in their Understanding by Design model. Consequently, I prepared the following questions to guide teachers in identifying the cognitive objectives for every topic:

  1. What cognitive objectives are stated in the scheme?
  2. What common questions are set from the topic in external examinations?
  3. Is there a definition or concept to remember? – concepts that the learner will build on in future studies.
  4. Is there any important list – to mention – in the lesson?
  5. Is there any concept that memorization will help the learner concretize?
  6. Will there any concept that the learners will need to experiment?
  7. Will the lesson require the students to apply the concept in choosing between options?

If you write down the answers to these questions diligently, then you will have the cognitive objectives for the lesson. Note however, that before you answer these questions, you should go through the scheme, the recommended textbook and possibly past question papers – including for external examinations like NCEE, BECE, WASSCE, NECO, etc.

State the identified objectives in measurable wordings

The final steps in setting lesson objectives is to the identified objectives in the correct wordings. This is one of the major distinguishing features between lesson objectives drafted by professionals and non-professionals. For the later, can see objectives like:

  • At the end of the lesson, the students should know the meaning of food.
  • By the end of the week, the students should understand what changes are.

Even now, those that do not already know may be wondering what is wrong with the objectives above. Well, the short answer is that the objectives are wrong because of the underlined words used in the statements. Inasmuch as these words describes the overall phenomenon of what we aim for the students to attain, the words are not measurable. This is for the fact that when someone knows or understands something, we cannot say except we assess them. Consequently, the professional standard is that teachers use the words that they can use to both explain the phenomenon and also assess the learners.

For this reason,

educators have a list of verbs that teachers may use to state lesson objectives – for the different domains. In truly professional studies, educators even categorize the verbs into the different forms or divisions of the domains. This way, each of the division of cognition that I mentioned earlier has different verbs that teachers may use to state the objectives.

In this post, I will not list the verbs for each form of cognition. Instead, I will mention some of the verbs that you can use to state cognitive objectives. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the English Language and meaning of the forms of cognition, will instantly be able to pick the right word for any given form of cognition. Hence, you do not need to memorize them.

Some Words/Verbs Used to Set Cognitive Lesson Objectives

Some of the verbs that teachers can use to set cognitive lesson objectives are:

define, repeat, state, mention, name, list, enumerate, record, recognize, acquire, identify, criticize, estimate, calculate, judge, choose, select, infer, appraise, compare, rate, argue, etc. and their synonyms.

My simple tricks for teachers

during my training, is that teachers should use verbs/words that they will normally use to set assessment questions to also state the objectives. For example, if I were to set say examination question to assess the learners if they know the meaning of food; I will use words like define food. Hence, instead of stating my objective that “At the end of the lesson, the students should know the meaning of food.” I will write the objective as “At the end of the lesson, the students should be able to define food or state the meaning of food”.

In the restatement, you will notice that I can use both define and state in setting assessment question.


In this post, I discussed the meaning of learning objectives. I also explained the three domains of educational objectives. Finally, I outlined the steps to setting cognitive lesson objectives. The entire content of this post is culled from my comprehensive Instructional Design Manual for Nigerian Classrooms. The complete manual unedited manual contains a lot of more professional topics in layman explanation. With it, you will be able to write bulletproof lesson plans, evaluate lesson plans professionally. You will also learn how to ensure that your learners do not easily forget what you teach them.

If you will like to have the manual; kindly pick it up on Paystack or chat me up on WhatsApp. In subsequent posts, I will discuss how to set lesson objectives for the remaining domains of educational objectives – affective and psychomotor.

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