Writing Goals with a Metalinguistic Focus: The “Where”, the “What”, and the “How”

speech therapy iep goals for language; language therapy goals

Writing Goals with a Metalinguistic Focus: The “Where”, the “What”, and the “How”

Guess what? It’s time to start writing reports and goals! Please, please, contain your excitement.


Feel free to stop reading this if you’re floating through your paperwork with ease…

You never overthink your treatment plans…

You never take work home in the evenings or over the weekend…

And you’ve never stressed out about aligning your goals with Common Core Standards and still making them appropriate for your students…

If this is you, you probably don’t need to keep reading.

Just so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time reading up to this point, here’s a cute picture of my dog:


Now, for those of you who are still reading, let’s get to it. You came here to read about how to “write goals with a metalinguistic focus.”  What does that even mean?

In a nutshell, it means that we are teaching students strategies to help them become more aware of how they use language, which can help them apply the skills they learn in therapy.

But if you haven’t intentionally been “doing therapy with a metalinguistic focus” and you want to start, does this mean that you need to completely overhaul your therapy goals?

Probably not. It’s actually quite feasible and you don’t need to overthink it. You are probably already doing it to some extent.

Let’s dive in.

Determine the “Where”

might be the best one

For those of us working in the schools, this would be the Common Core Standards. Before you can go on a journey, you need to know the destination. And despite the many complaints I’ve heard about the standards, this is what Common Core gives us.

Simply put, the Common Core Standards are what we can use to determine what is typical and expected at each grade level.

They do not necessarily dictate the strategies that you use to get there. Even though legal mandates have put quite a few limitations on us, we still have some freedom to choose how we go about meeting the standards. Including our use of metacognitive and metalinguistic strategies.

Focus on The “What.”


This would be our treatment goals.

Now that we know the grade level expectations, we think about our students’ current skill levels. Chances are, students with a language disorders are not going to be effortlessly floating through school meeting all of the grade level expectations, so we need to identify the deficits and goals to target that will help bridge gaps.

It’s very important at this step to be able to distinguish the “what” from the “how”.

The “what” is the observable behavior that you want to see. Don’t lose sight of this by getting lost in the “how”, which would be the strategies that you will use to get the student to do the behavior.

Yes, they are both important-but confusing the two can complicate goal writing and lead to poorly written goals.

Here’s an example:

By April of 2015, John will complete his graphic organizer on 4 out of 5 trials.

What’s the problem with this goal? Graphic organizers are effective strategies for getting our thoughts together in a cohesive way, right? Sure, but that’s the problem.

Using a graphic organizer is a strategy to get to the outcome, not the outcome itself. We actually have no idea what John needs to do to meet grade level standards when we look at this goal.

Here’s a better version:

By April of 2015, John will write a paragraph with a topic sentence and 2 supporting details on 4 out of 5 trials.

This is really what we want-for John to write effectively. So this should be clear in the goal.  I’m not saying that mentioning a strategy within the context of a goal is always “wrong”. I’ve actually seen certain instances when it was appropriate or even desired (such as being able to self-correct).

I am saying that we shouldn’t lose sight of the functional outcome. Because if John can write a cohesive paragraph by the end of the year that meets grade level standards, it really doesn’t matter what mnemonic or organizer he’s using to do it.

Here are some more goals that are a bit off the mark:

By May of 2016, Sally will effectively use the (name specific brand name or published product) to describe words on 8 out of 10 trials.

By May of 2016, Sally will effectively define 80% of the words from (name of book series).

It should go to say that it’s never appropriate to state a brand name or specific published series within a goal. There is no be-all-end-all strategy or published tool that is the only way to teach a skill.

Why would we want to limit our students like that? And what if the student were to move to a district that didn’t have that tool? Writing goals like this takes specificity way too far and loses site of the end game.

Here are better ways to write those goals:

By May of 2016, Sally will describe grade level words using 2-3 attributes on 8 out of 10 trials.

By May of 2015, Sally will define grade level vocabulary words on 4 out of 5 trials.

Again, the “what” first before you get to the “how”.

Does this sound like what you are already doing when writing goals? That’s good, it should!

Plan the “How.”


Now the part you have all been waiting for! Here is where we can talk about how to incorporate metalinguistic strategies. Is it a good idea to think about them before we get to this point? Of course! But here is where we really start to get specific.

Now that you know what’s expected of the student and the goals that the student meets in order to meet them, we can plan how to get there.

This automatically leads in to planning the strategies you will teach a student in therapy. I recommend doing a “meta” strategy brainstorm at this point for each goal. You will probably tweak this list throughout the course of treatment, but the important thing is that you’re aligning the strategies with the end outcome.

Here’s a couple examples of how this might look with the goals from above, with some links to give you some more information about each strategy:

Corresponding Common Core Standards: W.2.1, W.2.2.
Goal: By April of 2015, John will write a paragraph with a topic sentence and 2 supporting details on 4 out of 5 trials.

Metalinguistic Strategies:
TREE and POW Self-Regulated Strategies Development Mneumonics
Essay Mapping
Basic Outlining
Semantic Mapping

Corresponding Common Core Standards: SL.4.4, L.4.5
Goal: By May of 2016, Sally will describe words using 2-3 attributes on 8 out of 10 trials.

Metalinguistic Strategies:
Expanding Expression Tool
Definition Format Grammar
Semantic Feature Analysis
These are obviously not all of the strategies possible for these goals, but are some examples to get you started.

Think of it as a meta strategy for yourself!

Did you like this article? Do you want more like it? If so, join my mailing list to get the best evidence-based resources for language therapy.

When you sign up, you’ll get instant access to this free video training that will show you how to build academic vocabulary in 30 minutes per week.

tier 2 vocabulary; school speech therapy; language therapy techniques


10 Responses to “Writing Goals with a Metalinguistic Focus: The “Where”, the “What”, and the “How”

  • This was very helpful! We lose sight of the importance of writing effective goals.

  • I had seen the vocabulary rubrics previously, but no one had ever explained it the way you did. Now I can better see how this can be used. Also, I can see how I can measure that vocabulary in better ways than just seeing if the child can tell me the word meaning. P.S. How are you being funded?

    • Judy, Thank you! I’m glad this information is helpful to you. I’d love to hear about how it goes once you put it in to practice. As far as the funding goes, I’m not being funded by anyone but myself-so I’m just covering costs out of pocket. I do eventually plan to monetize through selling products, such as e-books, therapy materials and webinars, but right now I’m just creating the free content to see what it most helpful to my audience.

  • Liane Thomas
    2 years ago

    Thank you for the reminders to “go meta” and for the supportive links!

  • Laura Gordon
    2 years ago

    Please add me to ur email list

  • I think we sometimes try to write goals so we can take data at every session. In your vocabulary goal example we would need to teach the word and the strategy but I would think you’d need to take data at the next session to check for retention of the word and strategy. It’s difficult to measure a goal when you are teaching new words every week. Do you have a list of words your teaching so their data reflects how many of the words they’ve learned (50 of 100 words) or do you only report what they can recall from the session or the previous session (2 of 3 words). Maybe I’m over complicating this but I’m only getting through a few words a session using the semantic feature analysis strategy. It’s easier for me to measure how well they understand how to use the strategy

    • Hi Kate! Thanks for the question. I’d say that you’re correct in your observations-it is really hard to get to all of those words. With this goal, I usually focus more on their ability to do the task, rather than worrying about whether they can remember all of the semantic information for specific words. You are correct that it is going to be hard to get through tons of words for each session. In most of the research, it suggests that we can realistically get through 1-3 words per week with our therapy schedules (Laura Justice is one researcher who has done work in this area, for example). I recommend focusing more on what you’re doing when you’re studying the words (for example, showing them to describe the words using different types of information), rather than just strictly knowing the content. In theory, you’d hope that the ability to describe words using multiple pieces of information and then put them in to sentences will helpfully make them more aware and transfer to other words. So don’t be too worried about having them “know” all the words, focus more on increasing awareness, becoming metalinguistically aware, and being able to retrieve more information. Don’t worry about them getting it perfect, as long as they are starting to get excited about studying words. Does that make sense? This is a great question…it would be great if you would share in the FB group!

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software