boy under book surrounded by lettersVerbally gifted children are those who excel in the verbal domain. That means that they have exceptional ability in areas relating to language: reading, writing, and speaking. Those areas are critical for success in school, so we would expect these children to excel in school. However, the exact opposite is true. Verbally gifted children are more at risk for underachievement than because they are far less likely to have their specific needs met in school than any other group of gifted children.

Characteristics of the Verbally Gifted

Verbally gifted children, being gifted, have the same traits as other gifted kids: they are intellectually advanced, they learn quickly, and they thrive on challenge. However, they have additional traits that are unique to them. They are better at handling “word stimuli” and are better able to quickly access verbal information in long-term memory than the mathematically gifted, who are better at handling “digit stimuli” and manipulating information in working memory. That just means that while mathematically gifted children can more easily work with numbers while verbally gifted children more easily work with words. Those are two different symbol systems.

Because verbally gifted children do well with the language symbol system, they love words and all that words can do. They enjoy playing with words and using them to express their ideas and their feelings. It’s not surprising then, that many verbally gifted children enjoy writing, particularly creative writing. Combine the ability to manipulate words with advanced cognitive ability and emotional sensitivity and you can end up with beautiful poetry illustrated by the poem below:

You are alone
In your long exploration
Of the world of difference.
Yet, as the light consoles the desolate wick,
So a friend brightens the darkness in your heart
And makes life a joy.

What makes that poem exceptionally impressive is that it was written by an 8 year old child.

Not all verbally gifted children are capable of writing a poem of such depth at 8 years old, but the poem does illustrate another trait of verbally gifted children: their verbal abilities show up at very young ages. They often speak earlier than other children, and progress through the stages of language learning far more quickly than other kids. For example, while other children are uttering sentences like “I goed to the store,” a verbally gifted child may utter a sentence like “Dad, even though you gave me a ginger, you’re pretty lucky because I still love you.” That second sentence is all the more impressive when you understand that they are unusual even in the speech of 11 year olds!

Verbally gifted children also tend to learn to read early, sometimes teaching themselves to read. It is not unusual among the verbally gifted to find a child who began reading at age two. Reading is a far more complex skill to learn than learning to talk, and learning to talk requires quite a bit of cognitive power. Remember that most three year olds are using short simple sentences and haven’t yet mastered all the rules of grammar. Reading requires additional cognitive skills in order to make connections between symbols (letters) and sounds as well as recognizing word boundaries and sentence structures. Now imagine a 3 year old reading a book meant for 8 year olds, who are just beginning to master the art of reading to learn after having spent a couple of years learning to read.

Verbally Gifted in School

To do well in school, children must be able to read and write well, so teachers spend quite a bit of time helping children develop those skills. If a child can’t read, how will she learn the material in other subjects? If a child can’t write, how can he demonstrate what he knows about a subject? Because verbally gifted children often enter school already knowing how to read, they should be at an advantage. If they don’t already know how to read, they learn quickly, putting them well ahead of their classmates in reading. They usually learn to write quickly and easily as well, mastering the basics of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

Unfortunately, verbally gifted children don’t excel in school. In fact, they are more likely than other gifted children to tune out and become underachievers. That is because they are essentially ignored. Teachers spend more time helping those who are behind since, as noted, reading and writing are critical skills to have for academic success. It’s easy to tell a child who is advanced to read ahead in the text or read another book, write another story or essay. But a child can do that on her own at home.

Mathematically gifted children, on the other hand, are much more likely to get advanced instruction, often being sent to another grade for math lessons. That is because it is much more difficult to simply to tell a mathematically gifted child to work ahead or work some more problems. Teachers are more likely to recognize that moving forward in math requires instruction.

Carol BainbridgeAbout GiftednessEducationGifted Traits,Linguistics,Verbally Gifted
Verbally gifted children are those who excel in the verbal domain. That means that they have exceptional ability in areas relating to language: reading, writing, and speaking. Those areas are critical for success in school, so we would expect these children to excel in school. However, the exact opposite...