This practice guide will help teachers create, explain and use well-informed learning objectives and success criteria and activate students’ prior knowledge.

A learning objective is a short statement about the goal of a lesson, series of lessons or learning task, and what students are expected to learn by engaging in it. Learning objectives, also known as learning intentions, are most effectively used together with success criteria. Success criteria break down each step towards achieving the learning objective, helping students determine if they’re on track towards reaching each learning objective.

Learning objectives and success criteria form key parts of explicit instruction approaches and formative assessment practices, as they help teachers and students establish a clear and shared understanding of learning goals. By using learning objectives and success criteria, teachers prompt students to think about the knowledge, skills and understanding they have that relate to the task at hand. Activating students’ prior knowledge can help them connect and retain their new learning, while building confidence in their capacity to extend and apply their growing knowledge and skills.

This practice guide will help you reflect and take action to develop your practice with a greater understanding of:

  • the learning benefits when students understand the objectives of a lesson and how they can be successful
  • specific techniques and strategies you can adopt to understand students’ prior knowledge, create well‑informed learning objectives and success criteria and use them effectively.

References and further reading

Further reading

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Center for Effective Performance.

This is an updated version of a seminal text that outlines why learning objectives are the cornerstone of effective teaching. It provides a guide to write effective learning objectives, including specifying the features of well-defined learning objectives.

Clarke, S. (2021). Unlocking learning intentions and success criteria: Shifting from product to process across the disciplines. SAGE Publications.

This practical guide illustrates different types of learning intentions and success criteria, including how to write effective learning objectives in different disciplines, how to communicate them to students, and how to ensure there is a fit between learning intentions and success criteria.


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2023). Meeting the needs of students for whom English is an additional language or dialect.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2022). Building a culturally responsive Australian teaching workforce: Final report for Indigenous cultural competency project.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7–74.

Education Endowment Foundation. (2021). Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning.

Feucht, F. C., Lunn Brownlee, J., & Schraw, G. (2017). Moving beyond reflection: Reflexivity and epistemic cognition in teaching and teacher education. Educational Psychologist, 52(4), 234–241.

Hattie, J. (2023). Visible learning: The sequel: A synthesis of over 2,100 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit instruction: Historical and contemporary contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32(3), 140–148.

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Center for Effective Performance.

Perry, T., Lea, R., Jørgensen, C. R., Cordingley, P., Shapiro, K., Youdell, D., Harrington, J., Fancourt, A., Crisp, P., Gamble, N., & Pomareda, C. (2021). Cognitive science in the classroom: Evidence and practice review.

Ryan, M., Rowan, L., Lunn Brownlee, J., Bourke, T., L’Estrange, L., Walker, S., & Churchward, P. (2022). Teacher education and teaching for diversity: A call to action. Teaching Education, 33(2), 194–213.

Keywords: student engagement