How to Keep Gifted Students Engaged and Learning

Anyone who knows me, reads this blog, or uses my resources knows that I am passionate about differentiation. I think that is because I grew up hardly ever feeling like the work or tasks that I was given in school were appropriate for me and I so badly wanted them to be.

Differentiation seems to mean different things to different people. To me, it means meeting every single child where they are and pushing them forward. Not pushing them too hard, not pushing them too soft. Giving each student what they need that will make them feel successful but also challenge them. It's a really delicate balance and when you have a classroom full of 2 dozen kids- it can be really hard to find that zone for each child, especially since it is ever changing as they learn and grow. Teachers already have a lot on their plate so asking teachers to give each child a personalized education is a lot to ask for. With that said, I think that it should be attempted as much as possible for ALL students.

So today I want to talk about differentiating for your HIGH kids.
Your gifted kids. Those kids who just seem to "get it" right away when you teach things.  

I think a lot of times high achieving students are pushed to the side and are not given what they need, often times more than any other group. You already get it so why don't you go pick out a book to read while everyone else finishes their work. They already know, or it took them 5 minutes to fully get, what you're teaching that day... so what do you do with them for the next 5 hours??

I wanted to write this post of DOs and DON'Ts from the perspective of a gifted elementary school student.

I was labeled as "gifted" right away in school. Learning came really naturally to me as a child. I don't ever remember being taught to read or do math. I remember just sitting at home doing puzzles, writing, reading by myself (only child) anxiously waiting for the day I could finally start school. I was SO excited to learn new things, make new friends, and get my hands on more books and puzzles and learning. 


Although I loved going to school, I usually felt like it was up to me to make it fun (and honestly, tolerable) for myself. I also feel like there are entire school years where I didn't learn much at all to be completely honest.

Thankfully, I was raised as an only child so I was very used to finding ways to entertain myself or I think I would've become a 'naughty' student like my (also "gifted") husband which I'll talk about later.

Also thankfully, I had a few amazing teachers along the way that truly supported me and made school meaningful so I want to share what I feel as though they did right.

I'd like to say a quick disclaimer that, for some reason, it's really scary (and honestly, kind of embarrassing) for me to come out and tell the world that I was a "gifted kid." I'd honestly rather tell you my weight or about the time I sat on a chocolate brownie in white shorts in junior high. I don't want anyone to think I'm saying hey-look-at-me-I'm-smart because I don't think I'm smarter than anyone reading this at all. I was labeled gifted as a child. As an adult, I actually feel inadequate a lot of the time. I can barely juggle laundry and working. I often have to read something 5 times before I understand what it's saying. I still use my fingers to do simple math. I didn't learn how to swim until junior high. I still can't figure out how to do a cartwheel. There are so many things I don't know how to do and many things I'm not good at. Being labeled as gifted was really awkward for me in early elementary school and I felt like the other kids resented me and thought of me as different for it so it became an insecurity to me that I still carry to this day.

In 2nd grade, I remember my friend Carlos that I loved playing basketball with at recess telling me that sometimes he hated me because I always finished my work quickly and the work was really hard for him. Such an honest confession from a kid so young but it really stuck with me because it was the way I sensed that the other kids felt but he actually verbalized it and made it real. Don't get me wrong, I feel like I was socially accepted and I always had a lot of friends, but I always felt insecure about it. I think this is an important point because I often felt like some teachers propagated the idea to the class that I was different or oh-so-smart and, while they probably thought they were complimenting me and building me up in a public setting, I was wishing I could crawl into a ball and hide behind my smile.

So anyway, here are some tips to help your high kids stay engaged and learning but (more importantly, to me) feel like they belong.

[Note: These are all based on MY personal experience as a "gifted" student and from talking to my "gifted" husband/friends who had similar experiences. I'm trying to write this from the way I thought as a child, not as someone who went to college to become a teacher, to truly offer that perspective. So please realize that the feelings/thoughts I'm trying to convey may sound immature but they're the way I felt and/or the way my husband expressed that he felt when we were little kids in elementary school. I truly am fearful of being judged by this post but I think it's important to share how I felt so that future students can be supported better in their classrooms.]

How to keep gifted kids engaged and learning

DON'T give them extra of the same level of work if they finish early.
If they finish a worksheet quickly, they get it. They don't need to do it again so why give them more problems they already know how to do? It's busy work. They know it is. They may ask for it and, if they do, sure give it to them. But if they are asking for it, know that it is because they are BORED. It means they don't have another, better option so they're just trying to do something to pass the time. That's not learning in any way, shape, or form. I remember constantly asking for more work. It wasn't fun or stimulating in any way but it was either that or sit there super bored until I can't handle it anymore and get in trouble for talking to my friends that are still working.

Instead: Provide alternate and/or extension activities that are cognitively challenging things for them to do. Have it relate to the lesson! It shouldn't be more of the same work like more math problems than their friend, it should be the same concept but at a more challenging level. If you do a little searching, you can find challenging, have-to-think-a-lot type activities for most math and literacy skills or differentiated versions of activities. Most of my resources are differentiated and I know a lot of other people provide that as well. Every high kid I've ever encountered seems to love puzzles and brain teaser type activities so providing those is great as well. I used to bring crossword puzzle books, cryptograms from the newspaper, word searches, etc. from home to school to work on when I was done with my work. That definitely wouldn't fly in a classroom today though so try to provide things about the concept you're learning but on a higher, puzzle-y level if you can. Yes, puzzle-y is a word. :) I would have felt so much more connected to school if the things I was doing after my work had anything to do with what we were learning.

Here's a simple kindergarten or first grade example:

Let's say your class is learning the AR sound.
So you give your students the worksheet on the left to practice reading and writing AR words.

Differentiated AR sound worksheets to practice bossy R sounds with that tricky R controlled vowel! Differentiated AR sound worksheets to practice bossy R sounds with that tricky R controlled vowel!

The worksheet on the left is very straightforward. It's a picture of a barn so they write barn under it. The words are easy to sound out with sounds they already know. There's an S-blend in scarf and the SH sound in shark but you've already learned those sounds earlier in the year so your students should be able to figure it out.

The one on the right is what you give your high kid(s). It's practicing the same target skill (reading and writing words with AR sound) but at a more challenging level. They're even doing the same amount of work but it's way more appropriate for them.

Here's a few reasons why..
- The words are more difficult to read. Most have 2 syllables instead of 1 so they are more difficult to decode.
- They have sounds your class may not have learned yet (ue in argue, oo in cartoon, soft G in garbage and large, etc.) that they will be able to figure out but it might take them a minute
- Some of the words aren't as straightforward - some have an extra step in reading the word and figuring out which picture it describes. When they read the word "sharp," they have to think of what that word means and find the picture best suited for that description. Same with "sparkle" and "large."
- It uses vocabulary they might not know. Gifted kids typically love learning new vocabulary so this will be of much higher interest to them than barns and jars. "Larva" and "harvest" might be words they haven't heard before. They'll be able to figure out where they go on the sheet by process of elimination and then will sit, looking at the pictures, and ponder what those words must mean. They may ask you what a larva is when they're done. Perfect opportunity to direct them to a science book later that has real pictures of larva. The more you can connect things for them, the better!

Another option is to give the same skill practice but in a puzzle-y way like I mentioned above.

Differentiated AR sound worksheets to practice bossy R sounds with that tricky R controlled vowel!Differentiated AR sound worksheets to practice bossy R sounds with that tricky R controlled vowel!

These sheets still practice reading and writing AR words but they are more like puzzles. Really, any of your kids would enjoy these but they most likely need the straightforward practice first.

For the crossword puzzle on the left, they look at the picture and write the word just like the basic worksheet above but it's presented in a more challenging way and is highly engaging for a gifted student. The puzzle on the right gives them a box of words to read to figure out the path to form a sentence that describes the picture. I colored in the correct path to show you how it works. They have to read a lot of AR words to figure out the right path in the maze. Then, they write the sentence underneath. So both puzzle options above are still the same practice as everyone else... reading AR words, recognizing pictures, process of elimination, writing AR words... but it's at a more appropriate level for them.   

All of these pages are in my AR Worksheets & Activities {NO PREP!} Pack if you want them. 
I also have them for almost every phonics sound in a bundle.

If you only want the phonics crossword puzzles, I have a bundle here.
If you only want the A-maze-ing Sentences worksheets, I have a bundle here.

Although I love all of the pages in the phonics packs, if you're specifically looking for work to do with gifted students, those are great. 

I also have A-maze-ing Fluency for Sums to 20 that are an extension of the fun addition mazes in my Addition Fact Fluency math unit. I have them for multiplication, too, if you're looking for older elementary. :) Again, anything you can do to take the content everyone is learning and make it look more challenging and like a puzzle for them to solve.

I truly believe that...

DO let them work with a partner.
Gifted children can feel isolated. I know that I definitely did. It doesn't feel good to feel different, even if it's a good kind of different. It's still different.

If possible, let them work with a partner who also is high and finishes their work quickly. It can be very low maintenance for you if they know that when they're done with their work, they each go to some table to work on something to further their learning or know their choices. I love, love, love the way so many teachers do hands-on math stations and literacy stations these days - I would've loved that as a child. Let them do hands-on games and activities when they're done that they choose.. which leads me to...

DO give them choices in their extension/enrichment. 
Make sure there is always something in place that they can do when they are done and not something extra they have to do after their assigned task. If it is the same thing every day, they will get bored so quickly. So will most children. Have a list of at least 4-5 things they can choose from when they're done if they finish their work before the other students. The choices should be determined by you but they can choose which one to do.

Make sure you change out the choices often or they will get bored FAST.

Also encourage them to not choose the same thing always.. maybe make it a weekly list where they can choose a different one each day but have to do them all or 4 out of the 6 choices or something. 

If there is a choice that isn't that academic, be sure to limit it. I had a teacher that would let those of us that finished our work early play on the computer. So what did I do every single day? Play Oregon Trail. For a long time. Every day. It was fun and I loved it but did I learn anything? Other than the word 'dysentery' and that it is hard to ford a river in a covered wagon, definitely not. If you give them the choice to play computer games every day, they probably will. The point isn't to keep them busy, they're there to learn and grow.

DO provide funky fun things for them to do completely unrelated to what you're learning in class.
It's important to give them extension activities tied to what you're learning in class but it's also great for them to explore things that interest them that are completely unrelated!

One year, my teacher taught me how to say certain words and count to 10 in German and let me learn about German culture on the side. She had a lot of German books I could read and even brought sauerkraut for us to try. I thought it was so cool and was super engaged.

Another year, I was in an after school enrichment club to learn sign language and I LOVED IT. If your school has enrichment clubs, encourage them to join! If your school doesn't, consider starting one! We learned the alphabet, words, and the pledge of allegiance in sign language. But the best part?!?! We learned how to sign "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys!
Best. thing. ever. when you're 10 and boy bands are all the rage. Any time I hear that song to this day, I start signing the parts I remember cause IIII want it that waay :)

I know I said unrelated but you could easily incorporate a fun unrelated thing like sign language into every day learning IN the classroom as well. For example, let's say your class practices their sight words each week by building them with alphabet letters. That's great! It's fun and hands on but your gifted student will be able to do it quick and want something else. Challenge them by adding another component to it like sign language.

Gifted and talented activities for elementary plus so many ideas for teaching gifted students - for example, these secret sign language sight words center cards are a great early finishers activity for advanced students to do when they've finished their regular classroom work

Give them the sight word cards (335 words included in this pack) for the words you're practicing that week and a sign language alphabet chart (a chart is included in the pack). Have them look at the chart to figure out each letter of the secret word they're building and make it with their hands. This connects what you're learning in the classroom to a new, challenging skill that they can practice independently. They're still practicing your weekly sight words and building them but they're also simultaneously practicing a totally different, challenging skill. They'll probably want to practice the letters with their chart when they're done and spell other things like their name, your name, their friends' names, words around the classroom, etc. - it's a perfect extension activity and what's even better is that they'll think they came up with it. :) 

I personally love language and learning new languages was what interested me and challenged me as a student. Find what it is that interests your student and let them go wild with it!

Which leads me to...

DO find out what they're interested in and provide enrichment activities about that topic.
There aren't always enrichment and extension activities directly connected to what you're learning or, if there are, they breeze through them because they already know the material. Have project type learning activities that they can go to when they're done that are about what they're interested in. Let them explore that. They came to school to learn so if they already know the content that you're teaching, give them opportunities to learn about other things they're interested in.

If they love space, have high-interest space books they can read and respond to in fun ways. Let them build a diorama or make a book about space. We are so blessed to have a website like TeachersPayTeachers that will have something for anything you want to teach that you can find so easily ready to be printed and used. Yes it's extra work for you but they will love you for it. Forever.

In 3rd grade, I had an amazing teacher who knew that I loved to read and I remember the day she said I could come to the back of the classroom to this little reading nook area and do a project on Helen Keller whenever I was done with my work. She had books about her and little activities for me to do and I was just floored. I felt so special and cared for. After several years of being sent to the library/other classes or being told to sit and wait or read, I felt like someone was finally giving me what I needed. [We still keep in touch. She even came to my wedding despite me having moved out of town.]

Gifted kids are very well aware when you view them as something in your way. I often felt like I was this nuisance that my teachers were trying to get out of the way so that they could teach the other kids. In talking to my husband, he said he felt the same way. Make it exciting like, "Look at this fun activity you can do when you're done!! You can explore blah blah.." instead of "You can go to the corner over there and pick out something on the shelf to do until the other kids are done."  

DON'T provide enrichment and extension activities that take away their social times like lunch, recess, specials, etc.
Don't punish them for their intelligence. Where they need more attention and love is IN the classroom. If they already understand what you're teaching, why would they need MORE instructional time than their peers? They just need the instructional time they already have to be better spent.

Plus, they might already have a hard time connecting with their peers. Don't take away any social opportunities from them.

When I talked to my husband about his school experience, we both felt like we were always being punished for 'being smart' in elementary school. We were either being told to go away and do something else to not bother the other kids or, when we were actually given fun enrichment activities, they were done during things we actually wanted to do. For example, my husband said he really enjoyed the things he got to do in his enrichment class but it was during his lunch/recess, so he missed out on playing with his friends which was a bummer. For me, I remember having to miss specials like P.E. and art and music and things I would've really enjoyed and been able to actually connect on the same level as my classmates. I love art but I'm awful at it.. it would've been fun to struggle together with my friends with fun stuff like that and show them that I'm not good at everything. Instead, I had to be different as usual and go to enrichment club. It would've been great if the enrichment had happened IN the classroom rather than be bored all day.   

DO call on them for answers.
There were few things I hated more in school than not being called on ever. I remember my arm being physically sore from raising it all the time to no avail. I'm sure I annoyed my teachers by always having the answer but not being called on just made me feel awful.

My husband said that being called on to answer/speak was the only way he ever felt connected to the lesson being taught. Don't deny them of that connection.

I know you're checking for understanding so you want to call on the other kids to see if they get it, but call on them too. Let them be part of the classroom community and the lesson.

I know. Sometimes high kids can be long-winded with their answers but just let them be. I know you have so much to pack into your instructional time but when you don't call on them, you're sending a message to them that them being there for that lesson doesn't matter. Let them contribute. The other kids might learn from what they're saying but, even if they don't, the gifted kid IS learning. They're learning that you care and that they matter.  

DON'T spotlight how "smart" they are to the class unless you're doing it for others at that time as well.
They know they're smart. Of course they like to hear it. But they don't want to feel different than their friends or singled out in public. They most likely don't want you to say it in front of the entire class unless you do that for everyone. Instead, use specific praise by praising a specific thing that they did, not just that they are 'so smart.' The other kids don't want to hear that either. Just make sure that when you praise them, if you say, "Wow, Sofia, I love how you put an exclamation there to show how you were excited." immediately follow that with, "And thank you so much, Jack, for how nice and quietly you're working!" if that makes sense. If you're going to put them in the spotlight, don't leave them there alone, because alone is how they will feel.

Instead: Write little notes on their work before you hand it back. They will read it and they will love it. Even if you just write the word "Wow" or "Fantastic," it means something. I always did extra in my work. If we had to write a response, I wrote as much on those lines as I could fit and in the margins. I loved when my teachers would respond to it as if they read it and were impressed by it. Writing them little positive comments or notes is an easy way to praise them without making them feel different from their peers. Praise them with words as well but make an effort to do it privately.

DO understand that they are not good at everything.
Don't just assume they're good at everything academically. They're not. Make sure they truly understand a concept before they can exit the lesson to do an extension or other activity. Check their work and understanding like with any other child. If they don't understand something, they might try to hide it because they are used to everyone thinking they're perfect and the thought of not living up to their perfect image gives them a lot of anxiety. So make sure you're checking for understanding! Don't just assume they've got it. I got all the way to Algebra 2 Honors freshman year of high school without ever understanding basic fractions. I also hid the fact that I couldn't tell time for a good decade. If a teacher had caught things like that earlier, man oh man that would've been helpful for me. Your advanced student may be a math genius but struggle with spelling. Whatever they are, find their weaknesses. They have them, I promise. Build them up and provide activities they can do when they're done with their normal work to practice those things in a fun way.

DO know that they might get frustrated and give up more easily than other students.
If something is too hard for them, they might get frustrated or angry and give up quicker than your other kids. They're used to understanding things right away and immediately excelling at new things that they try so when that doesn't happen, they may be more inclined to give up. Your lower kids are used to struggling so their stamina and perseverance may be greater than your high kids'. Encourage them to keep going and offer small hints. Help them but DO NOT just give them the answer. They like a challenge but they want to be the one to figure it out. If you give them the answer, it might make them feel like a failure.

DON'T make them sit quietly/still through an entire lesson they don't need.
This is such a big one! It's also one of the hardest to implement in a regular classroom.

But this was the very first thing my husband and I both said to each other when we talked about what we didn't like about school: Constantly having to sit through lessons about things we already knew/understood.

Your gifted students most likely already know the content you're teaching or, if they don't, will be able to master it within the first few minutes of your lesson. Once they get it, it is very, very hard for them to just sit there perfectly still, quiet, and locked on your eyes for the rest of it. They want to. They really do. They want to "be good" but it is HARD when you're forced to do that all day every single day. It feels like torture. I loved school and wanted to be the perfect little child but oh how I just could not sit there quietly. I tried so hard but I just couldn't do it.

Have you ever had to go to a staff meeting for something you had already been trained on or knew how to do? You had to sit there for an hour and watch someone read a presentation on how to do something you already knew how to do. At first, you're like, "Ooh awesome, I already know this!" and then after 10-15 minutes, you're thinking, "....I already know how to do this. Why am I here? I could be in my classroom getting things ready for tomorrow or making copies or grading. What a waste of my time."

That's only an hour. Imagine doing that all day every day, and with the attention span of a child. Even at age 6, it is blatantly obvious to you that your time is being wasted. All you want to do is get up and go do the worksheet you know you're going to have to do when this talk is done so you can move on to something else. All you can think about is, "Please, please no one raise their hand when she asks if anyone has questions."

I understand that you might be required to have all of the students on the carpet when you're teaching. Or sitting at their desks looking at you when you're teaching. If you have to have them there, utilize partner sharing during your lesson. It might drive you crazy at first but... Let them fidget. Let them doodle on their paper while you talk. Let them play with something in their hands. Let them stare at their shoes and play with their laces. Heck, give them math blocks to build with while you talk as long as it doesn't distract the other kids too much. Trust me when I say that they're still hearing and taking in every word you say. I actually think way better when I have other things going on. I currently have music AND the T.V. on AND I'm alternating between several tabs doing other things. They most likely need extra stimulus and, if they can give it to themselves without distracting the other kids too much, by all means let them!

My husband said this was the single biggest thing that would've kept him from being a troublemaker in school. 

You could also have a secret signal with them. Have them sit in the back of the carpet so their fidgeting doesn't distract others. Explain to them that you understand that sometimes they already understand what you're learning but that they need to sit there until they fully understand it. When they feel like they understand it enough and want to go work on the practice work, they can give you some sort of hand signal like their hand raised halfway with three fingers pressed together (I'm just making up a random signal). You can discreetly nod that it's okay for them to go or slightly shake your head for no. That way, they still get the foundations they need but don't have to sit through the entire lesson once they get it. If they have trouble with their practice work, they can come sit back down to learn more but they very likely will not and will still get all of their problems correct. Once they finish the seatwork, they can go off to do one of their enrichment choices.

DON'T simply send them to higher grade levels.
This can be an okay option but it needs to be done very carefully. This one is really important to me because I hated this in school. In early elementary, I was often sent to other classes in a higher grade. It was nice to be able to leave my class but I felt like I was just being sent away. I did not feel like I belonged in those classes. I didn't have my own designated seat like everyone else, the other kids didn't know why I was there, and what they were learning in no way connected to what we were learning in my class. Plus, just because an advanced student is intellectually compatible with older students does NOT mean they are emotionally or socially compatible with them. In 1st grade, I was in a 1st/2nd/3rd grade combo class and it was awful. The 3rd graders were mean to us 1st graders at any opportunity. They made sure to let us know that we were little kids and didn't belong with them. They also talked about 'bad' things and used 'bad' words that I wasn't ready to hear as a 1st grader. It was shocking for me at the time.

If you do send them to an older class, I recommend only one grade level above and make sure they have their own seat they always sit in with the same kids around them. That the kids in the other class are talked to beforehand to treat them like they are a part of the classroom community.

Also - don't send them during the introduction of concepts! They may be able to get to the 99th story of that skyscraper when everyone else will only get to the 30th story but everyone has to walk through the lobby first to get to the elevator. Being sent out of my regular classroom during instructional time made me miss the introduction of so many things and actually caused me to really struggle later on! Sometimes it didn't catch up to me until junior high or high school but it did. I missed A LOT of foundations that I should have had and didn't. That's why I never learned time or fractions... I was sent to a higher grade level to learn something else instead while those things were introduced. I also missed decimals and percents and a lot of grammar concepts. To this day, I'm constantly teaching myself things I should have learned in elementary school (yay for the internet!). Concepts are usually taught sequentially and in a certain grade so make sure they're not missing what they should know in the grade they're in or they'll have trouble later on.

DO try to understand why they're acting out.
I know we hate to hear this but the answer is most likely because they're not being challenged enough.. or they haven't been in the past so they've developed less than desirable behaviors. You might think you're providing them with all of these challenging, interesting activities and differentiating your heart out but if they're acting out, you need to find a way to reach them. Keep trying, it's possible!

Have you ever had a kid in your class that is just so smart but you just cannot get him or her to do their work?
They don't seem to care. They play or fidget with things any time you're not looking at them or telling them to work. They don't pay attention to your lessons. They build towers out of the math manipulatives when they should be doing their work.

That kid was my husband.

Before I sat down to brainstorm what I wanted to say in this post, I asked my husband about his experience in school. I knew my husband was also a "gifted" kid but had a very different school experience than me so I wanted to hear his side of the story. He's a really nice, caring person with strong morals so I always found it funny when he or others tell me that he was a troublemaker in school. He's super smart but he didn't try in school at all. I remember those kids from my own schooling. They were usually boys that everyone knew were super smart but didn't try or care about doing well in school. They usually got in trouble for mischievous little things. I never understood why because I was that hard working must-get-straight-As goody two shoes type (again, please don't judge me! :)). I figured they just didn't care and never did, period.

Then I decided to ask my husband about why he didn't try and oh dang it ended up being a therapy session! haha.. and very, very eye opening for me. 

It gave me SUCH an interesting look into the eyes of that kid in your class who is smart but doesn't try. I asked him to walk me through his elementary school experience:

- He said in kindergarten, he was really excited about school and eager to learn. He would get a task, get it done fast, and then look around to realize everyone else was still working. He felt proud. Yay! I'm done first. I'm pretty cool[Smug smile]

- In first grade, he stopped getting called on for answers. Even if he was the only one raising his hand. The teacher would take that as a sign that 'the class didn't get it' and re-teach what she was saying and he would sit there feeling invisible. (This was a total light bulb moment for me! How many of you have done that??)
He said he was bored a lot in class and felt very unchallenged but he was still trying. But he said that the teachers not challenging him, giving him a bunch of work he already knew how to do, and denying him of any connection to the lessons by not calling on him made him really start to feel resentful towards school. He said that's when he began to feel himself caring less and less about school. He wanted to learn and wasn't getting to.

- In either 2nd or 3rd grade, every night's homework had a writing component to it where he had to write a small paragraph about whatever the topic was. He said he just didn't want to do it. He felt like it was dumb busy work. He said he'd always do the rest of the homework (math problems or worksheets or whatever) but always skipped the writing part. So he always got a C on his homework. He said for the first time, he wasn't getting As "and the world didn't end." He started to realize that the work and effort he did in school didn't matter. It didn't make any difference. He could sit and play around or daydream all day in class and still do just as well as, if not better than, the other kids on tests. If he needed to "turn on," he could and did. There was nothing to challenge him or help him learn anything new so he stopped trying.

- In 4th grade, he moved and made new friends. He said they were really smart like him but they were troublemakers. Evil geniuses if you will :) They made helicopters out of rulers in class, made rubber band school supply launchers, emptied pens to turn them into blow dart guns... basically he was super mischievous but in creative ways. He said he finally had found an outlet for his creativity. Finding ways to build pencil launchers to launch pencils across the classroom or what have you was finally something in school that could challenge him. By that time, he had given up on school being able to do that for him and found his own way. I probably had my mouth wide open as he was telling me all this by the way.

He said that he wished it didn't become like that because he really had wanted to learn. He came to school with such high hopes and excitement but was let down. And once he stopped trying in school, he said there really wasn't any turning back. He still did great on tests, but he didn't learn those important study skills that he needed once he reached high school and college.

I totally relate to that as well. I was used to working hard (a.k.a. doing a lot of work) but I was never used to doing challenging work so when work became challenging in high school, I didn't know how to exercise my brain in that way anymore. I didn't know how to think deeply. I hated the questions labeled as 'critical thinking' in high school. I still got all As but I had to work really, really hard for them. I feel like I had been a "gifted" kid but not exercising my brain and being so under-stimulated for so many years (or maybe it was all of the times I got hit in the head with basketballs/softballs/volleyballs playing sports growing up lol), I really became an only somewhat above average teenager.. and I definitely don't feel like a "gifted" adult.

If I had been pushed and challenged, I wonder if I would still be able to think and problem solve the way I could when I was a child. 

Anyway, I asked Mr. Giraffe what could have stopped him from being a troublemaker in school and he basically echoed all of the same things that I've mentioned in this post. All of the things that frustrated me were what frustrated him. It was so interesting to me that someone who was so different in school than me (and so different than me in general)  would feel the exact same way about so many situations.

DO supply quality books on their level.
Make sure that there are good quality books at their reading level available to them. I really recommend getting science books/magazines with vivid pictures and fun facts - they will eat. it. up.

DON'T ban them from reading books below their level.
I had a teacher that didn't let me look at the fun picture-heavy books even though the other kids could because she said they were too easy for me. Oh how I hated that. It was another way that I felt like I was being punished for doing well in school. Encourage them to find books at their level by all means but a fun book every so often will not hurt them. If anything, it keeps their love for learning and reading alive.

DO let them help!
If they want to help, let them! I obviously love teaching so I LOVED getting to be a tutor or helping the teacher. Your high kids can be your best little tutors. Pair them up with another student and let them help them. Make sure you model appropriate teaching. Explain to them how to teach and ask good questions and not just give the answers. Many high kids love playing teacher.. let them. Give them a stack of sight word flash cards to quiz other students. Give them a list of students and let them call students back during literacy stations to their own little teacher table (desk) to do their own little rotation. To do flash cards or read a leveled book together or whatever your kids need practice with. They'll both think of it as a fun game and oh-so-funny that they're "playing" teacher. The other kids will learn a lot and get an extra round of small group instruction and you don't have to do much at all! What is the gifted child getting out it? A sense of belonging. Social interaction. It will help your high kid feel needed and like they have an important role in the classroom community.

If they want to, let them be your personal assistant. This is in addition to the extension and enrichment opportunities you're providing them so I honestly think it is okay if they spend some time helping you if they enjoy it. Before you say it's a waste of instructional time, think of how many hours they waste so bored 'learning' something they already know. Doing a task for you every so often that they want to do will help them stay happy and motivated in the classroom. It helps to add some variety to their day, which they most likely consider monotonous. If you can keep them happy and motivated, they will be able to stay better engaged when it comes to learning new things throughout the day so it actually increases their overall genuine learning time in my opinion.

Examples of ways they can help: (And how you can justify it academically)
-  Alphabetize things for you. Do you alphabetize your papers before you enter grades? Have them collect everyone's paper and put them in ABC order for you. (ABC order is a commonly tested literacy skill)
- Keep the classroom library organized.. and hey, if they find a book they want to look at/read while they're in there, that's okay too. (They're sorting books into genre categories or by author, that's definitely a literacy skill)
- Take attendance/do the lunch count/etc. (Learning leadership skills)
- Organizing math manipulatives (Sorting/organization)
- Pulling out the materials for the next week/putting away the current week's things on Friday afternoons (Organization?)
- Change all the behavior colors back to green or the starting color (Fine motor skills? haha)
- Turning on and logging into the classroom computers each morning (Technology skills)
- Put the papers to go home that day in each kids mailbox
- If you're collecting permission slips or something else non-confidential, they can go through the stack and highlight each kids' name on your class list
etc. etc. etc.

Some may argue with me but I really don't think you need to justify it academically. You're keeping them stimulated and happy which will make them work harder for you when you ask them to. It's not like you're having them be a helper all day.. just very occasionally. Giving them responsibility and ownership of their classroom can go a long way. A lot of "gifted" kids are natural leaders so they'll jump at the opportunity to have more responsibility.

DO let them teach.
I'm a big believer in students teaching/leading the class in learning and discussions when possible. All students, high and low. The more they talk, the more they learn and learn from each other. Make sure your high kids get an equal opportunity to do so. I remember one year never being called on to solve the problem on the overhead projector in front of the class despite ALWAYS having my hand raised each day when my teacher asked for volunteers. Not even once. I remember how it felt so unfair, especially when some kids got to do it multiple times a week.

DON'T look at them like an already passed test.
With how grossly obsessed our world is with perfect test scores, don't just look at them like an already achieved goal. They have just as much potential learning and growing to do as any other student, it just might be at a higher level or more accelerated pace than your other students. Push them higher. They want to be pushed and challenged.

DON'T let them get bored.
They are way more likely to check out and dislike school because they're bored than the other kids. Don't let that happen. Provide so many FUN learning activities that they can choose from that they don't even have time to get bored. Engage them socially with the other students, let them do activities that involve them walking around or moving, and make sure that the activities are varied and always changing. 

DO give them creative twists to assignments.
If and when possible :)

DO give them opportunities to work with other kids like them.
My husband said something that would've helped him not disengage and misbehave in school was if he could have had opportunities to be around kids like him. 

Beg your principal to let you form a little group of your grade level's highest kids to get together once or twice a week to work on a learning project together during class. Get together a group of your highest 4-7 kids from the different classes and have a fun, hands-on inquiry assignment, something they have to build together, some kind of math challenge, just anything for them to work on together collaboratively. Make sure it's a task they can do without any (or hardly any) teacher help and work on together. Something that gets their creativity flowing and makes them have to discuss what they're doing. If you teach in a small school with only 1 or 2 teachers per grade level, use the other high kids from a grade level above or below. If they're engaged in what they're doing, it shouldn't be a behavior problem at all. Maybe alternate whose classroom they go to each week so the same teacher doesn't have that extra work of extra kids in the room each week. Set up a place where they're not too distracting to the other kids to work on their special project together. Again, make sure it's during their regular classroom time, not during their specials or lunch or recess.

DO give them love and attention.
I often felt ignored like I've mentioned above. My husband said he did too. We saw the struggling kids get pulled back for extra help and attention all the time. In our eyes, our teachers always seemed to be helping or talking to or calling on the other kids. Make sure you're giving your gifted student attention and care as you do everyone else. Even if it's less, still call them for groups. Even if it's less, still call on them for answers. Even if it's less, still go check on them while they're working as if you're checking to see if they get it like you do for everyone else.   

DON'T get upset when they question you.
They might ask a million questions. Question your directions. Question "WHY" this and "WHY" that. They're not trying to be defiant or annoying, they're truly just curious. 

DO use parent volunteers if you have them.
If you're fortunate enough to work in a school with parent volunteers, utilize them with your high kids! Have them pull a small group of high kids to do a challenging science inquiry project or an educational board game/activity that would be too challenging for your other kids. Something that you don't need to explain to a parent volunteer but they're there to supervise and keep the kids talking. 

DO look for competitions or opportunities for them to showcase their creativity.
Look out for poetry contests, writing contests, etc. where they have to mail in a submission, tell them about it and let them work on it when they're done with their normal classwork. Give them ample time before it's due to tell them about it. They're most likely going to want to perfect it. Mail it in for them when they're done. Even if they never hear back, they'll still enjoy doing it. I had a teacher do this for me and I felt really special. I actually had my poem published in some book of kids' poems and I basically thought that was the coolest thing ever back then. There are SOO many writing and other contests available to kids if you just type in "contests for kids" into your search bar.

You can look for other things like science fairs or spelling bees but try to find educational extras they can do IN the actual classroom.

DON'T make them read at a slow pace.
Thankfully kids have leveled reading groups and such these days but many are still subjected to whole group reading. I think whole group reading can be done well but it can also be done very... not well. I LOVED reading as a child but I grew up in a 'round robin' world and it felt like we read the same story for hours and hours and hours. I remember as soon as we got out our books, I'd flip through to find the longest paragraphs to wait to volunteer for to pass the time quicker. Each time we turned the page, I'd read the page (and neighbor page) to myself and then find a way to occupy myself until we could turn the page. I didn't want to look different or get in trouble so I'd stare at the pages and daydream. I would look at a line in the text and try to make as many words with those letters as I could. I would imagine what all the WoRdS wOuLd LoOk LiKe If ThEy WeRe TyPeD lIkE tHiS. I would move my finger to air-write the page in cursive. I would read the pages backwards in my head. What I'm trying to say is I was incredibly bored.

Instead: Try partner reading! Partner students of a similar reading level together and have them read the story together. Have them read it together a second time for fluency. Have them alternate reading or tracking by sentence, paragraph, or page so they catch each other's mistakes. Encourage them to correct and help each other. As early as 1st grade, your partners of all levels can read the story together and then read/answer the questions in the back of the story without you leading them along if you train them to. Just walk around and monitor. This way, every kid can read the story at their own pace and enjoy it because they're doing it with a friend. No anxiety of being called on to read in front of the class or everyone having to read it at a slow pace so your lowest kids can follow along. If you read it 'on level' whole group, your lowest kids are probably just pretending to follow along anyway. This way, everyone gets what they need. Your lower kids will take longer to finish but no one will notice because you can provide many things for student to do when they're done reading. Put bonus comprehension/discussion questions on the board for those who finish early. Once they read it together and discuss it, they can grab a sand timer to time each other in how fast they can read it. Have them flip through the story and come up with their own questions to ask each other to try to stump the other. If there are bold words in the story, have them find them and discuss what they mean together. Have them discuss something that has happened to them in their own lives like in the story or compare it to another story they've read. Have them do a quick mapping of a character or write an alternative ending with their partner. Train ALL of your students to know these are choices they can do once they're done so it's easy to manage each week because they know the expectations. There are so many things your high kids could be doing AFTER finishing the story at a pace more appropriate for them rather than sitting and listening to the story at what feels like a glacial pace to them. Partner reading is great because you can walk around the room listening to every student's reading and conversations and stop by to discuss it with them all. You'll get so much more opportunity to check for understanding than if you're reading the story all together and ask the whole class a question and only hear from one or two kids at a time.     

DON'T send home extra homework.
Their parents might even ask you to because they're driving them crazy at home. Don't do it.
Just don't.
They don't need extra problems or extra pages.
BUT, if you can, modify it to make it more challenging in a thinking (not hand moving) sort of way and less like busy work if you can! Tell the parents you'll send home more challenging work.
Another BUT - if they ask you for pages to take home because they want them (their parents didn't ask them to ask you), give them to them! Let them take any extra pages home that they want. It means they're booored at home. Or they're weird like me and they enjoyed playing school with their stuffed animal students and their friends in the neighborhood when they got home :)
Also encourage them to take home books or magazines from the classroom library that they're interested in.  

DO make sure they are emotionally taken care of in the classroom.
Just like any kid, they might have emotional difficulties or troubles at home.

They might feel isolated or like they don't fit in. Help them build social relationships with their peers.
They might be bullied for being different. Again, help them build social relationships and put a stop to any bullying.
They might get angry easily at others when they don't understand what they do. Explain to them how we all learn differently and all have our own talents.
They might stress out about upcoming tests/events because they want to be perfect. Help ease their fears.

DO remember they're still just a kid.
They want to have fun. They want to run and play at recess. They want to please you and be loved by you just like any other kid. Don't put unrealistic pressures on them. And, if they're ever having trouble getting something, NEVER ever ever say something like, "You're smart. You should know this!" Give them the same patience, love, attention, and care that you would any other child in your class.

Or they might write a blog post about you 15-20 years later :) 

Wow, this post is so, so LONG. If you made it through this whole thing, we are officially best friends. I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

I hope this post was able to help someone! Again, I didn't write this as a teacher, I wrote this as a student, and I hope that anyone who read this was able to pick up something from it to take back into their classroom. Thank you so much for caring about your students and their needs and for reading what is probably one of the longest blog posts in the history of blog posts.

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Thank you so much, again, for taking the time to read this. This post means a lot to me and I'm so thankful to anyone who took the time to read it. 


  1. Thank you for this post. I am a teacher to a very gifted child. I struggle daily to meet his needs. I just found out that I am looping up with my class next year... and I am SO excited! I truly appreciate your input... and I'm off to shop in your TPT store now. If you happen to have any other resources or know of any other TPT sellers who make quality products for gifted students, I would appreciate that info!!!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this out. I was much like you in elementary but still struggle with what to do with my gifted students in my class. Some of these things I have done, but now you have given me even more ideas. Thanks again.

  3. Wow. Just... wow. Thank you so much for the time and insight you put into this post. Sadly, this is an area that we aren't given many resources for. I will refer back to these ideas and tips often! You rock! (p.s. I read all the way through to the end and will be expecting my BFF bracelet in the mail.)

  4. This is an amazing post! Every teacher needs to read this. You give such great insight here. I've always been so worried about the kids who are struggling, that I realize maybe I wasn't doing enough for my gifted students. Thank you for writing this! Pinning so I can reread again! :)
    Sarah's First Grade Snippets

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I've read so many other posts about differentiating for your high students but they are always so broad and general but yours was very specific. This has been the best one I've read!

  6. thank you for sharing... so many insights to help us all teach better <3

  7. Thank you for this article. It has put my mind at ease in regards to my five year old daughter. She is highly gifted so I was very interested in reading this post. Everything you wrote about I am already doing for her as I worry if I am not only doing enough for her but if I am also doing it right. At the moment she is in a Year 1/2 class to work at a Year 2 level but is around the Year 1 children so not to feel like she is 'the different one'. Her school is amazing where she does have her own desk, she sits next to the teacher and gets different work from the class as needed. Thank you, again, for your time you have put in with this post. It certainly has been one of those 'phew!' moments where you try so hard to help and your efforts are enough according to not only a teacher but someone who is gifted and gets it. :)

  8. Thanks so much for writing on this topic. I stumbled across your blog as I was researching ways to challenge advanced kids in class. I mentioned to one of my high student's moms that I wanted to discuss ways to challenge her son during our upcoming parent teacher conference. She got so excited! I thought she was going to hug me! So I have been trying to put together some ideas before I meet with her. I was having a hard time thinking outside the box. I love how you gave so many practical ideas! I feel like I'm ready to meet with her, and to start implementing some of your awesome ideas! Thanks again!

  9. Thank you for writing this post! It was extremely helpful and insightful! While, I have been doing a lot of things right with my gifted student, there are many things I now need to improve on as well. My problem that I am struggling with is how to answer the other students in the class when they ask me why "she" doesn't have to do an assignment or why "she" gets to do something else!

    1. After teaching a twice-gifted math class (gifted in some ways, struggle in others- 3-5th grade ages), I found the best thing was to break curriculum into parts (which is already done with math strands and objectives) and explicitly teach those parts to children in order to help each child see that they each had strengths and weaknesses and that those strenths and weaknesses didn't always match their friends.
      I'd also make sure your slower kids also get a chance to do "enrichment" activities at their levels. Note, I said slower, not lower- not all gifted kids are fast workers. Sometimes their hands can't keep up with their brains.

  10. I'm going to reread this ten times and take notes. I have several of these smarty-pants in my class and I feel like a jerk every time I look at them. One girl in particular is absolutely a trouble maker. Adorable but, naughty. I want so much to help those smart kids...gotta keep trying.

  11. I think I was much like your husband when I was younger and got into a lot of trouble. I always finished things quickly, then found ways to entertain myself, which often ended up with me in the principal's office. I feel like so much attention is given to our struggling students (which is important) but the higher-achieving students are often neglected (I'm guilty of it, too). Your post has given me some great ideas on how to stretch those students' learning and challenge their creativity. Thank you!

  12. This is an excellent blog!! So right on target and I needed this reminder. Thanks

  13. Thank you for your Do and Don't List. I am teaching a session to Kinder teachers and would like to incorporate this Do and Don't List in my session, crediting you for the list. I would love to tell them about your website, as well.

  14. Thank you so much for your honesty. I am a teacher who struggles with keeping my gifted kids challenges and I go home feeling guilty because I "wasted" their day. All of the things my heart knew these kids were feeling are the things you said you felt as a child. This confirms my suspicions (because the gifted kids would never complain ) and encourages me to become skilled at challenging them and to be the best teacher I can be for ALL of my students. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  15. Was sent this link by my daughter...who as a child in the 80s and 90s experienced life as a "gifted kid" and as she read it, found so many great points that she could relate to as a student. She teaches now and uses many of the same strategies in her classrooms, but learned even more from you. She also has gifted kids of her own, and sees their struggles with the same issues at times. Some teachers are definitely tuned in on the topic, while others do just opt for the busy work or just assuming that the kids will occupy themselves. Thank you for an insightful visit to the day of gifted kids!

  16. Thand for writing this. I can see so much of my own schooling evident within what you shared and my son (now 13) who is gifted. He is very vocal about many of the items you listed within the post. He's a combination of both you and your husband but leaning more heavily towards your husband in recent years (humorous class clown). As a teacher, I have offered to program for him and send other items in for him "to do" after completing classwork to alleviate some of that boredom you spoke of, and been turned down repeatedly. As a child, I survived by reading non-stop as soon as I finished a task. Leave the paper on top of the desk, hold a pencil in my hand and read the book I had tucked in my desk. Thanks for making it real for the teachers out there who have these gifted children in their classrooms whether they have been officially identified or not.

  17. I have a to-do list a mile long but I took the time to read this instead and I'm so glad I did! I always ask for the gifted kids in first grade because as the mom of two children who were gifted, I feel a strong connection with them. I love them, quirks and all. This was the most helpful reading I have ever done on this topic. Thank you! I will check out your store next. Procrastination at its finest, haha.

  18. Thank you, I'm teaching a gifted kindergarten group this year and your post was really eye opening. Half of my class is gifted and the other half is high achieving/advanced, so it's a great group!

  19. Thank you for this post. Very insightful and full of jaw-dropping for me. I didn't consider myself gifted as my marks through school were not top-tier in spite of being in accelerated programs, etc. Your husband's story is my story - including the move in grade 4 and new (evil) friends! It is remarkable. My wife was gifted in school and skipped a grade and lived out a similar story as well. This all culminates in our son who is acting out in class and causing issues - really standard pattern stuff. Your insight is a great look into what he is going through and gives us some great ideas on how we can help him and his teacher. Thank you!

  20. Just awesome. Thank you so much
    ... like all your posts, so many great ideas.

  21. As a gifted child myself, wife of a gifted man, and mom to a gifted 6 year old - thank you!! It's not often that we feel understood or that we can even talk about giftedness, so your post was incredible to read today!
    We just pulled our son out of public school after a month to homeschool him because he was incredibly bored and frustrated and it was started to affect our home life. I loved his school and his teacher, but she was not able to engage with him at all during the school day because of the many kids in his class who were struggling already, and the handful of other children with special needs.
    What a goldmine of great ideas and suggestions! I will be sharing this post with all of my teacher friends, and to the parents I know who have gifted kids! Thank you again!

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I always knew my child was ahead because of his thinking abilities, vocabulary and other things, but I never knew to look this route. He does get bored easily and I have been trying to figure out how to stimulate his mind. My child reminds me of your husband and it makes so much sense. I am glad I came across your post. Your post has helped me and I have a wonderful reference. I have some additional questions and I hope you have time to talk to me.I can be contacted directly at Thank you and have a great day!


  23. Thank you for saying what many of us are not comfortable saying. I am obviously older than you are and there was no such thing as gifted. But I still had those feelings. And such acute shyness that I actually did not speak in 8th grade except if I was asked a direct question by an adult. I am currently teaching kindergarten in Texas, math intervention and GT! I also have a pre-K student that seems to be extremely advanced in math and I am looking for appropriate work to do with him. I might need to pick your brain if that would be possible. My email is

  24. Thank you so much for this post. I'm re-reading it again after finding it last year. I teach enrichment groups at my school, and I try to advise teachers on how to support their gifted students in the classroom. This blog post is a treasure trove of advice. Amazing. Thank you so much for such heartfelt, detailed tips.

  25. Thank you for your post; it is incredibly helpful!

  26. Oh my! I’m 3 years late on this post but this just made everything in my life make so much sense. I was the same kid as you in school. And for years now I couldn’t figure out why everyone told me I was “gifted” but I felt like such an average high schooler and college student. I was never challenged and I missed so many introductory lessons especially in English and now my grammar is just awful! They used to send me to a different school 30 minutes away once a week! Talk about feeling isolated! Enough about me! I came upon this post as I am trying to find ways to challenge a student in my class who is just blowing my other students out of the water. This is so helpful I highlighted and wrote ideas down. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this!

  27. Thank you my dear this blog is very helpful and enlightening. I appreciate it.