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NSW Department of Education and Communities

Curriculum support for NSW Public Schools

Differentiating the curriculum


The Policy and implementation strategies for the education of gifted and talented students: Support package: Curriculum differentiation (2004) (pdf 1345kb) provides an introduction to curriculum differentiation for gifted and talented students and is suitable for all stages of schooling. It needs to be read in conjunction with the Policy and implementation strategies for the education of gifted and talented students (revised 2004) and its companion document Guidelines for the use of strategies to support gifted and talented students (2004) (pdf 270kb).

How to cater for gifted students ­– differentiating the curriculum 

The purpose of differentiating the curriculum is to provide appropriate learning opportunities for gifted and talented students. Three important characteristics of gifted students that underscore the rationale for curriculum differentiation (Van Tassel–Baska, 1988) are the capacity to:

  • learn at faster rates
  • find, solve and act on problems more readily
  • manipulate abstract ideas and make connections.
What is curriculum differentiation?

Gifted students need the opportunity to work through the curriculum at a faster pace and need less time on basics and revision. A differentiated curriculum is a program of activities that offers a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills. In a differentiated curriculum teachers offer different approaches to what students learn (content), how students learn (process) and how students demonstrate what they have learned (product). Tomlinson & Allan (2000) clarify the meaning of differentiation (pdf 21kb).


The creation of a differentiated curriculum requires some pre-planning. It is important to find out what the students already know and their level of skill attainment. There are different ways that students' prior knowledge can be determined, for example, brainstorming or producing a concept map or a series of questions on a test. These types of pre–tests can provide valuable information about individual differences in ability within the class. The curriculum can then be compacted to delete outcomes that have already been achieved if some students demonstrate mastery of them.

Curriculum models

A program should strive for the optimal match between learner capacity and level of experiences provided. Some children have greater facility with abstract thought, critical reasoning and meta–cognitive skills than others (Braggett et al., 1999). This means that to avoid underachievement a curriculum needs to be developed that will both challenge and stimulate students appropriately.

There are numerous models of curriculum differentiation that can be applied creatively to produce programs that provide flexibility and choice, for the range of individual differences in the classroom. These models show how content, teaching and learning processes and products can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of gifted students.

Maker and Williams models

The Maker and Williams models give us a framework to create programs designed to stimulate students' critical and creative thinking. The challenge is to use the models in a considered way to create exciting opportunities for gifted students.

The Maker model

The useful Maker model (pdf 192kb) illustrates how content, process and product can be adjusted to meet the needs of gifted students.

The Williams model

The Williams model (pdf 65kb) provides a range of strategies across three dimensions to create questions to stimulate creative and critical thinking.


The Booklet - Activities for differentiating the curriculum (pdf 79kb) referred to in the Policy and implementation strategies for the education of gifted and talented students: Support package: Curriculum differentiation (2004) (pdf 1345kb) provides templates for developing activities and/or questions for content, process and product modification using the Maker and/or the Williams models.

Writing programs for gifted students

Gifted students can be catered to by providing extension and enrichment opportunities and through accelerative practices. Further information on acceleration is available from the Acceleration support package and from the Professional support: Acceleration page on this web site.

What are extension and enrichment?

Extension means providing opportunities at a greater level of challenge to the student. A combination of practices including acceleration, grouping and differentiation of the curriculum enable gifted students to access meaningful learning opportunities. Substantial gains in learning can be made when gifted students are grouped together and when they are accelerated but this can only be achieved if they have access to a developmentally appropriate curriculum ( Rogers , 2002).

Enrichment means providing breadth to the curriculum at the same level of challenge to the student. All students should have access to enrichment at the appropriate intellectual level. However, appropriate enrichment for gifted students would not be suitable for all students. This is because the activities would not match the learning needs of every student.

When creating programs for gifted students it is important to discover their current level of knowledge, skills and understanding. This means determining their level of achievement of learning outcomes. Some students may not have achieved a substantial number of outcomes at their stage level but may benefit from exposure to a more demanding curriculum. This means that outcomes need to be differentiated to cater for the need of a more abstract curriculum, a faster pace of learning and the ability to make connections across disciplines.

Students who have achieved substantially at their stage level should have the opportunity to access outcomes at higher stages. This needs to be made explicit and written into programs. The Kaplan model (pdf 68kb) provides a useful template and reflection tool for planning a differentiated curriculum.

The learning environment

Environmental conditions are also important for gifted students to maximise learning. Teachers of the gifted devote less time to instruction and more time to questioning. They tend to ask many divergent questions and use questions to stimulate discussions and to understand thought processes. Most teachers rely heavily on feedback but some teachers of the gifted avoid doing this. They behave like counsellors: attentive and interested but not judgmental. This stimulates self–evaluation and reduces dependency on teacher reinforcement. Teachers of the gifted also control the classroom differently, using humour, non-verbal cues and unobtrusive ways of refocusing students' attention on tasks. There seems to be more equality among gifted students and teachers than among the general school population (Silverman,1988).


Reading material, sample units of work and examples of strategies for supporting students, referred to in the Policy and implementation strategies for the education of gifted and talented students: Support package: Curriculum differentiation (2004) (pdf 1345kb) may be accessed using the information below.

Additional examples of units of work are available as individual schools implement GATS initiatives.

Support package page references ConceptDocument title FormatDescription

Gagné's (2003) Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent



(pdf 25kb)

An expansive description of the stucture of the DMGT is provided in this article.

Gagné's (2003) Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent

Illustration (pdf 73kb)This diagram illustrates the interrelationships of components in the Gagné Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent.
10Acceleration Web pageAccess to information via Professional support page of this site.
11DefiningDefining differentiation (pdf 21kb)Brief descriptors of differentiation.
14QuestioningBloom's taxonomy of educational objectives and information skills


(pdf 46kb)

Examples of question stems using Bloom's earlier taxonomy in conjunction with the information skills process.
15Sample unit of workMedia(pdf 90kb)Referring to the Exposing the news unit of work developed by Richmond River High School, ideas here demonstrate how applying the Anderson-Krathwohl revised Bloom's model may be useful to teachers in modifying the Years 7-10 English Syllabus.
19, 21ActivitiesBooklet - Activities for differentiating the curriculum (pdf 79kb)Using templates for Maker and Williams models, teachers can develop activities and/or questions for each content, process and product modification.
26Sample unit of work (1)Stage 3: K-6 Science and Technology (pdf 105kb)

This handout contains examples of how the Maker model (1982) and the Williams model (1993) can be used to modify curriculum in the Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.

28Sample unit of work (2)Living science and Antarctica: Your story (pdf 218kb)A sample teaching unit for Year 5-6 in K-6 Science and Technology.
31Sample unit of work (3)Key words in the Higher School Certificate (pdf 69kb)Applicable across key learning areas, this unit employs Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and the information skills process to provide students with an opportunity to think about the HSCA glossary of key words at a metacognitive level. Information skills and Bloom's template available.
32Sample unit of work (4)Heritage (pdf 149kb)Students study the nature of history by using primary and secondary sources in this Stage 4 History unit.
34Sample unit of work (5)Post-war Australia (pdf 154kb)This Stage 5 History unit was differentiated for gifted students studying Postwar Australia to the 1970s: The changing role of women.
36Sample unit of work (6)Patterns and algebra(pdf 183kb)Differentiated for Stage 3 Mathematics, the content in this unit is covered under Additional content (p.10) in the syllabus.
40Sample unit of work (7)Interdisciplinary Project (pdf 1 226kb)A cross-curricular enrichment strategy for Year 8 students, this project provides the opportunity for creative problem solving within a group situation. There is a substantial amount of support material provided with this unit.
44Sample unit of work (8)Media(pdf 107 kb)Ideas here provide suggestions for applying the Williams model to differentiate the Stage 4 English unit Exposing the news (as created by Richmond River High School) to cater for the needs of gifted English students within a mixed ability class.
47Sample unit of work (9)Fantasy literature (pdf 192 kb)This Stage 3 English unit of work was developed using a matrix for content and process modification for students in an opportunity class.


Anderson , L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J. & Wittrock,M. C. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York : Longman.

Braggett, E., Morris, G. & Day, A. (1999). Reforming the middle years of schooling. Highett, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Cochrane, P. (1992). Simpson and the donkey: The making of a legend. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Gross, M. U. M. (2000). Issues in the cognitive development of exceptionally and profoundly gifted individuals. In K. A. Heller, F. J. Monks, R. J. Sternberg & R. F. Subotnik (Eds.), International handbook of research and development of giftedness and talent (2nd ed., pp. 179-192 ). New York: Pergamon.

Rogers, K. B. (2002). Re–forming gifted education: Matching the program to the child. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

Kaplan, S. N. (1993). The grid: A model to construct differentiated curriculum for the gifted. In J. S. Renzulli (Ed.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (pp. 180-193). Highett, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Maker, C. J. (1982). Curriculum development for the gifted. Austin: Pro-Ed.

NSW Department of Education and Training. (2003) Quality teaching in NSW public schools: Discussion paper. Sydney .

Silverman, L. K. (1988). The gifted and talented. In E. L. Meyen & T. M. Skrtic (Eds.), Exceptional children and youth (3rd ed., pp. 263-291). Denver, CO: Love Publishing.

Tomlinson, C. A. & Allan , S. D. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Van Tassel–Baska, J. (1988). Comprehensive curriculum for gifted learners. Boston, MA.: Allyn & Bacon.

Williams, F. E. (1993). The cognitive-affective interaction model for enriching gifted programs. In J. S. Renzulli (Ed.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (pp. 461-484). Highett, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.

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