Growth Mindset Activities to Encourage Elementary Students 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Help students persevere and continue to grow.

Developing a growth mindset helps students persevere through challenges and push themselves to keep improving. Students can learn that intelligence isn't fixed but can be developed through hard work, dedication, and practice.  We all have been around people that limit themselves. We have been those people. As a school counselor, you are in a perfect position to help students identify and embrace challenges as opportunities to grow. Let's go over some growth mindset activities for elementary students that you can bring into your counseling sessions or lessons.

Psychoeducation

Teaching students how their brain works is essential in helping them develop a growth mindset. By understanding the ability of our brains to form new connections and adapt over time, students can know that skills are not fixed. It is not a matter of being good or not good at something. Instead, we can learn and practice and create new connections.

Explain the basics of the brain to students. My Fantastic Elastic Brain is an excellent book for this. You can talk about growing connections like paving a road or building a highway. Although our brain doesn't get any bigger once we become adults, we constantly increase and prune connections as we learn.

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Simply telling students to "have a growth mindset" isn't enough. They need to understand what it means, why it's important, and how it looks in action. Direct instruction demystifies the concept and makes it a tangible tool students can use.

How to do it

Define growth mindset vs. fixed mindset: Use age-appropriate language and relatable examples to explain the differences.

Emphasize the brain's ability to change: Explain that with practice and effort, we can grow our abilities (a concept called neuroplasticity). A helpful metaphor is comparing our brains to muscles, which get stronger with exercise.

Use visuals: Videos, diagrams, or picture books can help illustrate the concepts.

Don't make it a one-time lesson: Regularly embed growth mindset language – praise effort, frame setbacks as learning opportunities, encourage reflection, and connect lessons back to the core ideas of growth mindset.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Read Alouds

Children's books provide an excellent medium for exploring a growth mindset. Very often, characters struggle with feeling they can't do something. 

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Read-alouds expose students to stories of characters who embody perseverance, resilience, and the power of learning from mistakes. These fictional role models inspire students to adopt similar attitudes towards their own challenges. Discussions about the characters' journeys help internalize a growth mindset.

How to do it

Choose a picture book where a character has to overcome a challenge or learn from a mistake. 

Don't just read the story; discuss it! Ask questions like:

"What challenges did the character face?"
"How did their attitude change over time?"
"What can we learn from this character about trying hard things?"

Connect the book to real-life experiences.

"Remember when you were learning to ride a bike? That was hard, just like [character's name]. But you kept at it!"

These are my five favorites - grab them here.

  1. 1
    The Dot
  2. 2
    Giraffes Can't Dance
  3. 3
    Bad Seed
  4. 4
    Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
  5. 5
    What Do You Do With A Problem?
The Dot Activities

You can pick up specific activities for each book. Regardless of which book you pick, here are five questions you can ask:

  1. 1
    What do you think the characters in the book learned about themselves?
  2. 2
    What kind of strategies could you use to help you face difficult situations?
  3. 3
    How can you tell if someone has a growth or fixed mindset?
  4. 4
    When in the story was it important to keep trying even when things are hard?
  5. 5
    What would have happened if the characters had given up instead of trying their best?

Vision Board and Goals

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Vision boards make our aspirations tangible and act as visual reminders of what we're working towards. They can cultivate the belief that progress is possible, even if we haven't achieved success yet.

How to do it

Lead a discussion about what vision boards are.

Provide materials (magazines, poster board, glue, markers) and have students (or yourself!) create boards reflecting their dreams and desires. Let creativity reign!

Discuss setting SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Create a space to display vision boards to serve as constant inspiration.

Positive Affirmations and Self-Talk

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Positive affirmations help us challenge negative thought patterns and build self-belief. This shift in our internal dialogue is essential to having a growth-oriented attitude.

How to do it

Explain that affirmations are short, powerful statements like "I can do this," or "I am learning."

Have students practice writing their own affirmations. Encourage them to focus on effort and perseverance (e.g., "I will keep trying")

Place affirmations in visible areas or create a practice of reciting them.

Discuss how self-talk affects our mood and actions. Practice reframing negative statements into positive or neutral ones.


Lots of the students you see for individual or group counseling struggle with some sort of negative thinking. Those negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and negative actions. We

Counseling Techniques: Reframing Negative Thoughts

Group Brainstorms

Small groups or whole class lessons are great for brainstorming ways to handle obstacles. By discussing their previous challenges, students can learn how to be resilient when faced with complex tasks. Hearing how others would manage something can help them see that there are different ways to approach a problem. You can also normalize obstacles - there will be bumps when learning and growing.

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Group brainstorms promote a sense of community, problem-solving, and positivity. Working together to identify challenges and find ways to persevere reminds everyone that progress occurs with small, continued efforts.

How to do it

Begin the day or a lesson with a quick brainstorm. Discuss the activity, and lead a brainstorming session on potential obstacles and solutions.

Ways to grow lesson

Recognize Progress

Recognizing progress is essential to developing a growth mindset among elementary students. By celebrating their improvement and small successes, children learn to value their hard work and effort toward reaching their goals. This helps them become more confident in tackling future challenges and encourages them to continue striving. 

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Celebrating small wins, no matter their size, reinforces the idea that progress is made incrementally. Acknowledging even minor accomplishments builds confidence and reminds students that their efforts contribute to larger goals.

Here are a few ways you can incorporate this:

Bulletin Boards

Display students' daily efforts with a focus on growth and progress.

Check-Ins

For this, students tell you something that went well (rose), something that was tough (thorn), and something they are looking forward to (bud). You can also change the bud to be a step forward or some growth.

Students write down small successes on strips of paper. Then, you connect each student's success strip to make a chain that can be displayed. 

Add a reflection component: Periodically revisit the chain. Have students discuss patterns in their successes and identify the effort that contributed to them.

More paper chain activities for counseling.

Growth Journals

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Growth journals provide a space for reflection, tracking progress, and understanding the strategies that work for a student. Confronting obstacles in writing helps students see challenges as a normal part of learning instead of something to be discouraged by.

How to do it

Have students journal regularly about a current challenge or goal they are working on. They can reflect on small steps forward or getting around obstacles.

Offer prompts to encourage growth-oriented reflection:

"What small step did I take today towards my goal?"
"What felt difficult today, and how might I approach it differently tomorrow?"

Hard Thing Rule

Why it fosters a growth mindset

The "hard thing rule" combats the tendency to avoid challenges or give up prematurely. It promotes grit and perseverance while demonstrating the satisfaction of tackling difficult tasks.

How to do it

Have everyone choose a challenging activity to learn or practice within a set time frame (a week, a month, etc.).

Guidelines

- Acknowledges that this will take practice and persistence,

- You won't quit in the middle.

- You get to choose your hard thing.

(From Angela Duckworth)

Evaluate Problems

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Analyzing problems helps us regain a sense of control and encourages solution-focused thinking. It teaches us that problems rarely define our entire situation.

How to do it

Provide prompts: "Is this problem permanent or temporary?" "Can I change this, or do I need to accept and focus elsewhere?"

Practice analyzing problem scenarios together. Discuss how framing a problem changes our mindset.

CBT Worksheets

Power of Yet

Why it fosters a growth mindset

This simple word reinforces the idea that our abilities are not fixed. It encourages a belief in our own potential, even if we haven't mastered something at the current moment.

How to do it

Model the use of "yet" in your own speech: "I haven't solved this math problem yet."

When students say "I can't" or "I don't know," gently encourage them to add "yet" to the end of their statement.

Have a "Power of Yet" display with examples of things students are working towards.

Compare Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Contrasting these mindsets makes tangible the differences in how we approach learning, challenges, and feedback.

How to do it

Create scenarios: "You get a bad grade on a test," or "someone criticizes your work."

Have students act out or write responses showing both fixed mindset and growth mindset reactions.

Discuss the consequences of each response.

Famous People Who Failed

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Learning about the setbacks of successful people demystifies achievement. It shows that failure is an inevitable part of the process and highlights persistence as a key ingredient of success.

How to do it

Research inspirational figures like Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, or J.K. Rowling. Share stories about their initial rejections, failures, and how they overcame adversity.

Discuss what students learned about resilience, determination, and a growth mindset from these examples.

Interviews

Interviews can allow students to hear about someone's challenges and successes firsthand. Inviting a school community member, such as a teacher or staff member, or an individual from outside the school who has achieved their goals or overcome challenges can be particularly impactful.

During the interview, they can ask questions about the interviewee's experiences, how they handled challenging times, and what tips or advice they have for staying on track to reach goals. Doing this will help children understand that growth doesn't always come easy and that anything can be achieved with hard work. 

Why it fosters a growth mindset

Interviews provide concrete examples of real people who embody a growth mindset. Hearing how someone overcame challenges, learned from setbacks, and pushed beyond their comfort zones offers a powerful and relatable illustration of these concepts.

How to do it

Choose your subjects wisely: Look for people who have overcome obstacles, pursued challenging goals, or who embrace a lifelong learning approach. Diversity in backgrounds and experiences is valuable.

Prepare your questions: Focus questions on their journeys, including:

  • Challenges they faced and how they overcame them
  • Advice they'd give to their younger selves
  • Times they failed and what they learned

Focus on reflection: After the interview, facilitate a discussion about the key takeaways. Connect it back to the concepts of growth mindset and have students reflect on how they can apply those lessons to their own lives.

Activity Ideas

Student-led Projects: Have students research and identify potential "growth mindset heroes" within their own community and conduct their own interviews.

Self-Interviews: Have students interview THEMSELVES at the beginning of the year and then again at the end, focusing on how their mindset and skills have developed.

Fictional Interviews: Assign students to write an interview with a fictional character or historical figure, imagining what questions they'd ask and how that person might respond based on their life and challenges.

Encouraging a Growth Mindset

Growth mindset activities are an important way to encourage resilience in elementary students. The activities outlined here, such as recognizing successes, talking about famous people who failed early on, understanding what is in and out of our control, and conducting interviews, will help children understand that success doesn't come overnight. 

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The Dot Activities

The Dot by Peter Reynolds is a wonderful book focused on showing persistence, believing in yourself, and supporting each other. The materials provided include, a 3-step lesson plan, read aloud comprehension questions, student activities, and positive self-talk cards.

Ways to Grow Lesson

Using a growth mindset approach, students can celebrate their strengths, while acknowledging there are areas that can improve. In this lesson, students identify areas of strength, areas for growth, tools to help them grow, and obstacles that might be in their way.

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ABOUT LAURA
I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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  1. Hello there,
    Is there anyway that I can get a certificate or some type of proof that I can share during my EOY conference?

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