32 Habits That Make Thinkers

nasa-goddard-make-thinkers-habits-that-make-thinkers32 Habits That Make Thinkers

by Terry Heick

The difference between students and learners is something we’ve discussed before. On the surface it’s a matter of tone and compliance, but it also has to do with purpose–why are they learning? How much of themselves are invested in the process? And does it lead to personal change, or mere performance?

So below are 32 habits–or strategies, actions, or behaviors–that can lead to that critical shift that moves students from mere students to learners who are able to think critically for themselves. Key themes? Patience, scale, and perspective.

32 Habits That Make Thinkers

1. Doesn’t always seek to please others

2. Is a charismatic listener

3. Can learn from anything

4. Asks “Why?” almost annoyingly

5. Is comfortable with uncertainty

6. Writes for their own understanding, not performance

7. Values questions over answers

8. Thinks laterally, endlessly connecting this to that, here to there

9. Uses divergent thinking

10. Can move back and forth from micro to macro thinking

11. Reads for pleasure

12. Looks for patterns

13. Studies the nuance of things (because it’s interesting)

14. Sees every situation as something new, because it is

15. Asks what they’re missing or haven’t considered

16. Playfully reframes and/or improves questions

17. Relates humility to learning, and vice-versa

18. Can instantly separate fact from opinion

19. Resists confirmation bias (i.e., they instead analyze then draw conclusions)

20. Doesn’t follow crowds

21. Articulates their own thinking without prompting (often creatively)

22. Designs learning pathways effortlessly–they just go

23. Socializes thinking for collaboration rather than approval

24. Sees learning as inseparable from living

25. Reflects for analysis rather than judgment

26. Uses emotion to catalyze their intellect

27. Sees situations from multiple perspectives

28. Plays with ideas (without being told)

29. Can think with simplicity about complexity, and with complexity about simplicity

30. Demonstrates an insatiable curiosity for something (may not always be what’s academic or convenient)

31. Seeks to be both rational and ridiculous in their thinking

32. Shows patience (by “dwelling with” questions, texts, or problems)


33.  Finds the complexity within the mundane

Adapted Image attribution flickr user nasagoddardspaceflightcenter; 32 Habits That Make Thinkers


  • I love this idea/concept of learners vs. thinkers, as it really is a clear way to show students that school isn’t just about taking and passing a test. I think it’s going to be interesting to see, developmentally, how this mindset shift plays out in elementary school. 26 and 27 are going to be tricky little buggers depending on the age, but also two of the most powerful in the list. It makes me think that this list gives one more reason to start shifting back to play-based learning experiences for younger grades, so they don’t lose the imagination inherent in youngers by the time they hit the middle grades!

    • For over fifty years, professionally, I have sadly watched (most) chldren be transformed from natural, inquisitive thinkers to “mere learners.” Talk is cheap. Real doing is very risky. Teachers can hardly exercise their technical expertise, much less deal explicitly with thinking. See http://goo.gl/iAdhMs

  • Very brilliant to lighten this “unsual” habits which are so important. I recognize myself in a lot of them, and but it often plays against me:

    – “Asks “Why?” almost annoyingly”
    => I am told that I ask too many questions

    “Looks for patterns”
    => I seek for complexity

    – “Asks what they’re missing or haven’t considered”
    => I’m too perfectionist

    – “Resists confirmation bias”
    => As everybody drops in it…It’s hard to argue

    – “Demonstrates an insatiable curiosity for something”
    => Too curious…

    – “Shows patience (by “dwelling with” questions, texts, or problems)”
    => I am not straightforward enough

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