Turning Theory into Practice #5 – What can bibliotherapy look like with gifted children?

Todd Stanley

Tracy Alley, in the June edition of Parenting for High Potential (PHP), has a very good article concerning the use of picture books to meet the social-emotional needs of your elementary aged students. She throws out several suggestions for books such as I Am Enough by Grace Byers, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, and We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio.

This process is known as bibliotherapy, and Alley sets the mood in her classroom by having the students gather around on the floor in a mock campfire setting. She also provides some general questions you can ask of students when talking about the book:

  1. How did the character resolve or fix the situation?
  2. Could you connect with the main character’s feelings? If so, when did you make the connection?
  3. Many events happened in the story. Has anything similar happened to you or a friend?
  4. Have you ever experienced (insert emotion, like sadness, happiness, guilt, regret, jealousy) like the character in the story? Do you want to share what that experience was like?
  5. Did the character in the story handle the situation in a good way? If so, how? If not, what could have changed the outcome– through action or emotional response?
  6. How would you have handled the situation?

Lots of great tools for doing this with students in the classroom. In an effort to turn theory into practice, here is a lesson plan of what you might do with students concerning bibliotherapy specific to gifted students.

            Learning objectives:

To have students ponder why someone might not want to use their gifts as a learner (underachievement).

            Summary of tasks:

The class together will read the picture book “The Unopened Gift”. Then students will participate in an activity that discusses the ideas from the book. The lesson will close with a class reflection about what they might have gotten from the book and discussion.


The picture book, The Unopened Gifted (can be downloaded for free)

  • Pieces of paper with statements from the book written on it spread around the room
    • I don’t like the label on the gift.
    • I’m waiting for everyone else to open their gift first.
    • What if once I open it, it is not what people expected it to be?
    • Isn’t it enough just to have the gift? Why do I have to open it?
    • I don’t want people to feel bad because they don’t have a gift.
    • My parents won’t let me open it.
    • Others might be jealous of my gift.
    • People may make fun of me because I have this gift.
    • If I open it, people will expect more gifts.
    • What if people disappointed by what’s inside?
    • I don’t want to be seen as special because I have this gift.
    • I’m bored with the gift.
    • No one has shown me how to open my gift.
    • No one seems to care that I have this gift.
    • I can’t find the gift anywhere.
    • My friends don’t want me to open it.
    • I was told it wasn’t my gift.
    • Where do I start to open it?
    • I never asked for this gift.

            Estimated time:

            Approximately 1 hour


10 minutes – Begin by projecting the story “The Unopened Gifted” on the wall using the LCD projector. The teacher can either read each page or depending on the level of students, can have them take turns reading each page.

  1. minutes – Have a discussion about the story and its content.
  • Ask them what the story was about?
    • Common answer will be it is about someone who does not want to open a gift, offering excuses as to why.
  • What happens to the gift the more excuses that are given?
    • Common answer will be it begins to break down and fall apart. Students can cite specific examples to illustrate this.
  • Why do you suppose the gift is empty at the end of the story?
    • Answers will vary.
  • Ask them to think about the gift in another way. What if the gift was not a physical gift, but rather your brain? And these were excuses why someone is not willing to open their mind. How would this change the way they think about the story?

10 minutes – After talking about this, point out that around the room are various statements from the book (you do not have to use all 19 of the statements but can select the ones you feel are most pertinent for your students).

Students are going to go around the room in a gallery walk, reading these statements and then deciding which of them they identify with the most. One way to frame this is to have students ask themselves the question, “Have I ever used any of these statements as an excuse not to do something with my mind?”

Announce they should move to the statement they identify with the most. At each of these statements will be a group that has formed organically. Some groups might be very big, others very small, some with a single person. This is perfectly alright.

15 minutes – Once students get into their groups, give them some time to discuss the following questions:

  • What drew you to this statement?
  • Can you provide a specific example of when you used this statement as an excuse not to do something with your mind?
  • Do you think there is ever a time this is a valid excuse?
  • What advice would you give someone who is considering this as an excuse?

Give students 10 minutes to discuss this in their groups. Then select a group spokesperson who will share with the class a consensus statement.

10 minutes – Bring the class back together to reflect and unpack what has happened during this activity. Some guiding questions you might want to ask:

  • What did you learn from other people’s responses to their excuse?
  • How do you feel about using the excuse you chose now?
  • What does the empty box mean to you now?
  • Why do you suppose it is valuable to use your gifts?

This is a bibliotherapy lesson that can work especially well with gifted students because of the label of being “gifted” and how some students do not use their gifts to their fullest potential.

The bibliotherapy lesson can be used with elementary students, but also with older students. I used to read picture books to my 8th graders and was always amazed at how excited they got about it. You can have a rich discussion with your high school students and even parents using The Unopened Gift. The possibilities are endless but it is important that students get to explore their feelings with the book acting as a conduit.

Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools (OH). You can follow Todd on Twitter (@the_gifted_guy) or visit his website to can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given concerning gifted education.

The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.