Four Habits of Mind That Cross the Curriculum and Last a Lifetime

Thinking child on black background with light bulb and question marks. Brainstorming and idea concept

Experienced educators know that genuine student success requires more than just learning how to read. If students are to become lifelong learners who seek out new information and collaborate on creative solutions, they need to internalize ways of working that enable them to approach diverse subjects and situations confidently. The four habits of mind listed below equip students to pursue their curiosity, analyze challenging texts, and synthesize new understandings—whatever the subject area.

Habit 1: Ask questions without fear.

Challenge: Students often hesitate to share questions about a text because they don’t want to look foolish or less informed than their classmates.

Classroom action: Emphasize the importance of all authentic questions, and model your own curiosity about a text for students. Tell students that knowing what you don’t know—and being able to articulate confusion—is the first step toward deeper understanding. If students are still hesitant to formulate questions, try having them share possible questions in pairs or small groups, or give them question stems to get their thinking started.

Habit 2: Reread and dig deeper.

Challenge: In our fast-paced, disposable culture, it’s rare to revisit challenging content.

Classroom action: Help students experience the deeper understanding that results from rereading by using note-taking prompts that invite reactions and sharing. A contrasting note prompt (e.g., Mark a C where a character is being clever and an F where a character is being foolish) can show students how differently two readers can react to the same part of a text. It’s also a great way to demonstrate that evidence doesn’t speak for itself but must be explained.

Habit 3: Listen actively in discussion.

Challenge: There are few public models of effective conversation, and students often default to waiting for their turn to talk rather than processing what others are saying.

Classroom action: Establish guidelines for discussion that stress responding to others civilly and substantively. Frequently ask students to respond to each other’s ideas (e.g., “Do you agree or disagree with what Daniel just said?”). Have students write an initial answer before discussion and look back at their answer when discussion ends. Then ask volunteers to share how they expanded or modified their ideas.

Habit 4: Take the initiative in learning.

Challenge: Students who are accustomed to receiving direction may tend to hang back when they encounter a comprehension problem rather than pursue solutions.

Classroom action: Once students learn the strategies of asking questions, taking notes, and listening to each other in discussion, encourage them to take more responsibility for each process. For example, you might teach students how to identify question types and pursue them, how to create their own note-taking frameworks, and how to ask follow-up questions in discussion. Frequently ask students how the strategies they are learning apply to real-life situations.

Senior Professional Learning Consultant and Editor. Nancy Carr has over 20 years of experience as both a professional development coach and a curriculum developer, working in schools throughout the country and with a wide range of student populations. Her work focuses on the intersection of curriculum materials and classroom practice, and she has helped develop many of the Foundation’s current K–12 materials. Nancy holds a PhD in English from the University of Virginia.