Paying Attention to Habits of Mind During Circle Time

Bena Kallick

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally.

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So many teachers believe that Habits of Mind is so important but they struggle with how to meaningfully make that part of their instructional practice. Based on my collaboration with elementary school teachers at the Quinnipiac Real World Magnet Math STEM School, we came up with some questions to create an inviting circle time that would be concrete and simple enough to engender our thinking interdependently.

These were our design criteria to guide the question development around each Habit of Mind:

  • Prompt discussions about the Habits of Mind
  • Create an opportunity to personalize the classroom community
  • Serve as a springboard for connections to the curriculum. Each elementary teacher offers circle time.

Download the 16 Habits

Clarity and Precision

  • What math vocabulary are we learning ?
  • How might we describe _______ using math vocabulary?

Data through all senses

  • Close your eyes and picture the last delicious meal that you had.
  • Share the sights, smells, tastes you remember.
  • Write and illustrate that meal and make sure you include the senses you just remembered.

Taking Responsible Risks

  • What did you do this week that was brand new? Something you did not do previously? (It can be something in or outside of school.)
  • How did you feel about trying something new? What words best describe your feelings (you may want to chart the words or you can create a wordle — perhaps using
  • Next time you or a friend are afraid to jump into something you would like to do, what can you say to yourself or to others to help you make the leap?

Creating, Imagining, Innovating

  • Ever wonder what it would be like to create something brand new — something that has not yet been invented? Perhaps show an object like a paper clip. What might you create with just this paper clip? How would it work?
  • How does it feel when you are free to create something? How is it different from when you do something you already know?

Wonderment and Awe

  • Great film to show to start a conversation about wonderment and awe:
  • Think about something that you saw or you were doing that amazed you. How does it make you feel when you are in the presence of something amazing? What words come to mind to describe that?
  • Hold on to that feeling and write about the amazing experience; maybe create a skit with others. Draw without words and see if people can guess what your experience was about.

Thinking Interdependently

  • What do you notice is the difference between working alone and working with others? How does working with others affect your thinking?
  • Turn and pair share. Did you find more ideas when you started talking with someone else?
  • What is hard about working with others? What might you do to make it easier?

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

  • What is something that we have been studying that you wish you knew more about? What interests do you have either in or outside of class that you wish you knew more about?
  • What do you do to learn more when you want to know something that is not covered in class?
  • Each person in the class, either alone or with others, to do some new learning. Brainstorm what might be possible.

Listening with Understanding and Empathy

  • What does good listening look like to you? What do you see people doing when they are listening carefully to someone?
  • Let’s try a turn and talk and practice one thing: listen carefully to the other person and then try to say back what you understand the person is saying. Check for understanding and then switch. This is the beginning of empathy — really understanding what the other person says. This can be repeated by elaborating what questions you want to ask the other person. You can give a sentence starter for the students to complete: What I did last night … The best time I ever had …

Thinking Flexibly

  • As you think about solving a problem, what helps you think of possible solutions? How does it feel when you come up with another way of doing something that works even better than the original way?
  • When you are working with others, what could you say that would help everyone to think flexibly? For example, does someone have another idea?

Thinking about Your Thinking (Metacognition)

  • What are some ways that you plan for projects? What are some of the ways that you make sure that you are staying with the project once you get started?
  • As you answer these questions, you are thinking about your thinking. You become aware of what you are considering. Some people say that it feels like talking to yourself inside your head. When might you have had an experience where you talked to yourself as you were working on something? How did that feel to you?

Striving for Accuracy

  • How do you know that the work you are doing is right? What do you do to check up on yourself to be sure? Think about some of the people who work with you. How does it make you feel to know that they are also striving for accuracy?


  • Remember a time when you got stuck? When you thought you could solve a problem and it got hard? What are some of the words that go through your mind when you are stuck and don’t know what to do?
  • Now remember a time when you thought you were stuck but you found a way to get out of that situation and actually do what was hard to do. How did you feel about that?
  • What strategies did you use to help you when you were stuck? For example, “When I am stuck I ______.”

Managing Impulsivity

  • Think about a time when you were in a conflict or just could not wait in line or some other situation where you just acted too quickly without thinking first. What happened and how did you feel after you thought about it?
  • What strategies might you use to help you slow yourself down so that you think before you act?

Questioning and Problem Posing

  • As you think about the topic, the book ________ we were studying, what questions do you have?
  • Another possibility: what is a problem that you see in our school? The community? The world? Brainstorm and then think about what you might do to learn more about this problem and maybe come up with some ideas to solve it.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

  • As you analyze a new problem, in what ways do you use your background knowledge to solve it? When you read something and you are not sure what it is really about, how might you use background knowledge to figure out what it is about?
  • What strategies can you invent to help you remember to use past knowledge?

Finding Humor

  • How does laughing make you feel? What kinds of things make you laugh? When does it really help to laugh a little?


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