I think we can all agree that in the primary grades, our classes are made up of a variety of students with different abilities. Every year we never know who will be walking into our door! That’s part of the fun. With 20 or more little people that we are responsible for teaching, differentiating is how you can support gifted students in your class. Honestly, it’s how we truly reach EVERY student. You can reach them at their level and gently push them throughout the year. I know as teachers you have so much on your plate already, but teaching all students is the ultimate goal! Supporting gifted students is just as important as supporting students who might be behind. We need to keep them engaged and learning all year long.
My #1 challenge in the classroom was never classroom management, meeting with small groups, or even working with my striving readers. It was always challenging my gifted students. Pushing them harder without totally changing their content. I have had to learn and grow in this as the years have gone on. Even now that I am out of the classroom, I have grown in my knowledge!
These are some opportunities during the day you can differentiate to support gifted students that are easy to implement:
Meeting with gifted students in guided reading groups is one great way to meet them where they are. This is when you can really get to know what reading skills they have mastered and which areas need improvement. Word work and comprehension questioning are great places to start tailoring your teaching for this group to help fill in any gaps they might have in reading strategies. If you are already doing guided reading, just do a self-check to make sure you’re hitting the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy as often as possible.
This is another area where you can easily differentiate for gifted students. While they will still benefit from the whole group mini-lesson, you might encourage them to push their writing farther than you would other students in the class. Once you get to know their abilities through your conferencing, you will have a strong grasp of what their goals for writing should be.
While we want to take all of our students to the higher levels of questioning, this might be where you start with your gifted students. I found a great list of sentence stems HERE. You could put these on a ring of index cards to keep handy to help you push your students through questioning during any lesson throughout the day in a whole group setting.
You can find a few more literacy differentiating tips HERE.
Now think back to your education years when you probably heard about Bloom’s Taxonomy. This was my favorite way to develop extensions for my advanced students in the primary grades. Here are a few more ways you can support gifted students in your classroom:
There might be a few centers that advanced and gifted students need to do with the rest of the class. There also might be some that are too easy. For example, if in your word work station students are practicing long vowels, maybe you have an extension for students to practice harder words with r controlled vowels, but doing the same activity–a playdough smash. Find stations you can tweak a little to take gifted learners deeper without needing to have a completely different set. You may also want to check out these leveled word work activities!
Stock your classroom libraries with books on your advanced students’ levels as well as slightly above. Find out what topics they are all interested in and include books about that, too. Giving students books that are engaging will motivate them to keep reading and seeking out books of interest. You can always integrate writing with reading by providing open-ended reading response prompts, too.
Special Interest Projects
Find out what your advanced and gifted students enjoy learning about. This could be authors, sports, baking, music, etc. Have them work on some sort of project where they research, collect information, and formulate a product to share with others to show what they learned. This could be done as a group together or independently. This is always a great thing for these students to work on if they finish a class assignment early. One method that works well for young students is the Independent Investigation Method. This does take teacher direction to teach students how to do. I would do this with them the first few times during morning work, literacy stations, or for a few minutes at the end of the day to show them how to work through it. Once they learned the method, they could complete it on their own, even in kindergarten!
Extension Choice Menus
One of my friend’s favorite ways to have gifted students complete activities was through choice menus. She catered each activity on the menu to be a higher level thinking type of activity. If they were talking about addition and subtraction, but her gifted students already knew it backward and forward, out came the menus that were based on the same topic the rest of the class was learning. It might have options like creating games (especially for vocabulary), making a movie about the topic, conducting a debate, or writing a play.
The possibilities are endless! These menus worked so well for math, science, and social studies topics.
Get this one FREE HERE!
If your school has classroom computers or tablets, find a program, website, or app for your gifted students to use to extend their learning. This can also be a great motivator for students who might struggle to complete assignments in a timely manner. Make sure to preview each option thoroughly to make sure the content is appropriate for your students’ ages.
A few final tips:
- Advanced and gifted students shouldn’t be used as teacher’s assistants every time they finish early. Put a system in place for them when they finish something early that is challenging and fun.
- This tool called The Differentiator might help you be creative with assignments to support gifted students.
- Make sure advanced and gifted students have some choice in their extension activities, but it’s okay to put boundaries around those choices.
- Many gifted students have a passion for something. Find out what it is and see how you can implement it into their learning to make it fun.
- Keep in mind that these learners are still young. They might be advanced, but they can still benefit from thoughtful whole-group lessons that introduce them to new vocabulary, provide opportunities for collaboration, and teach them a new way to think.
Remember, gifted students don’t need more work. They need authentic work that is meaningful to them.
What are some of your favorite ways to support gifted students in your classroom? I’d love to hear!