gifted student with math formulas and problemsTeachers with an opportunity to foster the educational experience for gifted students stand to become highly influential in the early learning experiences of a young person who may be destined for high achievements in his or her life. Identifying gifted students in their nascent academic years and engaging them in ways that are both challenging and motivating is crucial to nurturing their natural talents. Below, we offer advice for identifying and engaging gifted students in the classroom, even if your school district does not currently offer an enrichment program.

How to Identify Gifted Students

The telltale signs of a gifted student may be clearly visible (exceptionally high grades, easy grasping of concepts, interest in the material that goes beyond the year’s required curriculum). They may, however, seem counterintuitive, as some gifted students are being misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) due to acting out or being seemingly unengaged in the classroom. In reality, their behavior may be instead a symptom of boredom with material that is not challenging them enough. A student that demonstrates any of the following characteristics may be gifted:


  • Highly curious, often asking many questions
  • Self-motivated
  • Exceptional retention
  • Thinking independently, often expressing original ideas
  • Early mastery of reading skills
  • Strong math skills
  • Demonstrating higher than average analytical capabilities and problem-solving skills
  • A strong sense of moral justice

Other Signs that May Not be as Obvious

  • Difficulty staying on topic
  • Frustrated when not allowed to answer a question or contribute to a discussion
  • Quickly bored with classroom assignments and lectures
  • Resistant to repetitious work
  • Voluntarily completing more work than what was assigned
  • Struggling to collaborate in groups
  • Self-critical
  • Critical of others

How to Engage Gifted Students

According to the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC), 73 percent of teachers feel their most capable and smartest students are underwhelmed and bored in the classroom. With 77 percent of teachers sharing that they aim to prioritize the development of underachieving students to help them reach proficient levels, many teachers fear the priorities of their most gifted students are too often unaddressed. If your school offers resources to support giftedness, such as pull-out or other enrichment programs, or a cluster grouping structure that places talented students into groups in specific classes at each grade level, talk to your administrators and the students’ parents about such specialty opportunities.

If your school does not offer enrichment programming for gifted students, consider these three engagement strategies:

  1. Offer Briefer, More Challenging Assignments. A gifted student may become bored if asked to complete 25 problems that do not challenge him or her. Instead, allow all students to complete five more difficult questions for the chance to be excused from the night’s homework assignment. Alternatively, be prepared with more challenging questions for structured independent learning time that you can offer to your more gifted students while the rest of the class works on the standard curriculum.
  2. Allow Students to Test-Out of Assignments. Similar to the strategy above, offer students the option to complete a small number of more complicated problems in class. If answered correctly, they will receive a more challenging homework assignment, which may better engage gifted students. The benefit of allowing the “test” voluntarily, is that students who recognize that they are still grasping the concept can focus on the standard assignment without the need to stress themselves with more challenging material.
  3. Enable Students to Customize and Personalize Projects. To help keep gifted students engaged in project work, give all students the option to adapt a project to leverage their interests or areas of knowledge. For example, instead of mandating all students must build a rocket in science class, provide the rocket-building instructions, but allow all students the chance to apply the materials and concepts presented to construct a variation that goes beyond the basic guidelines, such as a rocket with a built-in parachute for a safe landing.

Remember that some students may be treated differently because of their gifted abilities. As the leader in the classroom, it will be crucial that you give your most talented students chances to expand their learning, without singling them out as being different from their classmates. The best curriculum adaptations reflect flexible and customizable in-class and at-home assignments that give all students a chance to engage in material within their comfort zones.

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