How to use Harry Potter to engage high-ability learners

  • How to use Harry Potter to engage high-ability learners

Many have tried to explain the phenomenal success of JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, but it almost seems to defy explanation.

We can, however, point to some reasons why the series can touch, enthuse and potentially extend gifted and talented students in particular.

At its heart, the Harry Potter series has a great story. A surface reading reveals an entertaining tale of a quest, a coming-of-age, the triumph of good over evil. But the more you think about it, the more there is to discover. A deeper reading reveals themes of death, choices, love, power and prejudice, so there is plenty of meat here for gifted readers to get their teeth into. Their advanced emotional maturity may mean that they are ready to discuss these types of issues and themes before other students of the same age.

By their very nature, the following activities have a strong literacy basis. They are, after all, inspired by a hefty seven-book series which naturally assumes that students will be highly competent readers. As well as extending able students in language arts, most of the activities also address at least one other area of learning such as critical thinking, problem solving or argument and reasoning.

They can be used in different ways to suit your needs, and can suit a variety of grouping arrangements. One of my favourite ways to use them is as an immersive enrichment workshop running over one or more days. This gives you the opportunity to totally immerse students in the Hogwarts experience. Alternatively, if you just have a few students in your class in need of extension in literacy, small groups can work on these activities. While most of them can be
worked on independently, some input from the teacher or teaching assistant will help to get the most out of them.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Level one activities
  • Write the letters A-Z down the left-hand side of your page. Try to find at least one word related to this book for each letter.
  • How many students do you think there are at Hogwarts? Use evidence from the book to justify your answer.
  • List all the information you can learn about the book from the front and back covers (not including the blurb).
  • List all the information we learn about Hogwarts from the Sorting Hat and school songs.
  • How does the film differ from the book? Why do you think it differs in these ways?
Level two activities
  • Create a glossary explaining the meanings of all the new words we learn in this book.
  • Create ten money problems using wizard currency, eg how many knuts are there in ten galleons? Include an answer sheet.
  • Draw a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two characters from the book, eg Draco and Harry.
  • List five songs you would expect to find on Harry’s iPod and explain your choices. Choose another character and do the same.
  • Design a muggle version of Quidditch that can be played on the ground. Explain the rules and include a diagram.
Level three activities
  • Was Dumbledore being honest when he told Harry what he saw in the Mirror of Erised? What do you think he saw? What would you see?
  • Create a floor plan of one room in Hogwarts, such as the Great Hall, Gryffindor’s common room or Harry’s dormitory. Include a scale.
  • Choose a scene from the book to illustrate. Would it be a suitable choice for the front cover? Why or why not?
  • Record yourself reading an extract from the book. Add suitable sound effects and background music.
  • Create a board game using the events of the book as a guide.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Level one activities
  • Collect as much information as possible on Gilderoy Lockhart. Present it as a list of facts.
  • Use information given in chapter eight to work out the year in which the events in this book are taking place.
  • Collect at least three different images of cover art for this book. What information does each cover give?
  • Find a piece of music that you think could represent phoenix song.
  • Have a conversation with Tom Riddle’s diary online at
Level two activities
  • Imagine Lockhart sent himself a singing Valentine. What would it say?
  • Make a timeline of events from when Harry was born to the events of this book.
  • Compare and contrast two of the covers that have been used for this book.
  • List five songs that you think you would find on Gilderoy Lockhart’s iPod. Explain your choices.
  • Keep a diary of your own for a week.
Level three activities
  • Write the first chapter of Gilderoy Lockhart’s autobiography, Magical Me.
  • Draw a map of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, showing the location of shops and other buildings we know of.
  • Create an alternative front cover that gives different information to that available from the covers you’ve seen.
  • Create a ‘mix tape’ containing a collection of songs that could be played at the deathday party.
  • Make a model of the Burrow using whatever materials you like.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Level one activities
  • List all the clues you can find that hint at Remus Lupin being a werewolf.
  • Make a series of maths problems based on the Knight Bus fares. Include an answer sheet.
  • Choose one of the characters we meet for the first time in this book and draw them.
  • Listen to the soundtrack of the film version of this book. Which piece of music is your favourite? Why?
  • Research the art of telling the future through reading tea leaves.
Level two activities
  • Sirius was freed by Harry and Hermione on 6th June. Find out what happened on this date in 1944. Are there examples of more coinciding dates in this and the other books in the series?
  • Make a pie chart showing a typical day at Hogwarts for Harry. Do the same for Hermione. Compare the two charts.
  • Design a new ‘wanted’ poster for Sirius Black that reflects what we learn about him in this book.
  • Harry misses the sorting in this book. Write a song that the Sorting Hat might have sung in this year.
  • Find some willing volunteers and attempt to read their tea leaves.
Level three activities
  • What if Buckbeak had been found innocent? Create a new ending using a flowchart or a story map.
  • Using information from the first three books, create your own version of the Marauder’s Map.
  • Create a visual way of showing the timeline of events in the time travel episode.
  • Create an original piece of music that could be used to signify the presence of Dementors.
  • Make an original advertisement for the Knight Bus, suitable for TV, radio or print.

Selena Gallagher is a teacher who has worked with gifted students in Australia, the UK, China and Thailand. This is an extract from her book Teaching Harry (£7.99). Find her at and follow her on Twitter at @selenaga11agher.

Pie Corbett