Teaching Habits of Mind Through a Picture Book


By Robyn Ackerman

One of my most favorite ways to teach children curriculum is through the pages of an engaging picture book!

M is for Mindful is an extraordinary example! Author Robin L. Flanigan uses beautiful prose to describe each letter of the alphabet in such a thought-provoking way, you can’t help but see how this book will be used throughout your day with students and then stay with you as you walk out of the classroom.

I know what you’re thinking… Exactly! It’s just like the Habits of Mind! I’d like to invite you to walk with me through two important parts of a day with my students, Habits of Mind and M is for Mindful.

After morning announcements, students gather in a large circle to begin our day together. This is a very special circle. It is a place we join to welcome each other into a new day, share important thoughts, and practice varying techniques to calm our minds and bodies while awakening our senses for a day of learning and growing.

One of the most captivating parts of our circle is our centerpiece. It is a place to rest your eyes while you are thinking and listening to others. Children help create the centerpiece, often with seashells, a battery-operated flickering candle, glass stones, plants, and the occasional toy. From this centerpiece, a talking piece is chosen and then passed around the circle to acknowledge the speaker.

One talking piece that has become popular for my classroom is a Habits of Mind icon. We have them on 2-inch rectangular cards that are freely given to students as positive reinforcement throughout the school day.

Before students are invited to share, a question is posed to the group. Today sounds like this:

“Let’s remind ourselves of the page in M is for Mindful for the letter V. How could the Habit of Mind: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision come in handy when you have important things to say?”

As students pass around the Habit card, they are sharing ideas such as, “showing my work in math,” “Letting my teacher know if I don’t understand something,” “Communicating in my science group when I have a good idea that we should try.”

Once we walk away from this circle, you will no doubt hear phrases such as, “Thank you for communicating clearly! See how important your voice is to this work we are doing today?”

Habits of Mind linked with M is for Mindful to create a meaningful, visual example of positive reinforcement for students! How motivating!

Let’s head on over to the small group table and meet with one of my reading groups next. This is a kidney-shaped table with me in the crevice and six students around the outside. In front of them are two things: M is for Mindful closest to me and closest to the students—splayed out like a deck of cards ready for Go Fish—are the 16 Habits of Mind cards. The students are very familiar with Flanigan’s book. We have read it several times, and it is always available in our sharing book basket to read when they are finished with other work or just need a break for a few minutes.

I explain the task: We are going to link the Habits of Mind to the pages of this book! The students are very skilled at linking the Habits with tasks and activities throughout our school day, as it is a part of our daily language.

I was not prepared for what came next! I pictured us calmly talking about each page of Flanigan’s book and thinking about the habits mindfully, and then choosing one or two together to support the artwork and prose of the page.

In reality: Picture students getting ready for this task as if they are getting ready to play Whac-a-Mole at a carnival! They stood, pushed aside their stools, and put their hands on the table so they could lean over in the ready position!

As I opened the book to the letter A, one of the boys at the table, grabbed “Taking a Responsible Risk” and slapped it on the page, immediately shouting quickly while reading from the page, “Lessons come from every place, and you have to take a risk to learn!!” Our pages continued this way, with students listening to me re-read the page while searching the habits with their eyes, and slapping them right onto the page when they found the one they were looking for!

Their ideas and reasons, while sometimes surprised me, turned out to be spot on and we began to see things with new perspective. While we were on the letter G, for example, one student, jumping in place, burst out with, “I can’t wait to get to the page for T! It’s for Try and I know what Habit I want to put there!”

Engaged, excited, thinking, making connections, respecting opinions, cheering for each other, agreeing, arguing to add more than one Habit to a page with reasons to back the argument, actively participating until out of breath…

M is for Mindful: a brilliant picture book to support the 16 Habits of Mind.


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