Have you ever heard someone tell you that it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit? Well, scientific studies have determined that to be unfounded. 

When it comes to something easy, such as grabbing a coffee at your local Starbucks on your way to school, it might take only a few days for a habit to form. But if it is a habit that is challenging, studies have shown that it may actually be more like 66 days. Or for very challenging habits, it could take up to a year! 

Habits of Mind are thinking habits that push us far past simple answer retrieval. They change our pattern of thinking to help us gain success when we don’t know the answer to a question or problem.

Nearly all successful people, regardless of their profession, have mastered these habits. This makes teaching the Habits of Mind crucial as we strive to teach the whole child. Since they are cross-curricular, they can be applied to all subjects and grade levels.

These habits are not as easy to master as that daily Starbucks stop, so it is important that the language and mindset is woven throughout instruction. This way, students have an opportunity to practice frequently to help them become automatic. Additionally, it results in resilient students who are able to tackle real-world problems without giving up.

Many versions of Habits of Mind for students have been researched and published.

In the mid-’90s, Robert Marzano’s Dimensions of Learning was introduced to many educators. Without a doubt, it was a very effective way to approach and break down the components of teaching a unit. Productive Habits of Mind, or “Thinking about One’s Thinking” was the fifth of his 5 Dimensions of Learning. Furthermore, Marzano broke these habits down into three categories: Self-Regulated Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Creative Thinking. 

In 2003, Harvard School of Education’s Project Zero unveiled eight Studio Habits of Mind. (Develop Craft, Engage & Persist, Envision, Express, Observe, Reflect, Stretch & Explore, Understand Art Worlds). These are habits that artists use but they can also apply to all subject areas as well. 

Although it is not called “Habits of Mind”, Carol Dweck’s 2007 work on Growth Mindset can be placed in the same category. Her book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success kicked off a Growth Mindset movement in many schools, empowering students to reframe their thinking by teaching how the brain grows from doing challenging things.

While all of the above habits overlap and set students up for success, this guide provides specific resources to teach the 16 Habits of Mind based on ASCD’s book Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success by Costa and Kallick, 2008. They can easily be adapted to include the other Habits of Mind. You will notice that there are many intersections since regardless of the type of habit, they all relate to metacognition.

How Can I Squeeze This Into My Already Packed Curriculum?

We know time is the enemy, and we try to teach more and more content. Just a few minutes of routine Habits of Mind thinking a day is very beneficial. Not only is it quick, but it reaps great rewards because students who apply the habits are more successful in your content and activities. 

Moreover, this quick routine works well as a series of Morning Meetings, or as a quick introduction at the beginning of class. This way, students have a habit in their mind as they work through your lesson. As you notice students using habits of mind, point it out, explain what you see, and how it may connect to future successes and praise them. 

This will help students to notice them on their own and will encourage them to use them more often since they will start to recognize the pattern of success that they bring. 

Habits of Mind are also good to point out if you notice that things are starting to fall apart during a lesson or activity. Stop and point out the challenge you’re observing and relate it to a habit of mind that is not being utilized. Then, the following day, start with a mini-lesson on that Habit of Mind. 

Remember, forming a challenging habit takes lots of repetition, so the more real-time examples a student can see, the better. Use common language and be very specific when you point out examples, and you will notice that students will begin to do the same. Then, students can be more intentional about applying the habits across subject areas.

Hype or Help?

Obviously, incorporating and teaching through a set of mindset principles is an important part of the education process.  But are the Habits of Mind hype or do they really help in and out of the classroom?

In the video below, we explore each of these sets of Habits and break down why they have been outlined for each content area.  Each content area is unique, but all contain common intersections for mindsets.

Integrated Habits of Mind

The question naturally becomes: why don’t we integrate across the Habits of Mind?  After all, we don’t teach in isolation and if a Habit of Mind is good for one area, it stands to reason that it is probably useful in another.  Isn’t that the point?

That’s why it’s important to look for the common threads in each of the content Habits of Mind and work towards weaving them together to create a cohesive set that works across all classrooms in your school. 

Integrated Habits of Mind


In Action: Brainsweat

One technique to begin integrating the Habits of Mind is called Brainsweat. During “brainsweat” time, students have 7 minutes to grapple with a challenging word problem. The goal is not to necessarily finish the problem in that amount of time, but to spend that time ONLY focusing on the problem and possible ways to solve it. 

Students can also mark it up with questions they have, what is “stumping” them, and words they need to clarify. When time is up, students are assigned groups where they can share ideas, come to a consensus on the answer, and determine which strategy is the most effective in finding the answer.

Teaching the 16 Habits of Mind with Pixar (and similar) Shorts

One way to teach the Habits of Mind is through quick video clips or picture books. This list provides at least one video clip to match each of the 16 Habits of Mind. 

You can use the accompanying Student Workbook to encourage students to sketch and doodle their thoughts throughout.

Habit 1: Persisting

Definition: Sticking to task at hand; Follow through to completion; Can and do remain focused.  

Lesson Idea: Class Dojo’s Big Ideas has a fantastic video series on Perseverance. You can share and discuss them all at once, or spread it out showing one video clip a day. 

Habit 2: Managing Impulsivity

Definition: Take time to consider options; Think before speaking or acting; Remain calm when stressed or challenged; Thoughtful and considerate of others; Proceed carefully.

Lesson Idea: You can find a great lesson plan for this habit here. Then, use the Pixar short For the Birds as a great non-example of impulsivity. After viewing, generate discussion on how managing impulsivity could have helped.

Habit 3: Listening with Understanding and Empathy

Definition: Pay attention to and do not dismiss another person’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas; Seek to put myself in the other person’s shoes; Tell others when I can relate to what they are expressing; Hold thoughts at a distance in order to respect another person’s point of view and feelings.

Lesson Idea: This video clip from the movie Inside Out demonstrates listening with understanding and empathy. (Note: an ad plays before the clip.)

Habit 4: Thinking Flexibly

Definition: Able to change perspective; Consider the input of others; Generate alternatives; Weigh options. Relatable topics for students: Don’t continue to make the same mistake, look to others for help, use your resources, take a break to clear your head

Lesson Idea: The picture book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is a fantastic example of Flexible Thinking. After reading, show and discuss these video clips: Bulldog Can’t Fit Bone through Door and Caminandes 1: Llama Drama – Blender Animated Short

Habit 5: Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition)

Definition: Being aware of your own thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions; Knowing what I do and say affects others; Willing to consider the impact of choices on myself and others.

Lesson Idea: The first minute of the Inside Out trailer is an introduction to emotions. Identifying these emotions in ourselves and others is the first step to understanding. See this article for more on this topic.

Habit 6: Striving for Accuracy

Definition: Check for errors; Measure at least twice; Nurture a desire for exactness, fidelity & craftsmanship. 

Lesson Idea: Begin with this video on watch making. Then, relate to detail-oriented processes like sculpting, mosaics, composing, long division, advanced multiplication, subtraction with regrouping, editing a writing piece, or simply checking over any work before it is hastily turned in.

Habit 7: Questioning and Posing Problems

Definition: Ask myself, “How do I know?”; develop a questioning attitude; Consider what information is needed, choose strategies to get that information; Consider the obstacles needed to resolve.

Lesson Idea: Watch and discuss how the Pixar short, Soar, demonstrates this habit.

Habit 8: Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Definition: Use what is learned; Consider prior knowledge and experience; Apply knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.

Lesson Idea: Watch the Pixar short, Piper, and discuss how the sandpiper learns from watching and applies information and adjusts thinking until he gets it right.

Habit 9: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Definition: Strive to be clear when speaking and writing; Strive be accurate to when speaking and writing; Avoid generalizations, distortions, minimizations and deletions when speaking, and writing.

Lesson Idea: Compare examples of clear and unclear communication. Then, give students opportunities to practice using both speaking and writing methods. Students can then listen or read each other’s work and determine if clarity was achieved. This video clip provides tips for clear communication and this video clip provides a NON Example of clear communication.

Habit 10: Gathering Data through All Senses

Definition: Stop to observe what I see; Listen to what I hear; Take note of what I smell; Taste what I am eating; Feel what I am touching.

Lesson Idea: This video clip of Ratatouille shows how one can slow down to observe. Provide examples for students to closely observe objects, situations, and text.

Habit 11: Creating, Imagining, Innovating

Definition: Think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”; Propose new ideas; Strive for originality; Consider novel suggestions others might make.

Lesson Idea: Ask if students have ever approached a project or task from a different perspective than everyone else. Encourage discussion about originality. Then, showcase this habit with this clip from the movie Wonderpark

This clip from the movie Apollo 13 shows how one person comes up with an out of the box idea, the group trusts the idea, and it is successful. Note: Pause at 1:25 due to mild profanity. 

Habit 12: Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Definition: Intrigued by the world’s beauty, nature’s power and vastness for the universe; Have regard for what is awe-inspiring and can touch my heart; Open to the little and big surprises in life I see others and myself.

Lesson Idea: Share an object or image that students may have not seen before. Ask them to observe and try to identify what it is. Reveal what the object or image is and ask students to describe their reaction (surprised, ah-ha, curious, etc). This is the act of wonder. Use these clips to reinforce this idea:

Habit 13: Taking Responsible Risks

Definition: Willing to try something new and different; Consider doing things that are safe and sane even though new to me; Face fear of making mistakes or of coming up short and don’t let this stop me.

Lesson Idea: Show this clip from Finding Nemo (which demonstrates risk taking) and this clip from Moana (an example of courage). Discuss the differences and similarities between risk-taking and courage.

Habit 14: Finding Humor

Definition: Willing to laugh appropriately; Look for the whimsical, absurd, ironic and unexpected in life; Laugh at myself when I can.

Lesson Idea: Ellen DeGeneres is a great example of laughing at one’s self. On this clip of Game of Games, her contestants laugh at themselves. What are ways we can take ourselves less seriously? How does this idea of finding humor help us in relating to others?

Habit 15: Thinking Interdependently

Definition: Willing to work with others and welcome their input and perspective; Abide by decisions the workgroup makes even if I disagree somewhat; Willing to learn from others in reciprocal situations.

Lesson Idea: This is a great time to connect with Social Emotional Learning through the Social Awareness competency. Use this Pixar short, The Power of Teamwork and this clip from The Incredibles to demonstrate working together and trusting in a group decision. 

Habit 16: Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Definition: Open to new experiences to learn from; Proud and humble enough to admit when I don’t know; Welcome new information on all subjects.

Lesson Idea: Code.org has a terrific video clip discussing the hurdle of learning something new. You can also show this ClassDojo videos on Growth Mindset to discuss what it takes to learn new things.

Alternative Video Clips and Ideas

Need more? This website has a video clip for each of the Habits of Mind. So if you need an alternative to better match your grade level, or if you need more practice, check them out!

Weaving Habits of Mind into Lesson Planning

Habits of Mind can also be used as an integrated instructional tool to address different learning styles, abilities, and interests. These habits can help develop problem-solving skills, infuse higher-order thinking attributes, and promote collaboration within the lesson plan format. 

Try using this format as you plan your next lesson:

  • Identify the topic of study
  • Clarify standards and objectives to be used
  • Brainstorm activity ideas for each Habit of Mind
  • Determine the assessment
  • Make clear the purpose of the lesson

Here’s an example of what this might look like in practice:

Habits of Mind Lesson Planning


Habits of Mind Cards

Be sure to download these free Habits of Mind Cards that work wonderfully as a bulletin board display. 

Having these resources on the wall and within the student workbook will undeniably help students to see the Habits of Mind frequently, helping them to form the habits more quickly. 

Resource visuals on the wall are not as effective without an explicit mini-lesson on each, so make sure to pair your bulletin board with the instruction.

Building a Common Connection

Mindsets in general are important to understand and cultivating habits within those mindset is extremely helpful.   If we advocate for our students receiving a well-rounded and robust learning experience, we can no longer teach in silos or as if our own content areas are the only lens through which our children see.  Let’s work together to build a creative mindset in all classrooms with the Habits of Mind.

Additional Guides

Looking for more helpful ideas, strategies, and tools? Try one of our other resource guides:

brain breaks for kids
morning meeting activities
sel resource guide