Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

General Principles for Teaching Young Gifted Children

Many schools today have chosen to serve their gifted student population by enabling teachers to provide educational alternatives for them within the existing curriculum and in the regular classroom. There are a number of practical strategies teachers can employ to give young gifted students the challenge and stimulation they need without overburdening themselves with a great deal of extra work. 

Create a Learning Environment. One of the first steps to consider when meeting the needs of young gifted students is the classroom environment. The classroom needs to be a place where all children can easily engage in activities and projects at their own level and pace. Here are some suggestions for designing a child-friendly classroom: 

  • create a room that invites inquiry (pictures, books, areas for music, art, and a variety of materials); 
  • use thematic instruction to connect content areas; 
  • make a wide range of materials available; 
  • arrange for activity centers for self-initiated projects; 
  • have flexible seating arrangements; 
  • offer attractive, lesson-related activity options for students who finish work early; 
  • vary the atmosphere of the room through music as well as opportunities for creative movement, mime, dance, singing. 

Developing learning centers can support creative learning in the classroom environment. A linguistic center, for example, could have a variety of books, dictionaries, magazines, storybook character puppets, magnetic letters with boards, crossword puzzles, alphabet games, and computer software for word processing and story writing. 

Allow for Flexible Grouping. Group work is common in preschool through the primary grades. For gifted students, cluster groups, where four or five gifted children work together, provide the most productive situation for learning. Grouping young children should always enhance the strengths students have, and the kinds of groups formed (structured, open, creative, divergent, content-based, etc.) should emerge from learning goals established for each classroom activity. Here are some guidelines for organizing small groups: 

Provide variety. Offer opportunities for children to work with a variety of students grouped differently (interests, complexity level of assignments, motivation). 

Offer choices. Whenever possible, allow children to choose group mates and topics and assist in designing projects and their format. 

Create ground rules. Discuss ground rules with children. Rules for discussion may include: if you can't agree on what to do, try more than one idea; take turns sharing ideas; listen to others in your group; make your best effort; help each other; if you don't understand or agree, talk about it with your group; get the teacher's help if you need it. 

Evaluate students individually. At the conclusion of group work, it is important to evaluate them individually. Evaluations (mastery tests, portfolios, checklists, oral responses, drawings, written compositions, etc.) should focus on individual learning rather than on how students contributed to the group. 

Compact the curriculum. A proven strategy for serving young gifted children in the regular classroom is to compact--a process of compressing the essentials so that they can advance beyond the material they have already mastered. Most teachers create a system of testing and observation to determine the children's level of mastery. There are a couple of options for compacting. One is to allow gifted children to choose activities (unrelated to material covered in class) that particularly interest them. The other is to design an activity related to the current lesson that challenges their talents. In order for this practice to work in the long run, the teacher will need to design some kind of learning contract (signed by both the child and teacher) that stipulates the activities or projects chosen, the conditions for their completion, and the outcomes. The teacher can then help them locate resources both in learning centers and the library. 

Incorporate creative thinking. Another way to serve young gifted children in the regular classroom is to incorporate creative thinking and activities into daily lessons--a strategy that benefits the other students as well. Young children particularly enjoy "what if" questions to stimulate new and alternative ways of exploring a subject or theme. A study of the rainforest, for example, might allow a child with an interest in lizards to become a lizard for a day. "What if you really were a chameleon living in the rainforest? What would you enjoy most about being one? Why?" Activities could include gathering new facts about that animal for the purpose of a mimed story, a self-portrait (which the child then explains afterwards), or written (or dictated) story. Teachers can support these activities by asking questions and suggesting different media and resources for their imaginative exploration. 

Brainstorming with gifted children on what kinds of projects they could do may also generate ideas teachers may never have thought of on their own. The point of the brainstorming is to teach children at an early age to think of the different things they can do with the information they have learned. What would they like to do with it? What else could they find out? How would they like to express what they know? Activities could range (depending on the age and ability of the student) from map-making to naturalist studies of animal life, dramatic enactment's, creative movement, art projects, and science experiments. This is where teachers' understanding of their students' unique strengths becomes vital in providing appropriate learning activities. A kindergarten class just beginning to explore numbers may be very dull to an artistically gifted child who already knows how to count to 50 and recognizes these numbers by sight. A teacher who understands the child's talent could offer encouragement to undertake an art project involving the theme of numbers (e.g., drawing objects or animals in multiples, then counting them, making designs out of numbers, exploring the relationships between numbers through art, etc.). This integration of subject areas also makes learning possible in multiple directions and allows young children to develop talents in different content areas. 

Assessing and Documenting Development

Like identification, assessment should be ongoing. Teachers can use tests, class assignments, observations, informal interviews, consultations with parents, and portfolios to assess how the children are doing. However, they are only meaningful if conducted repeatedly over time and within a variety of classroom activities and projects. In this way, teachers gain a more comprehensive understanding of their students' talents and can create further learning opportunities for their development. 


Early identification and intervention are essential for the growth and development of young gifted children. Equipped with practical teaching strategies and creative resources, classroom teachers are in a unique position to advance their talents in a stimulating environment of original thinking and discovery. A sensitivity to the special needs of young gifted children can make a significant difference to their future development and happiness. 


Clark, B. (1992). Growing Up Gifted: Developing the Potential of Children at Home and at School, 4th ed. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International. 

Kingore, B. (1993). Portfolios: Enriching and Assessing All Students, Identifying the Gifted, Grades K-6. DesMoines, IA: Leadership Publishers. 

Smutny, J. F. (Ed.) (1998). The Young Gifted Child: Potential and Promise, An Anthology. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. 

Smutny, J. F., Walker, S. Y., and Meckstroth, E. A. (1997). Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Ages 4-9. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 

Winebrenner, S. (1992). Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 

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