Selecting tasks for high-ability students

This page provides guidance for teachers to select appropriate tasks for high-ability students.

The importance of selecting tasks for high-ability students

High-ability students benefit when teachers carefully select learning tasks. This is because task selection is related to learning growth for all students. If tasks within lessons are not challenging for high-ability students, they won't have the opportunity to develop their abilities.

What we know

Research (Nibali et al, 2017; Blair et al., 2008) shows:

  • high-ability students can learn advanced skills while they engage with challenging tasks
  • tasks and resources should be selected based on student ability and ongoing formative assessment
  • high-ability students need tasks that have more depth and complexity than those selected for the rest of the class.

From theory to practice


Selection of tasks for students of high-ability requires that the teacher:

  • has an established knowledge of the content in the subject they are teaching. This includes an understanding of the developmental learning progression
  • has assessed each student's competence using a developmental approach. This may include informal or formal methods of assessment. For example, rubrics, observations, and/or standardised tests
  • can adapt practical strategies for addressing high levels of competence.

Teachers might need to adopt accelerative practices for their high-ability students. This may be the case if the student's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is above the expected level. Tasks should also target the high-ability student's higher order thinking skills.

Teachers need to think about the resources that they will use with their high-ability students. It is important these students have access to resources that are of suitable depth and complexity. This includes above level exemplars.

Teachers can also change whole-class instruction based on student assessment data. This contributes to growth for high-ability students. 

Teachers who select tasks for their whole-class based on student data are better at meeting a diverse range of learning needs. They also tend to pitch their instruction at a higher level, raising expectations. This strategy has benefits for all students. This is because "students learn more if you hold high but reasonable academic expectations for them" (Blair et al., 2008, p. 436). Tomlinson (2017) refers to this as 'teaching up'.

Strategies and tools

Strategies that teachers may use in their classes to select appropriate tasks for high-ability students include:

  • using ongoing assessment data to guide task selection
  • providing high-ability students with tasks that use sophisticated resources
  • providing high-ability students with tasks that include above level exemplars
  • teaching up.

Focus questions for professional learning

  • How can you ensure the tasks you select are appropriate for high-ability students?
  • What is 'teaching up' and how can this support high-ability students?
  • What is the role of assessment in selecting appropriate tasks for high-ability students?


Blair, T. R., Rupley, W. H., & Nichols, W. D. (2008). The effective teacher of reading: Considering the "what" and "how" of instruction. The Reading Teacher, 60(5), 432–438.

Tomlinson, C. (2017). How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms. Alexandria, Va Ascd. Differentiation: An Overview (

Nibali, N., Harding, S., & Graham, L. (2017). Supporting high capacity students in reading comprehension. Supporting high capacity students Module 4. University of Melbourne.