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With a targeted model and edtech supports, gifted students and those of all abilities will learn and develop critical thinking skills.

How I’m making learning more engaging for my gifted students

With a targeted model and edtech supports, students of all ages and abilities will enjoy learning activities and develop critical thinking skills

Key points:

Keeping gifted students focused and engaged in learning can be challenging. They complete tasks quickly, are often motivated to dig deeper into a subject, and are prone to boredom if not sufficiently challenged. This can lead to disengagement, especially for gifted students.

To better support my gifted and talented students, I have integrated the Talents Unlimited approach into my classroom practice. The Talents Unlimited approach to education was created by Dr. Calvin Taylor, who researched the thinking skills people need to be successful in the world of work. Specifically, the Talents Unlimited model identified the following five key thinking abilities that lead to success: Productive Thinking, Communication, Forecasting, Decision Making, and Planning. Nurturing and expanding these talents can help students develop creative and problem-solving skills.

Here are some examples of how I am helping my gifted students by combining the Talents Unlimited approach and using Discovery Education Experience to ensure engagement for all students no matter their learning level:

Productive Thinking

Productive Thinking refers to a student’s ability to think up many, varied, and unusual or one-of-a-kind ideas. To support my students’ ability to undertake Productive Thinking, I use the Z Chart, which is one of Discovery Education’s research-based Spotlight on Strategies. The Z Chart is a graphic organizer that helps students summarize information using linguistic and nonlinguistic representations. The Z Chart strategy provides a quick way to present ideas. One of the best parts is that it works well as an individual reflection tool and as a tool for cooperative groups to use when discussing a jigsaw activity. This makes sure that students across abilities can dive deep into a topic together or through self-directed learning.


  • The Communication skills Talents Unlimited seeks to develop are:
  • Giving many, varied, single words to describe something.
  • Giving many, varied, single words to describe feelings.
  • Thinking of many, varied things that are like another thing in the form of a simile
  • Letting others know that you understand how they feel.
  • Making a network of ideas using many, varied, and complete thoughts.
  • Telling your feelings and needs without using words.

Discovery Education Experience’s DEmystified series features short videos (most are around two minutes long) that answer questions in a plain and simple, straightforward fashion. I use these videos to model several excellent communication skills addressed by Talents Unlimited.

For example, when my students watch the video “Characteristics of Stars,” I challenged them to complete the simile “Stars are as hot as _________.” Students brainstormed about things that may be hot in order to compare to the heat of stars. These are perfect for grabbing attention as a hook into a unit of study, a brain break, or even a rainy-day recess!


The Forecasting Component of the Talents Unlimited framework asks students to think of many, varied and unusual ideas to examine cause and effect by answering one of two questions: What might have caused…? and What might happen if…?

I address this component of the Talents Unlimited framework using Discovery Education Experience’s Life Skills Channel. For example, I have shared with my 2nd grade students the video entitled “Bang the Drums”, which is a story about the passion of making music. Following the video, the class discussed and described the effects of finding our own passions, and what steps need to be taken to pursue our own passions.

In addition, there are videos on goal setting, which helps students see the importance of setting realistic goals. In both cases, my students have a great opportunity to think through essential forecasting as it relates to their own lives.


Talents Unlimited seeks to help students develop their planning skills, and their ability to discern and the steps necessary to develop a comprehensive plan to carry out a decision.

To support the growth of student’s planning abilities, I utilize Discovery Education’s Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) to transport my students beyond the classroom. Before the “trip” my class and I discuss what things we would need to bring with us if we were actually going on a trip to one of the VFT destinations. Together, we have traveled to places like the Arctic, and Washington, D.C.

We then talk about what we are planning to do on the trip, the order of the steps they need to take to do them, and we identify potential problems. These projects can become very detailed. For instance, for my 6th graders planned “trip” to Washington, D.C., they created detailed budgets and researched flights, lodging, and food. After the field trip they used their communication talent and created travel brochures to encourage others to visit Washington, D.C.

Decision Making

Helping students build their decision capabilities is the most complex challenge of using the Talents Unlimited framework. It involves helping students think of things they could do, which are called alternatives. Then students develop questions that serve as a guide between choosing alternatives, then they weigh those questions to make decisions, and ultimately, support that decision with varied reasons.

To support the development of my students’ decision-making skills, I have created a simple chart that I use for decision making lessons. Students will consider each alternative and apply it to the criteria in a process called weighing. This will lead them to the final decision. Finally, they give reasons for reaching this decision.

I have used two Discovery Education channels, National Parks, and Sharks, to teach with this talent. Discovery Education’s channel on the national parks has informational videos about several of the parks. After viewing a few of these, we completed a decision-making activity about deciding which park to visit. The alternatives were three of the parks: Yellowstone, Everglades, and Olympic. The criteria for visiting each included: Liking the temperature there, the proximity of the park to home, and if there are things there that students would like to see. After weighing these, students could arrive at a decision on which park to visit. There are many other videos that this model could be applied to. Another of my 4th grade’s favorites is the Shark Channel, where we have used decision making to determine the most dangerous shark.

I am a firm believer in using the Talents Unlimited framework and Discovery Education can be used with all students in any grade level. Students of any age and ability level will enjoy activities like these and develop some critical thinking skills along the way.

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