Voices from the Village: A Teaching Community Developing Identity for Gifted Readers

By Dr. Katie Coggin and Dr. Kim Freed.

Full Title: Voices from the Village: A Teaching Community

Developing Identity for Gifted Readers through the Lens of Overexcitabilities


Gifted students often struggle to understand the social-emotional needs that make them unique. In Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, gifted children will often exhibit one or more of five different overexcitabilities: Psychomotor, sensual, imaginative, intellectual, and emotional.Learning to embrace their unique needs and potential overexcitabilities will help students develop self-confidence and self-awareness. Beginning to understand how others see their overexcitabilities will help children overcome any challenges they face as a gifted student with age-level peers. Using picture books to help them embrace their identity can have a profound impact on the development of gifted learners. To be happy, well adjusted, and feel as though their talents are being used, “gifted children must develop the potential that lies within them” (Halsted, 2009, p. 20). Adult allies can help gifted readers realize their full potential and provide them with resources to help them develop a positive and lasting identity.

Using Picture Books to Help Gifted Students Develop their Identity

Picture books can be a powerful tool to introduce gifted children of all ages to their potential overexcitabilities. Lessons should be approached from a strength-based viewpoint and help children see ways to embrace their overexcitabilities in order to better manage and accept them. Students are also able to see the potential challenges of overexcitabilities exhibited in texts. Students should first be given a brief overview of the overexcitability and then have time to explore picture books for the given characteristics of that overexcitability. We believe there is no right or wrong response in these activities. When introducing specific overexcitabilities, be open to others recognizing different ones. If a child can justify their named overexcitability response and what it meant to them, they should be encouraged to do so. When using picture books, the overexcitabilities can be seen in many of the following:

  • Through characteristics of the main character or another character

  • Things that happen to a character

  • Illustrations

  • Title of the text

  • In a theme of the story

  • Feeling the text gives the reader

In the following sections, each overexcitability is briefly introduced. It is followed by recommendations to parents and educators to nurture and modulate overexcitabilities constructively. These recommendations come from the book Living with Intensity: Understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski. Finally, a list of books is given for students to analyze each overexcitability.

Intellectual Overexcitability

An intellectual overexcitability might include being extremely curious, loving knowledge and problem solving, always reading, always thinking about things and asking questions. An intellectual overexcitable child can be incredibly focused for long periods of time.

Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • Your curiosity fuels your intelligence

  • You have wide and/or deep interests

  • You have great potential to learn new things and to make changes