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St. Patrick's Blog

How do great study habits begin?

Helping students develop strong study habits takes time. As Learning Specialists on the MacArthur Campus, our private Episcopal Middle School in the D.C. Metro Area, we are committed to explicitly teaching strategies that help students develop the skills and confidence they need in order to successfully manage schoolwork, extracurriculars, and more. Read more to learn about our approach to this work and some of our favorite strategies. 

How long does it take to form a habit or solidify a routine? Some studies say it is 21 days while others argue it is 30 days or longer. While experts who claim to know how long it actually takes for a habit to solidify have extensive research backing up their assertions, there are often too many variables to control for to know for certain what the answer is—this is particularly true when working with adolescents. While there is not one correct answer to this question, all experts in the field would agree that forming habits requires persistence and practice over time. 

As Middle School Learning Specialists we know first hand how difficult it can be to help an adolescent commit to and form a successful study/homework routine. At this age, students are being pulled in myriad directions. Their brains crave social connection, which is often at their fingertips, and they are still developing the executive functioning skills to fully understand how their choices today affect their success in the future. It is with this in mind that we have developed a study skills curriculum in The Writing and Learning Center that aims to help students learn skills and begin to solidify routines that will have a direct impact on their success in school. 

We are all lifelong learners when it comes to building strong study habits and routines; our preferred strategies and approaches to our work will continue to evolve as we change and grow. At our private Middle School it is our goal to teach a series of strategies and provide students with time to practice them throughout their three years with us.  Through this process, we also call upon students to reflect on how they’ve studied and identify the strategies that are most effective for them.  This helps students to recognize what’s working and build confidence as they look towards the next challenge.  By the time they graduate, we hope to arm students with a “toolkit” for navigating the increasingly complex world of high school and beyond. We believe that, with our support and a strong partnership with home, our students will have the confidence to continue to build strong habits and reach for the tools that work best for them when faced with managing tests, exams, lectures, projects, an increased homework load, extra-curriculars, and much more. 

A handful of our favorite strategies are as follows:

  1. Pomodoro Timer: One of our favorite strategies is the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management tool developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique requires users to break work into 25 minute intervals. Each interval is known as  a pomodoro (the Italian word for tomato) because the timer Cirillo used as a student in college was a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
  2. Establish Routines: Setting up daily routines that incorporate movement and nourishment into the study/homework process is crucial. For example, a student might return home from school, eat a snack, run around, then sit down to complete homework around the same time each day. A Sunday afternoon calendar and binder check is also a wonderful routine to establish, as it helps students start the week off right. Routines enable focus because individuals come to expect the same thing each day and the mind and body establish a rhythm.
  3. Set Up a Productive Workspace: Where possible, set up a desk and a chair in a quiet, well-lit place.  Designate this as homework/study space. Devices like computers and phones should only be used for assignments in this space and there should be no TV. Stock this space with supplies such as pens, pencils, and paper. If this is a shared family space, designate a crate for school supplies, so study tools stay together. This not only contributes to momentum, it also contributes to organization, since the consistent homework space is the first place to look for a misplaced assignment.
  4. Use Planners and Calendars:
    1. Planners: Students are encouraged to write down daily assignments in their planners and use their planners to plan long-term assignments and studying. We teach students that Google Classroom provides a list and their planners are where they plan their work.
    2. Calendars: We encourage the use of a month-at-a-glance calendar/whiteboard calendar to note assessments and projects and backwards plan preparation and display this tool in a visible place.  Monthly schedules can help students learn to take a long-term view. These tools keep large projects from overwhelming the daily schedule and help create the habit of breaking long-term tasks into smaller action items. 
  5. Weekly Goal-Setting: Each week in Study Skills classes or Advisories in the Middle School students set academic SMART goals and are given time to reflect upon their progress from week to week. Students learn that setting goals gives them long-term vision and short-term motivation. This exercise focuses their work and helps them organize their time and resources. Parents can support the creation of this habit by modeling it themselves.

If you have any questions or would like to hear more about the work we do at the MacArthur Campus, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us by email:

Leah Corradi:

Catherine Welch: