of Behavioral Verbs for Learning Objectives
Dr. Bob Kizlik
Updated August 18, 2012
Behavioral verbs are
nothing less than the heart of learning objectives,
which are in turn the core component of effective lesson plans. If defined and
used consistently, such verbs are a highly effective way to indicate, and communicate
to others, specific, observable student behavior. Behavioral verbs describe an
observable product or action. Teachers and others constantly make inferences
about student learning on the basis of what students do or produce. Valid
inferences can only be made when there is little or no doubt regarding what is
It follows then, that one way to define curriculum is in
terms of intended student behavior. Learning objectives based on a set of verbs
that have some measure of agreement as to meaning can provide a useful vehicle
for the purpose of developing performance-based curriculum. In education, there
is no substitute for clarity, specificity, and a professional vocabulary.
Consistent use of defined behavioral verbs in composing, rewriting or selecting
learning objectives can lead to improvement in efforts to change and reform
education in general and curriculum in particular.
The following verbs and their definitions can be helpful
when composing learning objectives. These are general definitions that describe
only the observable behavior and do not include linkages to any specific
content. These definitions are provided for those who seek a basis for a
technical vocabulary regarding student performance. To see examples of these
verbs used in specific content areas, click here.
APPLY A RULE: To state a rule as it applies to a
situation, object or event that is being analyzed. The statement must convey
analysis of a problem situation and/or its solution, together with the name or
statement of the rule that was applied.
ASSESS: To stipulate the conditions by which the behavior
specified in an objective may be ascertained. Such stipulations are usually in
the form of written descriptions. For obvious reasons, assess is rarely used as
a verb in learning objectives at the elementary school level.
CLASSIFY: To place objects, words, or situations into
categories according to defined criteria for each category. The criteria must be
made known to the student.
COMPOSE: To formulate a composition in written, spoken,
musical or artistic form.
CONSTRUCT: To make a drawing, structure, or model that
identifies a designated object or set of conditions.
DEFINE: To stipulate the requirements for inclusion of an
object, word, or situation in a category or class. Elements of one or both of
the following must be included: (1) The characteristics of the words, objects,
or situations that are included in the class or category. (2) The
characteristics of the words, objects, or situations that are excluded in the
class or category. To define is to set up criteria for classification.
DEMONSTRATE: The student performs the operations necessary
for the application of an instrument, model, device, or implement. NOTE: There
is a temptation to use demonstrate in objectives such as, "the student will
demonstrate his knowledge of vowel sounds." As the verb is defined, this is
improper use of it.
DESCRIBE: To name all of the necessary categories of
objects, object properties, or event properties that are relevant to the
description of a designated situation. The objective is of the form, "The
student will describe this order, object, or event," and does not limit the
categories that may be used in mentioning them. Specific or categorical
limitations, if any, are to be given in the performance standards of each
objective. When using this verb in an objective, it is helpful to include a
statement to the effect of what the description, as a minimum, must reference.
DIAGRAM: To construct a drawing with labels and with a
specified organization or structure to demonstrate knowledge of that
organization or structure. Graphic charting and mapping are types of
diagramming, and these terms may be used where more exact communication of the
structure of the situation and response is desired.
DISTINGUISH: To identify under conditions when only two
contrasting identifications are involved for each response.
ESTIMATE: To assess the dimension of an object, series of
objects, event or condition without applying a standard scale or measuring
device. Logical techniques of estimation, such as are involved in mathematical
interpolation, may be used. See MEASURE.
EVALUATE: To classify objects, situations, people,
conditions, etc., according to defined criteria of quality. Indication of
quality must be given in the defined criteria of each class category. Evaluation
differs from general classification only in this respect.
IDENTIFY: To indicate the selection of an object of a
class in response to its class name, by pointing, picking up, underlining,
marking, or other responses.
INTERPRET: To translate information from observation,
charts, tables, graphs, and written material in a verifiable manner.
LABEL: To stipulate a verbal (oral or written) response to
a given object, drawing, or composition that contains information relative to
the known, but unspecified structure of these objects, drawings, or
compositions. Labeling is a complex behavior that contains elements of naming
LOCATE: To stipulate the position of an object, place, or
event in relation to other specified objects, places, or events. Ideational
guides to location such as grids, order arrangements and time may be used to
describe location. Note: Locate is not to be confused with IDENTIFY.
MEASURE: To apply a standard scale or measuring device to
an object, series of objects, events, or conditions, according to practices
accepted by those who are skilled in the use of the device or scale.
NAME: To supply the correct name, in oral or written form
for an object, class of objects, persons, places, conditions, or events which
are pointed out or described.
ORDER: To arrange two or more objects or events in
accordance with stated criteria.
PREDICT: To use a rule or principle to predict an outcome
or to infer some consequence. It is not necessary that the rule or principle be
REPRODUCE: To imitate or copy an action, construction, or
object that is presented.
SOLVE: To effect a solution to a given problem, in writing
or orally. The problem solution must contain all the elements required for the
requested solution, and may contain extraneous elements that are not required
for solution. The problem must be posed in such a way that the student that the
student is able to determine the type of response that is acceptable.
STATE A RULE: To make a statement that conveys the meaning
of the rule, theory or principle.
TRANSLATE: To transcribe one symbolic form to another of
the same or similar meaning.
There is much more available. If you really want to learn
and improve your skills in writing objectives or selecting objectives written by
others, please consider purchasing my self-instructional, interactive program
called Catalyst: Tools for Effective Teaching. It is available in both download and CD format. It is
and most of all, honest. Click on this link to read more.
Click Here to go to examples of the behavioral verbs in
English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies.
Be sure to visit the ADPRIMA Instruction System page by
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"Anything not understood in more than one way is not
understood at all"
Robert Kizlik & Associate