The abcd model for Writing Objectives

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The ABCD Model for Writing Objectives

Identifying a clear instructional goal or goals represents a critical first step in the instructional design process. The more clearly teachers articulate their instructional goals, the more clear and focused their teaching becomes which research indicates results in better student learning.
The ABCD model breaks instructional objectives into four parts:
Audience: describes who the learners are.
Behavior: describes what students will learn or be able to do as a result of completing the instruction.
Condition: describes the circumstances under which the learning will occur. In other words, describes required resources or materials students would need access to.
Degree: describes the level of mastery students must demonstrate to indicate they successfully mastered the objective.
Both the Audience and Behavior are found in all instructional objectives, however, many objectives lack Conditions or a statement of Degree. Conditions are often omitted as they are intuitively obvious. For example, a diving coach writing an objective for teaching a back flip would not need to include a Condition about a pool and diving board; clearly, the dive could not be completed without them. When a Degree is omitted it implies students should meet the objective 100% of the time or with 100% accuracy.

The Behavior represents the most critical aspect of an instructional objective. Behaviors are stated using verbs, and not just any verb will do. Objectives require the use of action verbs such as describe, state, identify, compare, analyze, classify, predict, name or solve. Such verbs describe an observable action on the part of students which can be evaluated by the teacher to determine if the student has mastered the objective. If students don't do anything actively observable, how could the teacher know they learned anything? Accordingly, verbs such as understand, learn, know or realize are unacceptable as they don't represent an overtly observable action on the part of students to demonstrate their mastery. The Bloom’s Taxonomy Breakdown can help identify overtly observable action verbs for the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy which can be used to create well written instructional objectives.

Objectives are directly tied to assessment in that the Behavior expressed as an action verb suggests what form appropriate assessment might take. For example, an objective using the verb “describe” might be assessed with a short answer question. An objective using the verb name might be assessed with a fill in the blank question. An objective using the verb identify might be assessed by a multiple-choice question or having students circle representative examples of a concept such as images of squares. Objectives using the word solve might be assessed by having students find the solutions to mathematical problems. Objectives using the word compare might be assessed by having students write a paragraph or essay.
Examples of Well-Written Objectives
Below are some example objectives which include Audience (A), Behavior (B), Condition (C) and Degree (D).
Given examples and non-examples of constructivist activities in a college classroom, students will explain why each is or isn't reflective of constructivist teaching practices with 90% accuracy.
Given a sentence written in the past or present tense, students will rewrite the sentence in future tense with no errors or tense contradictions (i.e., I will see her yesterday.).
Students will identify similarities and differences in perspectives on love in the poetry of Byron, Shelley and Keats.
Activities Versus Objectives

When trying to write instructional objectives people often confuse objectives, the facts or skills students are expected to have mastered as a result of completing instruction, with instructional activities, the things students did in order to learn the facts or skills. Objectives focus on what is learned by students while activities describe what students do during instruction in order to learn it. Why is differentiating between activities and objectives important? Effective instructional design begins with developing a clear target for your instruction – the objective. In the absence of a clear instructional intent, lessons generally wander in an unfocused and ineffective manner. Once you have identified the objective(s) you can then consider the various activities and experiences you might have students complete to support their mastering of the instructional objectives.

The remainder of this paper is adapted from Teaching for Competence by Howard Sullivan and Norman Higgins:
A common error in working with instructional objectives is to confuse objectives and activities. Objectives represent ends of instruction; activities represent means to these ends. An objective describes a skill or knowledge students will be expected to possess after instruction. In contrast, an activity is a learning experience in which students participate for the purpose of attaining an objective. The distinction between an activity and an objective is illustrated by the following statements.

  1. The student will view a video about famous Native American legends and their significance in Native American culture.

  2. The student will tell at least three well-known Native American legends and describe the significance of each in its Native American culture.

You can see that the first statement is an example of an activity. Viewing a video is an experience in which students might participate for the purpose of learning about Native American legends. The second statement, on the other hand, is an instructional objective – a skill the teacher might want students to acquire from a unit on Native Americans.

Distinguishing Objectives from Activities
Write an O in the blank beside each instructional objective and an A beside each instructional activity. If you think an item could be both an objective and an activity, market it as an objective.

  1. _____ The student will solve long-division problems.

  2. _____ The student will sound out and read new words.

  3. _____ The student will practice multiplication tables.

  4. _____ The student will take a field trip to the art museum.
  5. _____ The student will name four Shakespearean plays and summarize the plot of each.

Items A, B, and E are objectives. Each describes a skill teachers might want students to possess after instruction. Items C and D are activities – experiences in which students could participate for learning purposes.

Let's try a few more:
Write an O in the blank beside each instructional objective and an A beside each instructional activity.

  1. _____ The student will discuss the reasons for World War I.

  2. _____ The student will tell time to the nearest five-minute mark.

  3. _____ The student will write a business letter.

  4. _____ The student will read Chapter 3 in the science book and underline the important things to remember.

  5. _____ The student will, with a group of classmates, draw a mural depicting life among the pilgrims.

You should have marked items B and C as instructional objectives. Items A, D, and E are activities.

You may sometimes have difficulty telling whether an item is an activity or an objective when it’s written by someone else. That's because you can't always be certain of the other person's intent. For this reason you may have had difficulty with one or more items above. You won't have this difficulty when working with your own objectives and activities. Just remember that objectives are statements of skills or knowledge you want students to acquire from instruction. In contrast, activities are learning experiences in which students participate for the purpose of acquiring the skills.
Worthwhile Objectives

Deciding what skills are important for students to master is a major responsibility of every teacher. It is also one that is often overlooked or taken too lightly because it’s so easy to use published materials without giving much thought to their appropriateness. As teachers we should examine each potential objective to determine whether it’s worthwhile. A good way to do this is simply to answer the following questions:

  1. Is this a skill or content students will actually use in life?

  2. If not, is this skill or content required in order to acquire another useful skill?

If the answer to either of the questions above is yes, then the objective is worthwhile. If not, then why have students take time to meet the objective? Here’s an example to help make the point. One MSET 365 lesson plan I received included the following objective: given a blank map of New Mexico, students will write in the name each county. According to the ABCD criteria, this is a perfectly written objective – but is it worthwhile? Could you meet this objective? I doubt it! Is your ability to function successfully in life compromised by your inability to write the names of all 33 NM counties on a blank map of the state? I doubt that, too! So what's the point of asking kids to master this objective? Memorization of facts for no larger purpose represents trivial pursuit.

In many lessons, the instruction stops short of dealing meaningfully with the content being taught. Such instruction frequently focuses on memorization of information rather than applying information in some meaningful way. This may occur, for example, when students learn a definition but do not apply it. Here are two objectives to illustrate this point:
Students will define each of the eight parts of speech: noun, verb, pronoun, adverbs, adjectives, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.
Students will identify examples of each part of speech in a passage containing one or more examples of each part.

The first of these objectives merely requires students to give definitions of terms – definitions that can be memorized with little or no understanding. The second objective requires students to identify examples of the content being taught, a skill they are more likely to use in life and one that demonstrates greater understanding of the content. Both these objectives can be considered to be worthwhile – the first because it is required to master the second; the second because it demonstrates more meaningful understanding and students are likely to use it in later life. It's important to recognize, however, that teaching the first objective without advancing to the second represents a focus on low levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Students should be asked to apply new learning in real-world, meaningful ways rather than limiting them to mindless memorization.

Here’s another example:
Students will memorize the names of the planets in order from the sun.
This objective requires students to memorize facts, a low-level of Bloom's taxonomy, and the information does not form the basis for acquiring other meaningful skills or understandings. Additionally, this information can be easily googled at any time. Do you think this is a worthwhile objective? The answer isn't fully clear and depends on your perspective. There are some basic facts we might all agree that informed, educated people should know including the days of the week, months of the year and the names of the continents and oceans. Does knowing the names of the planets in order from the sun represent basic knowledge all people should have? You tell me – as I said, it depends on your perspective.
Show What You Know!
Mark an X by each objective below which is well-written according to the ABCD criteria. When you have finished, check your answers with the key at the end of this document.

  1. _____ Students will name the four families of musical instruments (strings, woodwinds, percussion, and brass).

  2. _____ Students will know the procedure for locating geographic sites on a world map when given their latitude and longitude.

  3. _____ Students will comprehend the general meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

  4. _____ Students will correctly pronounce the new science vocabulary words.

  5. _____ Students will describe the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird.

  6. _____ The teacher will describe the procedure for multiplying proper fractions.
  7. _____ Students will learn the capitals of all 50 states.

  8. _____ Students will label the four parts of a flower.

  9. _____ Given color photographs of well-known paintings by Picasso, Chagall, Miro, and Dali, students will name the artist and the title of each painting.

  10. _____ Students will describe each of the four steps in the process of cell division.

  11. _____ Given a paper and pen, students will write an original business letter according to the form specified in class.

Scroll down for the answers.

Answer Key:

Item 1 meets the ABCD criteria for a well written objective.

Item 2 fails to meet the ABCD criteria due to use of the verb know which is a non-observable verb. Teachers can't identify what students know if they don't perform some sort of action.

Item 3 fails to meet the ABCD criteria due to the use of the verb comprehend which is a non-observable synonym for the word know.

Items 4 and 5 meet the ABCD criteria for a well written objective.

Item 6 fails to meet the ABCD criteria as it describes a teacher performance rather than a student performance.

Item 7 fails to meet the ABCD criteria due to use of the verb learn which is non-observable just like the verbs know and comprehend.

Item 8 is not well-written as it fails to specify what students are given to label - a real flower or a diagram of a flower.

Items 9 and 10 meet the ABCD criteria for a well written objective.

Item 11 fails to meet the criteria for a well written objective because the “given paper and pen” statement is so obvious it should not be included.


Sullivan, H. & Higgins, N. (1983). Teaching for Competence. New York, New York: Teachers College Press.

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