Identifying and Supporting Gifted English Language Learners: Author Q&A
Identifying and Supporting Gifted English Language Learners: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Monday, March 22, 2021 by Andilynn Feddeler

Identifying and Supporting Gifted English Language Learners presents practical strategies for identifying gifted ELLs and supports the enrichment and social-emotional needs of these students. Learn more about supporting these gifted learners in this interview with the author, Mary C. Campbell.

Q: How does this book aim to support the identification of gifted English language learners (ELLs)? 

This book aims to support schools and educators to work together to identify and support gifted ELLs. It is hard to know how or where to start in the process of identifying gifted ELLs, but this book supports all invested parties (e.g., classroom teachers, teachers of ELLs, academically or intellectually gifted [AIG] teachers, administrators, district leaders, and families) to be a part of this process. The book is organized into sections with subheadings to denote which invested party each section pertains to. It is intended to be a quick but meaningful read to support all parties to be knowledgeable and equipped to equitably identify gifted ELLs. 

Q: Why is it important for the identification and support of ELLs to improve?

Gifted ELLs are currently underrepresented in gifted programs across the United States, using the approximate accepted gifted rate of 5% to 10% of the population (National Association for Gifted Children, n.d.; National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). In a report by the National Center for Education Statistics for 2004 and 2006, Hispanic, Black, and Native American populations significantly differed in representation in gifted programs across the United States. 

It is also important for support of ELLs to improve because ELLs represent one of the fastest growing populations in U.S. schools (National Center for Gifted Education, 2020), while also representing a significant gap in reading and math proficiency compared with their non-ELL peers (National Assessment of Educational Progress, n.d.). It is crucial for schools to support growing ELL populations in order to meet guidelines requiring all subgroups to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals, as set by the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015). Many of the topics and areas covered in this book are not only beneficial for gifted ELLs, but can also support all students to think critically. 

Q: How is the book organized? What is included in each chapter?

The book is organized to present the most notable research in the field of identifying and supporting gifted ELLs. It also includes a practical guide for how to use these best practices at your school, or within your district or state. It has been formatted into a tiered and sequential approach for each key player with a step-by-step breakdown explaining how to carry out each essential role in this process. Moreover, each chapter builds upon the content of the previous chapter or chapters to present the next steps in the process.

The five-part plan of action is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Support. This stage is broken into three key parts: (1) how to build an effective AIG/ELL collaboration team (what it looks like and signs of success), (2) how to establish a culture of advocacy and extend it throughout the school and greater community, and (3) how to build and foster parent relationships. 

  • Chapter 2: Plan. The next stage of this work is the planning process of considering how to nurture potentially gifted learn­ers. This entails building upon the parent relationships from the Support stage to plan meaningful parent outreach events to educate families of ELLs. It also entails building upon a collaboration team and the culture of advocacy to effectively coplan lessons or units with the ELL and AIG teachers, as well as with classroom teachers. This step is an essential precursor for teachers to consider how gifted learners can demonstrate their talents. 

  • Chapter 3: Listen. This stage continues to build upon the system of support, culture of advocacy, and parent relationships to teach how educators and parents can listen to and observe learners to look for indicators of giftedness. Educators explore the characteristics of giftedness as well as what giftedness could look like in different settings and with different learning opportunities. 

  • Chapter 4: Act. This stage explores different methods for nurturing observed gifts and talents to prepare gifted students for the identification process. It also examines some of the criteria used successfully by district and state programs to identify gifted learners from underrepresented populations. 

  • Chapter 5: Teach. The concluding stage of this process seeks to answer the question of what to do now that gifted ELLs are identified. It explores how to effectively support gifted ELLs using researched best practices, as well as next steps for teachers, support staff, administrators, and parents. 


Q: What is one of your favorite strategies or activities for getting to know ELLs in the classroom?

My favorite activity for getting to know ELLs in the classroom is a close tie between morning meeting share and balloon toss. The morning meeting share is great for any age group of ELLs, whereas the balloon toss is best for younger ELLs and small groups of ELLs. 

  • Morning Meeting Share: I like to begin most of my classes with this quick share activity where I present a themed question for the day for students to share about themselves. Some examples include: 

    • Marvelous Monday: Which Marvel character would you be and why?
    • Wondrous Wednesday: If you could wander anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
    • Thankful Thursday: Who or what is something you are thankful for in your life? Why?

I like this activity because it helps me to learn more about the student as a whole person rather than just their academic levels. It also supports them to think critically about their own interests. This activity usually takes only a few minutes as each student shares one after the other. It is also nice for peers to learn about each other because it fosters a positive learning environment. 

  • Balloon Toss: This is a fun “getting to know you” activity that involves movement. For this activity, you will need one inflated balloon and for your students to stand in a circle. One person stands in the middle holding the balloon while everyone else stands around them. The person standing in the middle with the balloon tosses the balloon up, then says their name and one fact about themselves. Then, another person steps in to catch the balloon before it falls. Whoever catches it has to say the name and the fact of the person before them, and then their own name and fact. You can go in any order, and whoever wants to go next can go. This takes some of the pressure off of people who may be more shy, and other people in the group can help whoever catches the balloon in case they need help remembering. Here is an example: Carly tosses the balloon up and says, “My name is Carly and I like chocolate.” Then the next person jumps in to catch the balloon and says, “Her name is Carly and she likes chocolate. My name is Kou and I like video games.” Kou tosses the balloon up, and the next person catches. They say “Her name is Carly and she likes chocolate, his name is Kou and he likes video games, my name is Tao and I like eating.” The game ends once everyone has caught the balloon. You have to restart the game if the balloon falls on the floor before someone catches it. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

My biggest hope that readers take away from this book is a sense of empowerment to identify and support gifted ELLs. It is easy to identify a problem and find ways to “fix” said problem. However, the change only happens when people feel empowered and capable of addressing the problem. And a big piece of feeling empowered is knowing that others are all going to work toward the goal together. 

I like to think of it like a health buddy. You know you want to get healthier and you know how to become healthier, but it is always easier if you have a support system. This book is intended to offer the support and means to bring your gifted ELL buddies together to make changes in your classroom, school, or district. 


Every Student Succeeds Act, 20 U.S.C. § 6301 (2015).

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (n.d.). National student group scores and score gaps.

National Association for Gifted Children. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions about gifted education.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Percentage of gifted and talented students in public elementary and secondary schools, by sex, race/ethnicity, and state: 2004 and 2006.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). English language learners in public schools.

Mary C. Campbell is an award-winning and Nationally Board Certified English as a new/second language teacher from Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in curriculum studies and instruction at Florida State University.