Identify the desired results

For the first stage of the backward design process, the classroom work needs to focus on big ideas and the essential curriculum understandings, rather than activities.

Identify the learning

In order to shift the focus to learning, teachers must identify the learning that will result from the lesson sequence or unit. This requires setting transfer, meaning and acquisition goals/ learning intentions:

  • 'Transfer' goals/ learning intentions:
    • What should students know and be able to do?
    • What should students be able to do, on their own?
  • 'Meaning' goals/ learning intentions
    • What understandings about key ideas should they leave with?
    • What big ideas should anchor and organise the content?
  • 'Acquisition' goals/ learning intentions
    • What knowledge and skills are essential for achievement of the learning intentions/goals?

The 4 steps

1. Identify syllabus outcomes

The syllabus outcomes need to be addressed in the lesson sequence/ unit.

2. Determine ‘transfer’ goals

‘Transfer’ goals/ learning intentions are the long-term accomplishments that students should be able to do with knowledge and skill, on their own and transfer this to other contexts, situations or KLAs (key learning areas).

Determine these by examining the syllabus outcome and chunking it down into the understandings, knowledge and skills required to demonstrate achievement of the syllabus outcome. There should be clear and direct links between the syllabus outcome and the ‘transfer’ goals/ learning intention.

The learning intention/goal is what you want the students to learn or understand and should not be confused with the context or tasks. In order for a learning intention/goal to be shared effectively, it needs to be:

  • clear and unambiguous
  • explained by the teacher in a way that makes sense to the students
  • using student-friendly language.

When determining a 'transfer' goal/ learning intention, use the stem: Students will be able to independently use their learning to...

3. Determine ‘meaning’ goals

These are the goals/ learning intentions that capture what big ideas or concepts students need to understand, that is, goals that cannot simply be transmitted but must be ‘earned’ by the learner.

The big idea is an abstract and transferable concept, theme, or process at the heart of a subject or topic, such as adaptation or survival. An understanding is a full-sentence generalisation specifying what students will come to understand about the big idea/s.

When determining a 'meaning' goal/ learning intention, ensure it specifies what a student will come to understand about the big idea/s. An example is 'Students will understand that living organisms adapt in order to survive harsh or changing environments'.

To determine the big idea/s for the lesson sequence/ unit, replace facts, definitions and truisms with:

  • Why? So what?
  • What is the 'moral of the story' here?
  • How is [the subject] applied in the world beyond the classroom?
  • What couldn’t we do if we didn’t understand [the subject]?

To determine an understanding about the big idea/s, use filters. Wiggins and McTighe (1998) suggest these filters help deeper understandings:

  • represent a big idea having enduring value beyond the classroom
  • reside at the heart of the discipline (involve 'doing' the subject)
  • require uncoverage (of abstract or often misunderstood ideas)
  • offer potential for engaging students.

When determining a meaning goal/ learning intention, use the stem: Students will understand that…

4. Determine ‘acquisition’ goals

These are learning goals and intentions that:

  • specify what students should know and be able to do as a result of the unit
  • reflect both the targeted knowledge and skill and the enabling knowledge and skill implied in understanding-related goals
  • not taught for their own sake, but as a means to larger ends.
The knowledge gained: The skills gained:
  • vocabulary/ terminology
  • definitions
  • key factual information
  • critical details
  • important events and people sequence/ timeline
  • these questions have a correct answer!
  • basic skills
  • communication skills
  • research/inquiry/ investigation skills
  • thinking skills: problem-solving, decision making
  • study skills
  • Interpersonal or group collaboration skills.

Use the stem: Students will know… Students will be skilled at...

The first stage Identify desired results template provides support as you plan your sequence of lessons.


  • Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Return to top of page Back to top