Metaphors for Gifted and Talented Students

In a recent one-semester-hour class about Differentiated Instruction strategies, members of the class shared their similes and metaphors for their gifted and talented students; the way they perceive their students powerfully impacts the way they provide appropriate differentiation in the classrooms (Godor, 2019).

Here are their ideas, lightly edited for length.

Gifted/talented students are like lichen

They are unique organisms that come in many different varieties, are a combination of two worlds, are equally hidden as they are noticeable, and are sensitive to their environment.

I try to use this umbrella as much as possible when I refer to GT student services. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to serving students under the GT umbrella…Like lichen, the variety and specific needs for a GT student to grow and remain connected are vast. 

When talking with colleagues about GT students, I often notice the lack of awareness about their unique needs…I hope to create an environment where lichen thrives, and our entire ecosystem is enhanced.  

In differentiating for gifted and talented students, it’s important to remember more work doesn’t equal differentiation. With each student being in a different space under the umbrella, it’s essential to understand how there may be support for each enrichment. 

Gifted/talented students are cheetahs

Most cheetahs have many easily identified characteristics, but they possess many other traits that are not as easily identified.   If cheetahs are not provided the proper environment to thrive and fully reach their potential, then many of their strongest talents–speed and agility, for example–may only partially develop.  Like cheetahs, students with gifts and talents need the proper environment and the proper “diet” of challenging instruction to fully develop their abilities. 

As educators, it is our responsibility to develop the skills and potential of gifted/talented students.  Differentiated instruction–beginning in the earliest stages of education–is an essential piece of the puzzle for these students. 

I cannot take credit for this metaphor; however, I feel that the article titled Is It A Cheetah?  (Tolan, 1996) accurately describes the experiences that many gifted students encounter when they enter the school system. 

I see gifted/talented students as geodes.

A geode is a rock that might look very similar to those around it, yet when it is cracked open has a crystal-like formation on the inside. Sometimes, I think it is easy to view a classroom of students as the same… a group of 30 second graders, for example, and in this metaphor, that would be like seeing a bed of rocks. This, however, is not accurate. Each rock is different and possesses various characteristics that make it unique.

Geodes can sometimes be difficult to crack open. However, once the inside is exposed, it is beautiful. In terms of differentiation, I think it is important to recognize that each student may need various support to succeed in school. It is vital that gifted students are challenged academically and receive the support necessary in order to develop their crystal-like gifts and talents.

Square pegs that don’t fit in round holes.

A few years ago, I attended a workshop led by Rick Wormeli. He mentioned that we need to stop trying to fit students into the round peg and instead need to let them be the square peg. I think this is the perfect metaphor for gifted/talented students. They’re definitely the square/star/diamond/dodecagon/etc. that we try to force into theround hole. They think in different ways, and instead of adapting our activities and instruction to their ways of thinking, we just try to make them fit our way. If we modify and differentiate our instruction, they can find a way to better fit into our pegboard without us forcing them to modify their way of thinking and what they need from us. This will help them to not stagnate but instead blossom into what they were meant to be.

Godor, B.P.  (2019). Gifted Metaphors: Exploring the Metaphors of Teachers in Gifted Education and Their Impact on Teaching the Gifted. Roeper Review, 41(1), 51-60. Retrieved from

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