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Instructional Strategies

Special strategies help gifted/talented (G/T) students maximize their educational opportunities. These strategies are especially important in structuring programs for G/T students that enable them to meet the state goal—the development of innovative products and performances. Curriculum compacting and tiered assignments are a few strategies that help ensure students in flexible groups are working at their maximum potential. Other strategies, such as using student experts and production crews, can help G/T students maximize their skills so that teachers and other students benefit as well.

Curriculum Compacting

Curriculum compacting is an instructional strategy in which the regular curriculum is adapted for G/T students by eliminating work that has been mastered and streamlining instruction to a pace commensurate with gifted students' readiness. Advanced students familiar with a topic can often demonstrate mastery on an assessment before a teacher introduces content to the class. These students require engagement with challenging replacement materials instead of redundant work. Compacting is appropriate for gifted learners because it provides an educational option that challenges learners and affords students who demonstrate high levels of achievement the time to pursue differentiated activities. The following are basic principles of curriculum compacting:

  • Teachers must be very knowledgeable about the objectives and content of a topic to assess what information is new or redundant for each student.
  • Pre-instruction assessment is required to determine areas of mastery.
  • Pre-instruction assessment strategies should be varied, efficient, and thorough to document the students' levels of attainment of required knowledge and skills.
  • Grades must be based on the curriculum compacted rather than the replacement material.
  • Students must have a vested interest in the replacement task, which should involve advanced content and accelerated learning rather than enrichment.

Adapted from Kingore, B. (ed.). (n.d.). Reading strategies for advanced primary readers. Austin, TX: Texas Reading Initiative Task Force for the Education of Primary Gifted Children.

Resource for additional information: Reis, S., Burns, D., Renzulli, J. (1992). Curriculum compacting. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press, Inc.

Procedures for Compacting

Stage 1: Indications of Student Strength

Think about the following questions:

  1. What are the indications of student strength in this area (e.g., standardized test scores, previous grades, teacher reports, class work, student comments)?
  2. What units/topics/skills are to be compacted?
  3. In what ways might a teacher assess previous knowledge (e.g., pretests, checklists, interest inventories, conferences, demonstrations, portfolios, student self-evaluations, observations)?

After gathering information about general and specific strengths, record the findings for accountability purposes.

Stage 2: Outline Specific Activities and Assignments

If necessary, note the activities and assignments needed to master the material. These may be designed to accelerate content and/or teach needed skills, as indicated by the pre-assessment. Be sure to include the following:

  1. Materials to be eliminated or accelerated
  2. Activities designed to teach and practice needed skills
  3. Means to prove mastery of skills learned

Stage 3: List Alternative Activities

Base these activities on students' interests and strengths, keeping in mind the resources available and local policy. At this stage, student choice is the most important consideration. 

Develop simple forms for documenting compacting and managing the process. Students should maintain process records instead of relying on the teacher's management strategies. Formative and summative assessment strategies and criteria, as well as a timeline for assessment, should be established by teachers and students prior to implementing the replacement activities.

Excerpted from: Starko, A. (1986). It's about time: In-service strategies for curriculum compacting. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Tiered Assignments

Tiered activities provide classroom options for all students to work on the same unit or in the same content area yet still be challenged individually. Tiered assignments incorporate appropriately challenging tasks that vary in the content level of information, the thinking processes required, and the complexity of products students must create. These diverse assignments provide for varying learner differences by modifying learning conditions, providing leveled activities, motivating students, and promoting success. They allow students to focus on the essential skills at different levels of complexity and abstraction. Such activities engage students beyond what they find easy or comfortable, providing genuine challenges that help them progress.

Procedures for Developing a Tiered Activity

  1. Select the concept, skill, or generalization to be addressed.
  2. Determine the students' readiness and/or interests.
  3. Create an activity that challenges most students, is interesting, and promotes understanding of key concepts.
  4. Vary the activity appropriately for students with fewer skills.
  5. Create additional activities that require high levels of thinking, are interesting, and use advanced resources and technology. Determine the complexity of each activity to document those that will challenge above-grade-level students and gifted learners.
  6. Ensure that each student is assigned a variation of the activity that corresponds to that student's readiness level.

The complexity of tiered activities is determined by the specific needs of the learners in a class. The levels of the activities begin at the readiness levels of the students and continue to stretch the students slightly beyond their comfort zones to promote continual development. In classes in which all students are at or above grade-level, the lowest tier would respond to grade-level or even above-grade-level readiness. All tiers require teacher modeling and support.

Adapted from Kingore, B. (ed.). (n.d.). Reading strategies for advanced primary readers. Austin, TX: Texas Reading Initiative Task Force for the Education of Primary Gifted Children.

Resource for additional information: Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tiered Assignment Examples


  1. The teacher has reviewed pertinent data on students' abilities, interests, learning styles, and production modalities.
  2. The teacher has pre-assessed the students on the material to be learned.
  3. The teacher has compacted the curriculum according to the pre-assessment data.
  4. The teacher has organized instruction using flexible grouping.
  5. The teacher has a clear understanding of the expected student performance as a result of the assignment.

Learning objective: Students will use agreed-upon criteria to study information on the issue of global warming, examining a variety of primary and secondary sources. They will draw conclusions based on their findings and relate the information to the idea that conflict is a catalyst for change. Findings will be presented to the class through an oral presentation using a graphic organizer or a teacher-approved product of choice.

Introductory activity: The teacher asks the question: "What do we know about the issue of global warming?" Student answers are recorded. The teacher then asks, "As scientists, what criteria might we use to judge the validity of the information regarding global warming?" The criteria are posted for future reference. Students are then asked to develop a concept map representing what they know about the issue. Using the two pre-assessment techniques, the teacher determines that there are three distinct levels of readiness to accomplish the task. All students will use the posted criteria to judge the information they will use for the activity.

Tier I: Students will use reading material that pictorially represents required information and conduct a pre-developed survey of science teachers and students to determine their awareness of the issue, beliefs about the issue, and reasons for those beliefs. Students will apply the validity criteria to the information gathered. Findings will be presented.

Tier II: Students will use grade-level reading material to gather secondary information and develop and conduct a survey of a least two scientists currently investigating the issue. Students will apply the validity criteria to the information gathered. Findings will be presented.

Tier III: Students will compare their knowledge of global warming with at least one other environmental issue and note the similarities and differences in the evidence that is presented by each side of the issue. Each issue being addressed must meet the established criteria. Findings will be presented.

Culminating activity: Students present their findings on global warming and explain how this issue is an example of conflict as a catalyst for change. After all presentations are completed, the teacher asks: "What can we generally say about the issue of global warming? What predictions can we make based on our current knowledge of this issue? What value, if any, do the validity criteria have in drawing defensible conclusions?"

Flexible Grouping

Grouping within the classroom provides an optimal learning environment for all students. Flexible grouping is the practice of short-term grouping and regrouping of students in response to the instructional objectives and students' needs. It contrasts with more stagnant grouping procedures in which students are placed in the same group or given whole-group instruction for all or most of the school year. Flexible groups are fluid. In any week, a child may work independently, be in one group for a specific purpose, and then participate in other groups to accomplish different objectives. In a differentiated classroom that uses flexible grouping practices, whole-class instruction can also be used for sharing introductory information and group-building experiences.

Flexible grouping avoids the stigma of labeling children by their ability levels, and it recognizes that no single group placement matches all of a child's needs. With flexible grouping, students are assigned to groups in varied ways and for varied purposes. Students can be grouped by skill, readiness, ability, interest, or learning style. They may be grouped for socialization or for production tasks. Grouping can take place within a classroom, among grade-level classrooms, across grade levels, throughout an entire school, or even between schools.

Adapted from Kingore, B. (ed.). (n.d.). Reading strategies for advanced primary readers. Austin, TX: Texas Reading Initiative Task Force for the Education of Primary Gifted Children.

Student Experts

Many students have expertise in one area or a combination of areas. Some students are content experts and some are process experts, while others may be tools experts. The teacher's time can be increased significantly if these areas of student expertise are discovered early in the year, nurtured, and used wisely. Teachers should use appropriate care when using student experts as a strategy. Students must have the option to volunteer for this work rather than being assigned this work. Gifted students are too often used to do the teacher's work, and they feel their need to learn new knowledge and skills is being ignored. Procedures for establishing student experts:

  1. Have students sign up for an area(s) of expertise
  2. Assess student level of expertise
  3. License each student for an area(s) of expertise
  4. Have student experts develop an appointment book for times they can be available
  5. Have student experts keep a log of training they provide

Areas of expertise

  • Public speaking, communication, writing
  • Content/topic/skills
  • Independent study process
  • Creative problem solving process
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Graphic representation
  • Production techniques
  • Tools such as
    • Computer application programs
    • Photography equipment
    • Science equipment
    • Copier
    • Overhead projector
    • Sound equipment
    • Computer equipment

Production Crews

Production crews can get a big job done. If a project has many and varied products as parts of the whole, then the use of production crews can be effective. Students should volunteer for the crew and should have an interest and some level of skill for the chosen task. Division of production tasks is evident in the world of work and can be just as effective in the classroom. The key is that each student has a meaningful task to complete and that each will be assessed on that task as it is related to the larger job. For example, a student may have an original idea but may lack the skills to convey that idea in a variety of ways. Production crews could take the original idea and create meaningful ways to sell it or present it to an appropriate audience.

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