In working with a gifted student, I would like to set up an opportunity for him to learn some material and present it to the class. How could such an activity be structured so that the presentation would be successful for him and for the rest of the class without becoming an unreasonable time-sink for the teacher?

For context, this is in a US-based high school, and the course is in theoretical computer science (the class is given the year after AP Computer Science A).

  • $\begingroup$ Does your school have independent studies? (Where the student spends a semester doing research under your guidance for credits towards graduation.) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ “Gifted”, do you mean born in September? (birth date is a bigger predictor of educational outcome than parents wealth/income). But more importantly see Carol Dwecks work on mindset “I don't believe in ability” or more precisely I don't believe that thinking about ability produces good out comes. See has done a ton of research, in to this, and what to do about it. I would be looking to see how I could provide this for all, as it seems like it will develop useful skills. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ If you have a 9th grade student doing PhD level work, you have a gifted student. Not every adult can do that level of work, so why would you expect that every student can? Would you deny Reed Jobs (son of Steve Jobs) his role in cancer research because he was in 10th grade when he started? Would you expect every 10th grade student to have that natural ability? $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ what kind of gifted? that is quite a broad term, and one that has quite a few levels. Gifted students might have extreme abilities in some fields and almost nothing in other fields. Could you explain what kind of things make it clear (beyond a professional diagnosis, which I assume exists) that said students is gifted? some things he or she said that shows a special way of thinking, perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – ItamarG3
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ctrl-alt-delor yes, growth mindset is important, but to be quite honest, it is ridiculous to pretend that all students are at the same level. Some students are ready for more advanced study than others. $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 23:14

3 Answers 3


I did what the OP is describing for all of my students during the month following the AP CS exam in the U.S. Students were given a list of potential topics to research and then present. I also gave students some things the presentation needed to include:

  • At least two original examples (in code)
  • Well formatted and commented code
  • References useful for learning more about this topic
  • Some context to explain how or why this topic is useful

Students shared their presentation with me before delivering it to the class and I didn't need to spend much time outside of class working on this.

Since students had spent a year with Java, but actually covered very little of the language and standard libraries, some of the topics given involved delving deeper:

  • Using Threads and Runnable to handle concurrency
  • The Servlet API: creating a basic web application
  • Pick another language on the JVM and learn enough to demonstrate it
  • Lower level network code in Java: UDP for a chat app
  • Lower level network code in Java: Sockets
  • Parsing XML
  • Parsing HTML from a web page (e.g. stripping out the barometric pressure from a weather.com)

The simple way is for the two of you to come up with one of the future topics that will occur in due course. Work with him to develop a lecture, just as you would work alone to develop it normally, but with both of you present. He then presents the lecture himself. Be sure to anticipate questions that other students will ask so that he is prepared for that and can be flexible. Preparing notes for the talk using a Hipster PDA might be especially useful and would in addition demonstrate that technique. At one time college debate teams used this concept to prepare.

The somewhat more complex way, but which would be easier on some students, is to prepare just as suggested above, but then team-teach that lecture, with each of you responsible for some part of the process.

For me, the best way is to pair-teach the lecture. This is a concept that a colleague and I developed. One of you (likely the student) starts the lecture. The current person is the driver and is in control. The second person is the navigator and is responsible for watching over the process in an aware way. If there is any stall in the action, perhaps a student question, the roles switch, with the navigator taking the lead and the former driver watching over. One of the tasks of the navigator at any moment is to be aware of the class response to the driver's words/actions and can step in whenever there seems to be puzzlement.

Either of the second two methods makes it easier for first time lecturers, since they know you "have their back" if things get tight.

I've experienced the first of these as an undergraduate and used the two others in teaching, the last one extensively.

A somewhat lesser idea is to prepare for a topic not normally in the course and prepare for it. A good time for the presentation may be on the last day of the course, especially when the final exam has already happened. Tension may be less and you often need something go pique the interest of the class on the last day anyway. Any of the three methods suggested above could be used, of course.

I would personally choose the method based on the personality of the person and his relation to his fellow students. If it is especially open and friendly, the first might be less fraught/scary than otherwise.

You can use face to face contact (office hours) or email, etc., to develop the lecture. You can give the student an outline, or ask for one instead. Lots of variation is possible, but you want some sense that the student is well prepared both technically and personally.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 My daughter was already experienced in videography when she started high school, so she spent much of her high school time teaching video and media classes, allowing her teacher to do the non-teaching parts of the teaching job (securing funding, planning projects, etc). $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 3:04

Although "gifted" is broad, it has been made far too clear that potential (implied by the student being gifted) is not enough. They need intrinsic motivation. This is fairly straightforward: The only way to make such an activity work is to get the student to be enthusiastic about some field of their choosing.

Many gifted students have ADD\ADHD (Correlation, and not causality), which means that sitting with them to get them started is no easy task. But it can be done by appealing to their strengths. If they have shown special affinity or liking of some field or subject, or have been "always interested in ...", then one should start by suggesting that field or subject.

If the student seems interested, one should proceed with explaining that research is a necessary part of the activity. From this point the student should be fairly independent, and the teacher should only be checking in from time to time. (obviously a deadline should be set...)

From the other side of this process, it's up to the teacher to decide whether to tell the rest of the class about the presentation. Personally I wouldn't tell the class (that keeps it a "surprise").

After learning the material, the gifted student should make a presentation (depending on the field or material chosen, perhaps an example\demonstration would be useful). Here the teacher should make it quite clear that the rest of the class are not as immersed in the material (if at all), and so the presentation should present the key points.

From a presentation such as that, the rest of the class get the basics and core ideas of the material and the gifted student learns a very, very important skill: presenting something they are fully immersed in to people who have no knowledge in the subfield. They learn how to remove unneeded details and keep only the points that don't require a whole lot of other details.

This skill is somewhat scarce among enthusiastic and motivated gifted students.

  • $\begingroup$ Isn't "Many gifted students have ADD\ADHD" modern educatorese for "They're bored silly"? $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy it most certainly isn't. $\endgroup$
    – ItamarG3
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 6:02

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