Classroom Changes: Application of Atomic Habits in the Science Classroom

“…the process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.” – James Clear, Atomic Habits

I don’t think anyone will argue with me that they changed (physically and mentally) from kindergarten to 12th grade. I don’t think anyone will argue with me that they changed from 9th grade to 12th grade. I would also argue that you change from the start to the end of 10th grade. As educators we get the unique opportunity to interact with students as they are going through major times of change and development in their lives.

There is no better time than in your classroom, no matter a science classroom or otherwise, to introduce and infuse atomic habits into your student’s lives.

What are Atomic Habits?

James Clear defines atomic habits in his book, Atomic Habits, as small habits that are part of a larger system. They are small routines or practices that are routinely preformed with action towards a larger system.

In my Future Classroom…

Science can be a hard discipline. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it provides invaluable life skills (even if you cannot remember the difference between ionic and covalent bonding). In my future classroom, I want to specifically infuse Clear’s concepts of environmental design, habit compounding, and the 2-minute rule to help my students and myself to discover the ultimate power of atomic habits.

Environmental Design

Clear writes on page 82 of Atomic Habits, “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”

To infuse a sense of importance of creating a positive, productive, engaging, and innovative space for my students, my classroom needs to be a model of what this means. Therefore in my classroom I will have…

  • A mirror by the door of my classroom.
    • To show that I apricate my students and their appearance.
    • Also, the mirror by the door, not by the lab equipment will show the difference in spaces and how each space is defined.
  • Experimental stations on the perimeter of the classroom.
    • There is a space for innovation and hands-on learning.
    • Equipment out on tables is a visual context cue for the students that they will be challenged in a different way. They have the ability to prepare for a different application of their knowledge.
  • Group tables in the center of my classroom.
    • Visually encourages a space of collaboration.
    • A space not cluttered, provides less a student has to unconsciously process.

Habit Compounding

Clear, on page 19, provides this chart with the simple title, “Your habits can compound for you or against you.”

I want this quote and table to hang in my classroom. I want it to be a visual cue and reminder to my students that the little things they choose to do in the classroom matter more than just in my classroom.

A Possible Chemistry Lesson Plan:

  • Famous minority group Chemists
    • Practice a cooperative learning method – Jigsaw II
      • 4-5 member groups
      • All members are given the same initial starting information
      • From there the students are given a specific topic to research further
      • After some time for research, they move into expert groups for their topic and share what they have learned with other topic experts
      • Come back together to teach their other group members about each other’s topics
    • This would help in relationship compounding through the use of this activity several times. Creating habits of helping people when the student understands could lead to them getting help from other students when they need it.
    • It would also help make connections between different fields, such as Chemistry, History, and English. This could help with showing that different knowledge compounds. Creating habits to keep acquiring different knowledge and that everything works together is key.

The 2-Minute Rule

Clear writes on page 162 of Atomic Habits, “When you start a new habit, it should take you less than two-minutes to do.”

In the short interview below, Clear describes the two-minute rule and what it actually means. I encourage you to watch and see for yourself, the power the rule has!

I am about to say something that may seem radical. Please brace yourself!

A Possible Activity:

  • In my classroom, I am going to start the year with giving my students small, 2-minute homework assignments.
    • Students will form a habit of completing homework (in theory) because it is only 2-minutes.
  • As the year progresses, their homework assignments will progress in time required as well. (I will aim to not go over an hour threshold for a single assignment – project not included.)
  • The students the first 2 weeks will have 2-minute assignments. Then for the next 3 weeks they will have 5-minute assignments and so on.
  • The gradual increase of homework time will hopefully follow the “gateway habit” (Clear, 163) that the 2 minute homework completion created.

I hope you follow me in creating atomic habits in your classroom for your students and yourself. As we can see they are too powerful to ignore. Besides, we are all changing every day, so we may as well change for the better.


  1. Hi Colleen,

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on “Atomic Habits”. I really enjoyed reading about what you had to say on changes and each individual lesson plan that you proposed regarding topics James Clear brought up in this book. Do you think it would easy or difficult for a student to change their habits within a span of 1 academic semester/year? Do you think they would be inherently motivated if us teachers provided them with a great environment to do so or would we need to do more in order to incentivize this growth?

  2. Hey Colleen! I really like how you implemented Clear’s ideas into actual lesson plans and activities. I think your plan to start your students on short two minute assignments is a really cool idea! Do you think there is a way that you can implement habit stacking into the classroom. Maybe connecting some fun activity with one that might be less exciting? That’s not a very fleshed out idea, but maybe you have some ideas that can expand on that.

  3. Colleen,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I especially liked how you plan to hang up the chart on habit compounding as a visual cue to your students. I think that tackles multiple things: you are priming the environment and reinforcing the concept of habit compounding, while simultaneously fostering those ideals through your teaching practice. I think that chart send a wonderful message and is informative, but maybe it would stand out more to your students if you hung up a similar chart with the same principles that you put into your own words and incorporate the use of pictures or diagrams that also capture your thoughts. I think using your own words regarding what Clear’s messages specifically mean for you and your students would have an even greater, meaningful impact on your students. What do you think about that idea?

    • Riley, thank you so much for taking the time to read and interact with my post! I think that you are correct that it would be more valuable to use Clear’s chart as a backbone, but create my own chart for what I think that compounding habits mean for our classroom. Personally, I internalize messages more when they are put into terms that directly connect to my own life. Creating a habit compounding chart that would remind students and myself what habit compounding can look like and do within the classroom would make a huge impact on internalization of what it means. Thank you for making that suggestion!

  4. Hi Colleen,

    Thanks for sharing a great post! Your proposition for incorporating this into your classroom with the 2 minute homework assignments gradually increasing over the course of the year is interesting. I think there may be pros and cons to this idea (as with any idea!). First, I think it will absolutely help to build better habits from the get go because 2 minutes is such a small ask. Also, this may increase student motivation. I think an unfortunate possible downside of this idea, however, is if students know that things are going to get harder and harder, they may begin to “shut down” throughout the year and not do their homework at all. I think a way to resolve this would be still giving a couple of those 2 minute assignments near the middle and end of the year to help sustain motivation! What do you think?

    • Emilia, thank you so much in reading and responding to my post! You bring up a really good point. I did consider that as things do get harder that homework participation could diminish. I wasn’t sure how I would exactly tackle this problem, but I love your idea! I think that it could be really beneficial to maybe a few times a year do some homework time regression. Perhaps every new 9-week (or so) term, we could go back to small, short 2 minute assignments and work back up to the larger assignments. I agree with you, I think this could really help sustain motivation in class. Thank you!

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