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Spoiler Alert!

From "The Hannah Montana Movie" to "Angels and Demons," from "X-Men Origins" to "Star Trek," the summer blockbuster movie line-up suggests a wild ride this year. The way our movie rating system works, it's clear which movies are appropriate for younger kids (G/PG) and older kids (PG-13/R). But what about the kids in the middle?

Since I teach middle school, this topic worries me a lot. I have conversations in class where I'm trying to compare something in older literature to something more modern to which the students can relate. Then, I make the comment, "Oh, but you aren't old enough to see that yet." ALWAYS someone says, "Oh yes, I have seen it already." All I can do is shake my head and move on.

What many parents and teachers do not know is that gifted students have a different kind of filter on their five senses. This new CGI is even more stimulating to a gifted person who gets excited during the "Star Wars" X-Wing fighter battle and terrified during a gruesome scene in "Saw." As brain cells flash faster in a gifted person's mind, there's no going back once some of these moments have been seen, heard, and felt in movies. Gifted and creative people are more likely to "live" the movie instead of just watching the movie. Their hearts break more deeply, their sadness is more depressing, and their comedic laughter is more effervescent.

Therefore, I am compelled to advocate for our young "middle-aged" students, usually grades 5 to 7. To both parents and teachers, choose these movies wisely. PG-13 is "13" for a reason, and not all moments are even suitable for 13-year-olds.

Teachers should really rethink the decision to get parents waivers to show movies with unsuitable ratings for their students. Besides, sometimes it is more appropriate to show clips of movies. Teachers shouldn't always take the time to show the entire two-hour movie. Clips can be chosen purposefully and carefully, which solves our initial problem of appropriateness for students.

On the other hand, choosing appropriate, inspiring movies that encourage students to be empathetic to the world around them is EXACTLY what gifted students need. Not only can we move their hearts, but we can inspire them to go out and do some good in our world. "Music from the Heart" is a great movie to encourage our young musicians to keep practicing. "Stand and Deliver" can inspire young mathematicians in all walks of life - even during testing time. "Rudy" or "Remember the Titans" are great choices for the classroom to inspire perseverance and leadership.

To all the adults who are in a position to shape a child's mind, please choose wisely!

Writing Carousel

We began by teaching the class as a whole using a PowerPoint we created.  We found a fabulous song in the professional book Memory-Boosing Mnemonic Songs for Content Area Learning called The Writing Process.  I found this resource in the teacher store on Scholastic.com.  We acted the song out as a class (we love to sing and dance).  We then divided the students into six different "rides" on the carousel.  I'm going to focus on two of our favorites.  The first one was jump rope jingles.  We used books on jingles (Miss Mary Mack) and listened to double-dutch records (yes, the old vinyl kind).  We practiced jumping as well.  The students paired off and researched the rhymes and patterns.  They picked one to mimic with their own words.  After they were done, they performed them for us.   The next ride started with us practicing using a thesaurus to learn bigger words to replace our baby words.  The students kept up with nouns, adjectives, and verbs they researched in a mini-journal.  The activity was writing a descriptive paragraph.  We wanted to have them write newspaper articles.  We found great games for the students to play to build their writing skills on Scholastic.com .  We really liked  News Hangman (under the Social Studies tab), but they also played Pick the Perfect Word and Clean Up Grammar at the Beach (both under the Language Arts tab).  The main project was also from the computer lab favorites (called, Story Starters).  Each student went to the computer, clicked on Story Starters where they could pick the parts of their paragraph.  The only requirement was they were to pick the newspaper article as their form.  The articles turned out fabulous and the kids loved it!  It was one of their favorite activities.  It made it simple to differentiate for the class. 

100% Student Participation!

Ever spent hours planning and preparing a unit review game only to realize during play that just a handful of students are actively participating at a time? When this happens, a good teacher realizes that he/she is unable to accurately assess the students' retention rates because some are not engaged. I have finally found the solution!


Years ago, I found a PowerPoint template for "Jeopardy." I experimented with different ways to manage this game, but I was unable to devise a plan that didn't involve individual players or teams where the more assertive students overran the shy ones. Then came the paddles - not the old-fashioned kind that were used to enforce discipline, but the newly engineered ones with dry erase material on each flat side. The set that I use even came with 4 different colors (yellow, blue, red, and green) of 5 paddles each, making the use of teams very easy to setup and score for the teacher. These paddles also have a holder for the dry erase marker, which comes with a cap that has a little eraser pad attached - so no extra eraser is necessary. These are SO easy to use!

The best part about this strategy is that ALL students in the class have to participate in the learning games. While playing "Jeopardy," for example, after calling out the question, I say aloud, "1, 2, 3, UP!" Students have to put their paddles in the air by the time I say up. I believe in the "three strikes and you're out" method, so after three wrong answers or strikes (given for players whose paddles aren't in the air by the up announcement,) the player is "out." You can decide what "out" means. In my case, students keep playing, but they are no longer eligible for winning bonus points on our next quiz or test. I do this as further incentive for students to study for assessments ahead of time instead of waiting until the night before to review.

Jeopardy2So, how does this apply to gifted education? All gifted students NEED a chance to respond to questioning, an opportunity to participate in an academic way, a chance to practice healthy competition, and a technique to make all of the above fun and exciting. This strategy has allowed for all of these things to happen in my classroom. It's amazing the response I get from students when I say, "Bring out the paddles!" I don't have anyone falling asleep or nervously predicting the question that will come on their turn. Instead, all students are listening to ALL questions, answering ALL questions, and analyzing ALL answers. For once, we have 100% student participation!

Professional Development in Your Pajamas

Have you seen Scholastic's videos online? If you go to this page, you will find the videos arranged into categories, one of which is "Professional Development." I was intrigued by the video with Roger Essley on using visual tools because I LOVE using storyboards with my gifted students. When we read stories, the best tool to use to explain elements of plot is the storyboard, which I call a comic strip with a purpose. Students are required to identify only the main pieces of the plot because they can't fit ALL the action into only 8 or 12 boxes. Gifted students struggle with narrowing down details as they see all the action as important, so a storyboard helps them target the main ideas.

I also use storyboarding to demonstrate to students how to take notes and create study guides in their content area classes. Especially with cause and effect elements of history and steps in a scientific process, storyboards enhance the student's level of understanding the sequence of events. Math teachers should consider using storyboards with gifted students who often work problems in their heads because this strategy requires them to illustrate or notate all steps involved in the mathematical process.

When you have some time, watch this great video - or find another that fits your area of interest. There are many from which to choose. Just browse around the site!

Dr. Maya Angelou

I am SO excited to see Scholastic featuring Dr. Angelou on their website. Have you seen these videos? Check this out: Celebrate Diversity with Dream in Color

I always target February for our annual poetry unit because of the many perspectives and cultures I can explore with my students. Maya Angelou is the centerpiece of part of my unit because of what a great example she is for gifted girls. I believe Dr. Angelou has a very high IQ, based on the fact that after some of her trauma early in life she stopped talking because she saw a cause/effect relationship with the power of words. Not many kids would make a connection like that. So, I believe, had she been born in a different time and maybe in a bigger town than Stamps, AR, she would have been included in a GT program.

In spite of her hardships in life, Dr. Angelou has achieved her greatest life goals. She has taken conflict and allowed her spirit to grow from the journey. What a superb example for our gifted girls who struggle with perfectionism on a daily basis! Many gifted girls take their fear of losing control to the extreme of self-inducing issues like eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, underachievement, and more. When I can use Dr. Angelou as an example in the classroom, my students are in awe of all she has accomplished. If you decide to use her in your own classroom, here are a few tips I would like to share based on my years of trial and error:

1. Be sure to show the video of her Inaugural Address for President Clinton, "On the Pulse of the Morning." Especially after our recent Inauguration, it'll give you goosebumps to see how our country has grown - plus, it's not often students get to see a poet read aloud one of his/her own poems. So special! (I found the video on YouTube.)

2. Discuss the title of her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and teach the poem by the same title. Discuss the extended metaphor of the caged bird to any person who has limitations, not just people who were enslaved at some point. Middle school students can also relate if they've ever been grounded. Be sure to include a comparison of this poem to the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar called "Sympathy," as this poem inspired Angelou's poem.

3. My favorite project of the year is done during this unit. We read "Woman Work" by Angelou, and I read a parody of the poem that I wrote called "Teacher Work." (You can get a copy on Teachers Pay Teachers in my Angelou unit if this project sounds interesting to you.) I have the students write their own parody called "Student Work." These are SO much fun to read!

Most importantly, showing a video of Angelou will help the students relate to her and see her as a person. Sometimes students don't realize writing comes from a person - or the writers seem "dead" to them. Use one of the videos on Scholastic - the "Why Do You Write Poetry?" video is only 2 minutes long. Your students will love studying Maya Angelou, and she is such a great role model for all of us.

Which Level? Which Topic? Which Book?

As reading teachers of adolescent students, gifted or otherwise, our most daunting task is choosing the novels to teach during the school year. Those with teaching experience know that there is a difference between books students will read independently and books students will use for guided reading and literature circles. For summer reading, students are expected to be reading on their own, deriving meaning from the text at his/her own speed. During the school year, however, students are supposed to be challenged by a richer text, as a teacher guides understanding by modeling reading strategies and assisting with vocabulary instruction.


So, here is the dilemma. Gifted students often read books on a higher reading level than their contemporaries, but higher reading levels tend to yield subject matter inappropriate for classroom discussion. Then there are books that have perfect characterization, drama, and historical ambience that are on a simpler reading level, but these tend to negate the instructional objective of improving the student’s reading ability. On top of that, teachers are faced with students and parents that gripe about the choice of novel or text regardless of what is chosen anyway because you can’t please everyone all the time.


What do you do in this situation so that you can meet the needs of gifted students in your classroom?


I spend hours researching options that may not always entertain students but will at least intrigue them throughout the development of conflict up to the conclusion. During the first semester of the sixth grade school year, I tend to choose books between the reading levels of 5.5-6.5; during the second semester I aim for books ranging from 6.5-7.5. My focus is on making sure that the activities I use to guide the exploration of the novel render the higher level thinking needed to capture the focus of gifted students. I mean, let’s face it. Even in my class that is made up of 100% gifted students, I have some who are below reading level because they qualified for gifted services based on their math ability. I have to meet their needs too.


So, what do you do? Is there one right or wrong answer? What other methods or philosophies are out there? Does it depend on your clientele, your region or state, your level of experience, or even your district-mandated curriculum? What guides your selection of novels to study? I’d love some more ideas, as this is such a timely topic of discussion with my colleagues right now, especially as we finalize our summer reading choices. Let me hear from you!

Imagination Express

Imagination_ex After reading The Polar Express, I followed up with an activity that gave the students an opportunity to imagine where their train would go.  It is a creative thinking activity with a writing element.  The students loved it and it made for a great bulletin board during this holiday season. 

Continue reading "Imagination Express" »

Inside Pockets

Pockets After reading the book Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne and H.A. Rey, we completed a fun creative thinking activity about pockets in conjunction with community helpers.  We also thought about ourselves to create items for our own pockets.  We are going inside pockets on this one!

Continue reading "Inside Pockets" »


Bat2 2nd graders have taken flight with Bats!  Dive into our classroom to see the books we have read, the internet research we have  done, and the culminating project that tied it all together.

Continue reading "Bats!" »

Going Inside Out

Field_tripThe Kindergarten and 1st graders are going inside out to study things from the inside.  During our unit we went inside a corn maze and fortunately everyone made it out!  We also had a tummy-filling science activity using kernels and popcorn puffs.  Come inside to see what all we did!Taste2

Continue reading "Going Inside Out" »

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Gifted Learners are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.