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Gifted learners sometimes require extra thought on the part of teachers. This lesson offers you some specific activities you can use to challenge your gifted elementary and middle school students and keep them engaged in the learning process.

Differentiating for Gifted Students

When we think about differentiating instruction, we often think first of the struggling students in our class. Yet differentiation is also important for meeting the needs of our gifted students.

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No two gifted students are alike, of course, and the ways that gifted students learn and work can look very different at different ages and subject areas. Still, it can be helpful for elementary and middle school teachers to have some ideas in our back pockets for activities that will help gifted children learn and remain engaged in the learning process. This lesson offers some general activities that you can modify to meet the specific needs of your students and the subject areas you teach.

Language Arts

Many gifted students excel as readers and writers. They can benefit from activities that challenge their capacities.

Letters to Authors and Editors

Regardless of exactly what you are reading, gifted students might be interested in learning more about the author’s process, engaging in a conversation with the author, or expressing their opinion to a wider world. Help your gifted students get into a routine of writing letters to authors, magazine editors, and newspaper editors to engage in broader literary, social and political conversations.

Whether or not they get an answer, they will feel challenged and excited by the prospect of making their voices heard.

Perspectives Across Time and Place

If you teach gifted students who have a tendency to finish their reading material quickly, it can be challenging and exciting to get them involved in reading about the same topics or themes but from different time periods or cultural perspectives. For instance, if your class is reading stories about friendship, challenge gifted students to take on books dealing with friendship as a theme in a different century or different cultural milieu. This reading material often takes longer and pushes gifted students to think through more complex issues and points of view.

Document It

Sometimes, gifted students benefit from taking on a leadership role in the classroom, all while working at their own cognitive level. You can put your gifted students in charge of documenting the ideas and questions that come up during big social studies, science, or community conversations. Ask them to take notes and then find a way to organize their discoveries, presenting the documentation back to the rest of the class.


Many gifted students also benefit from enrichment work in math. Here are some activities that you can cater to the precise math work your class is doing.

Bigger Numbers, Extra Steps

When your class is working on number sense, operations, or story problems, you might find that students who are gifted in math finish quickly and seem bored. For these students, it is a great idea to teach them to get into the habit of changing the numbers in a problem to bigger ones and routinely adding an extra step or two to any story problem. Asking your students to do this for themselves will also stretch their conceptual understanding and give them practice taking ownership over their own learning.

Bulletin Board

Gifted students can benefit tremendously from being put in charge of a math bulletin board in your classroom. Explain to them what mathematical concept you want the bulletin board to address, and let them research some sample bulletin boards online. Then, ask them to incorporate work from other students, visual representation of ideas, and text that addresses major concepts or questions. Designing the bulletin board will be a fun activity that also pushes their own conceptual understanding and communication skills in the area of math.

Puzzles and Puzzle Creation

Finally, many gifted students can challenge themselves in the area of math by working with puzzles. Keep an extra store of Sudoku puzzles, Kenken puzzles, and Tangrams printed out in your classroom.

Once your students know how these puzzles work, they can grab them any time they are finished with something else. To add an extra layer of challenge, explain to students that each time they finish a puzzle, they should write a little memo about their mathematical thinking over the course of the puzzle. Students who are really advanced can also take on the challenge of creating these puzzles themselves for classmates to complete.


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