A Little Magic: Up-level Lessons in a Blink

UntitledOne of the challenges we may face when teaching high ability learners is that sometimes we underestimate how quickly they may complete and master a lesson.

In these situations, many teachers have an alternative bag of tricks to keep students engaged. However, these activities can require unnecessary planning, transition time, and may even reinforce a student’s perception that school lessons are “too easy” and not intended for him/her. Before moving on to other things, teachers should consider whether simply nudging the lesson up a notch might better serve students’ needs.

No illusions. Here’s a little magic I’ve seen to up-level common grade school lessons in a blink…


1). Spellbinding Spelling

  • Assignment: Put each of your spelling words in a sentence.
  • Challenge: Choose five of your spelling words and write each word in a sentence. Every word in your sentence must begin with the same letter as your spelling word. Your sentence must make sense.

2). Zen for the Venn Diagram

  • Assignment: Use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast two subjects in your reading.
  • Challenge: Explain why this comparison is interesting or important.

3). Character Trait Transformation:

  • Assignment: Identify the character traits of the main character, using evidence from the text to support your answer.
  • Challenge: Your character is moving and packing a suitcase. If your character could only pack three things, what would they be? Draw/describe these items and explain why each would be chosen. Use evidence from the text.

4). Levitating Main Idea/Details

  • Assignment: Identify the main idea and key supporting details.
  • Challenge: Write an 8-line poem that expresses emotions or feelings about the main idea.

5). Conjuring Context Clues:

  • Assignment: Guess the definition of the underlined word using the context clues in the sentence . (Context clues are words in a sentence that help readers to infer the meaning of a word by providing a definition or explanation of the underlined word, a synonym, or an antonym. )
  • Challenge: Write a sentence using the underlined word that provides a context clue about its meaning. Identify your context clue and how it helps the reader to infer the word’s meaning. (Note: The teacher may assign a challenge vocabulary word from a student’s reading or a list.)



1). Computation Capers

  • Assignment: Add/subtract all of the multi-digit numbers. Check your work using inverse operations.
  • Challenge: Choose one or two problems. Arrange the digits to create a new problem with the largest/smallest possible sum/difference. Solve that problem. Explain how you know that you have found the largest sum/difference.

2). Word Problems Presto-Chango

  • Assignment: Solve the word problem.
  • Challenge: Look at the word problem that you just solved. Create a new problem that (1) requires the solver to solve two more math problems in order to find the answer; or (2) contains different numbers, but has the same answer.

3).  Area/Perimeter Transformation

  • Assignment: Find the Area/Perimeter of all of the shapes on the worksheet.
  • Challenge: Find the total area/perimeter of all of the shapes on the worksheet. Create a drawing that has the total area/perimeter as the shapes on the page. (Your drawing does/does not have to be to scale.)

4). Fraction Flip

  • Assignment: Solve the problems that use fractions.
  • Challenge: Create a lesson that teaches a student how to solve one of the fraction problems in this assignment. Make sure that you explain why the student should do each step. Now “flip” roles—become the teacher and teach your lesson to a group of students.

5).  Astounding Rounding

  • Assignment: Round the numbers to the nearest _____.
  • Challenge: Choose three of the problems you solved. When would you need to round numbers like this in your everyday life? For three of the problems, create an example from real life when rounding the numbers in the problem may make things astoundingly easier!


(They say a good magician never reveals his tricks. But sometimes differentiating for high ability learners requires just a nudge, and no magic at all.)

10 Vocabulary Enrichment Ideas for the “Classroom Wardrobe”

“Few activities are as delightful as learning new vocabulary.”
Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style [1,2]


Gifted students have the ability to acquire extensive vocabulary, and they often delight in “trying on new words for size.”

Acquiring new vocabulary should feel like donning a new outfit and gliding down the runway. We should take words home, cut off the scratchy tags, and add them to ourselves. Yet in the classroom, vocabulary study is sometimes more akin to taking inventory — leaving behind a pile of charts, lists, and workbooks.

For the classroom wardrobe, here are ten “accessories” I’ve collected to enrich and enliven vocabulary instruction…

(Language Arts)

1). Vocabulary Skits: Students create and perform 2-3 minute skits that use and show the meaning of a vocabulary word.

2). Creative Writing: Students choose 6-10 interesting words from a text they read and use them to create an original poem, song, or comic strip.

3). Vocabulary Rainbow: Students discuss how colors can be associated with different emotions. (For example, they may associate “yellow” with joy or “green” with peace.) Then, students collect several descriptive words from a text and group the words according to what “color” they bring to mind. Create a rainbow depicting words in “color.” Make a key for the rainbow that explains what mood/emotion each color represents.

4). Anaphora: Students create a poem by repeating a vocabulary word several times and defining it in an original way. (For example, “Diligence is…Diligence is…Diligence is…”

5). Vacation (?) Brochure: Students list several words that describe the setting of a story or poem. Then, they create a “vacation brochure” that uses these words to advertise the setting as a favorite vacation spot . (They can also create a humorous brochure about a destination that is not so inviting…)


6). In Other Words: Rewrite a partner’s problem-solving strategy using “math words” (domain-specific language).

7). Heard in the Classroom: When students are discussing problems in small groups, challenge a few students to be detectives and listen/note the context in which math vocabulary is used. Student “detectives” can share their findings on a “Heard in the Classroom” poster.

8). Be the Teacher: Challenge students to teach a math word. Students can create games and word problems to teach/model the assigned word.

9). Create A Problem: The teacher gives students a list of 4-6 math vocabulary words. Students create a word problem and present the solution. The steps for the solution must use all of the math words on the list.

10). Build Something: Build a model/create a design that applies or represents 10 math vocabulary words. Create a key with the list of words and how they are used to accompany the project.

[1] Gunn, Tim, and Kate Moloney. A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style. New York: Abrams Image, 2007. Print.

[2] Tim Gunn is a fashion expert and author known by many for his role in the reality television series, Fashion Runway

Gifted MisBehaviors: A View Through Two Lenses

img_2497Now that I am approaching fifty, my eyes are changing and I have two pairs of glasses. My “close” glasses are for reading. My “far” glasses are for watching plays from the balcony. It is easy to get these lenses mixed up, but I can’t bring myself to do the bifocal thing because, let’s face it, it’s difficult to adjust to two lenses.

Like with my glasses situation, I use two “educational lenses” in my roles this year as both an elementary school assistant principal and a district-wide K-8 gifted coordinator.

As a gifted program coordinator, I see that teachers and parents readily refer children for programming based upon “gifted behaviors,” such as insatiable curiosity, intensity, and the ability to ask and understand complex questions.

As an assistant principal who manages much of the school’s discipline, children are referred for different reasons–most which involve a failure to follow school norms.   As with my mixed up glasses, I sometimes find myself looking at misbehavior through a “gifted” lens, and a variety of referral questions emerge…

Misbehavior Referral? Student doesn’t stop activities when it’s time to stop, and has difficulty transitioning from one activity to the other. Gifted Referral? Why is the student so engrossed in activities? Gifted students can find it difficult to stop an activity when their minds are engaged. Is the student exploring them in depth? Could it be difficult for this student to leave certain activities and subjects behind? Would this student benefit from some uninterrupted time to work on a passion project?

 Misbehavior Referral? Student pushes humor too far and is therefore disrespectful. This was not a time for jokes. Gifted Referral? Verbally gifted students find plays on words, figurative language, and humor to be irresistible. Is there an opportunity that would help this child to explore humor and figurative language in a positive way?

Misbehavior Referral? Student’s responses do not match the situation; the student gets upset or angry over insignificant things and acts out. Gifted Referral? Gifted students can be sensitive and emotionally intense. Some are perfectionists. Why was this student so upset? Could perfectionism or an acute sense of justice have triggered the behavior? Would this student benefit from an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about these ideals?

 Misbehavior Referral? Student keeps talking out of turn when asked to be quiet. Gifted Referral? For a gifted student, the ability to use advanced vocabulary and to express oneself eloquently may be a source of self esteem and pride. Although this student needs to listen and show respect for others, how could we make sure that this need for challenge and expression in the area of language arts is met in the classroom?

Misbehavior Referral? Student appears to have no respect for the rules and questions everything. Gifted Referral? Does this student understand the reasons for the rules? When it comes to students with a profound sense of justice, the reasons behind the rules matter.   Creatively gifted students may challenge the rules and prefer to try “their own way.” Could this student who “bumps up against the rules” be a strong candidate for gifted programming?

Of course we cannot presume that misbehavior is related to giftedness, nor can we ignore it for that reason. All children, including gifted ones, need limits; in schools, we need consistent, respectful discipline, and appropriate consequences for misbehavior. “Turning a blind eye” to misbehavior by calling it “giftedness” would not only be unsafe, it would cast aside our responsibility as educators.

However, as we see and respond to misbehavior, taking a glance through the “gifted” lens could produce a revelation. Among the discipline referrals, might we catch a glimpse of a gifted student who is paradoxically being overlooked because of “gifted misbehavior”?

For me, switching spectacles back and forth may work in the short term, but for the long term, it may be time to adjust to one pair of glasses through which I can see “close” and “far.”

Likewise with gifted misbehaviors; time to put on the bifocals.

Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners in the Core Classroom? Try Sitting in Their Seats


As we begin the year, how often do we educators see things through the eyes of the diverse, gifted learners in our classrooms?

Perhaps the best way to start is by putting ourselves in their chairs.

As summer days come to an end, a useful ritual is to check out the view from each student’s perspective by sitting in each of their places. How easily can each student see the projector screen? A talkative friend? A view of the playground?

Considering what students “see” can help teachers eliminate distractions and physical obstructions to learning; it can also help us find new ways to motivate high potential, gifted learners.

The National Association of Gifted Students defines “giftedness” as follows:

Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports). [1]

Regardless of what “definition,” most of us educators believe that gifted learners exist and expect to encounter them. So, when setting up a classroom, why not take a few moments to “take a seat” as a gifted child at the beginning of the new school year? Here are some focal points to consider:

(1). Role Models and Vision: Can I see a picture of an inspiring adult role model who shares my gender, culture, and/or race—a depiction that celebrates his or her contributions and achievements? What does that picture communicate to me about my future possibilities and potential?

(2). High Level Questions: Is there a provocative, deep question that captures my attention and curiosity? Is there a question that I find fascinating to discuss with my friends at school and my family at home?   How could the themes or topics we explore in the classroom this year be important or relevant to my life?[2]

(3). Rich Vocabulary: Is there a new, rich vocabulary word presented that would be fun to learn and use? How might it relate to math, science, or the world around me?

(4). Personal Interests: Is there any place in this classroom for my own “learning agenda?” Does this classroom have a place for me to explore and share what I love to learn? Do I see something that shows me that the teacher or any other students might want to  hear and talk about my interests and passions?

If answers to the above questions are difficult to spot, some simple changes to the classroom landscape could positively impact instruction to meet the needs of gifted students.

And once we consider the view from the students’ seats, our classrooms may provide a better vantage point to “see” more gifted students than we ever expected.




[1] National Association for Gifted Children website: http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness


[2] For question examples, see “Essential Questions.” Essential Questions. Authentic Education, 2013. Web. 24 July 2016. <http://essentialquestions.org/random_questions.lasso&gt;.