Goal Setting with Ben Franklin

As part of 8th grade US History, I ask students to set goals for the year. (The goals sheet also turns into a faux certificate for 8th grade Celebration practice at the end of the year.) In the past this lesson has been a little meh. I was happy with the change I made to ask students tie their goals/reflection to our school’s mission statement, but I also wanted a way to introduce the lesson in a way that felt a bit more authentic and related to US History.

After the Teaching with Primary Sources Institute at the Library of Congress this summer I wondered if there was a primary source doc that could be used for a quick intro. I remembered a LifeHacker post that I’d seen describing Ben Franklin’s system for monitoring his habits as outlined in his autobiography. The LoC didn’t have a digital copy of the Autobiograpy, but they were able to point me to one.


I began by giving students a portion of the document. I asked them to make observations, guesses*, and questions about the document. They fairly quickly guessed that the letters at the top of the chert represented days of the week. Students had some interesting ideas about what the document might represent (a chart for showing which days to feed children? a diet? a chart to help alcoholics stay sober?) We also talked about who the author might be and students guessed by the way that the definition of temperance was written that it was probably an old document.

I then projected page 215 of the Autobiography that lists the virtues Franklin was trying to cultivate and asked students to revisit their guesses about what the purpose of the document was based on them. After they’d shared, I projected a page from Franklin’s Autobiography describing his method. We briefly discussed whether students thought this was a useful system and then segued into writing their own goals/reflections.


*The Library of Congress’s materials refer to these as reflections, but I’ve found that this terms doesn’t seem to resonate with students and hypotheses or guesses works better.

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5 thoughts on “Goal Setting with Ben Franklin

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