Using the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

by Elvin Klassen

Children learn in many different ways. In recent years new definitions of intelligence have gained acceptance and have dramatically enhanced the appraisal of human competencies. Howard Gardner, a Harvard University psychologist, came up with a theory of multiple intelligences. He proposes that each person has seven different intelligences that work together but exist with different strengths in different individuals.

Two intelligences, word smart and number smart, have dominated traditional teaching. The five non-traditional intelligences have largely been overlooked in education. If we can develop ways to teach and learn by engaging all seven intelligences, we will increase the possibilities for students’ success.

The Seven Intelligences

(Gardner’s terms in brackets)

Word smart (linguistic) is the ability to think in words and to use language to express and appreciate complex meaning. These people may be orderly and systematic; have special ability to reason; like to listen, read, and write; spell easily; like word games; have good memory for trivia; and may be good public speakers. Poets, novelists, journalists, and effective public speakers are good examples of those who have perfected this intelligence.

Math smart (logical-mathematical) is the ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions and hypotheses, and carry out complex mathematical operations. These people may like abstract thinking and being organized; enjoy counting, computers, problem solving, and experimenting in logical ways; use logical structure; and prefer orderly note taking. This intelligence is usually well developed in mathematicians, scientists, and detectives.

Picture smart (visual-spatial) is the ability to think in pictures. Picture smart people create mental images; use metaphors; enjoy art (drawing, painting, sculpting); easily read maps, charts, diagrams; remember with pictures; have good color sense; and use all senses for imaging. Sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters, and architects all exhibit this intelligence.

Music smart (musical) enables us to recognize, create, reproduce, and reflect on music. These people may have the ability to be sensitive to pitch, rhythm, timber, and tone, and be sensitive to the emotional power and complex organization of music. Musicians and movie producers are usually musically intelligent.

Body smart (bodily-kinesthetic) gives us trained responses, good timing and reflexes, and exceptional control of one’s body and objects. Body smart people learn best by moving; they like to touch, act, use manipulatives, and engage in physical sports; are skilled in handicrafts; and are very responsive. Athletes, dancers, surgeons, and crafts­people exhibit well-developed body smarts.

People smart (interpersonal) is the ability to understand and interact effectively with others. These people negotiate and relate well, enjoy group activities and being with people, have many friends, communicate well, like to cooperate, and “read social situations” well. Teachers, social workers, actors, and politicians all exhibit interpersonal intelligence.

Self smart (intrapersonal) is the capacity to understand oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings and to use such knowledge in planning and directing one’s life. It is evident in psychologists, spiritual leaders, and philosophers.

Practical Applications

To implement Gardner’s seven intelligences into an educational setting, the students can be encouraged to learn each day’s lesson in several different ways. They can build models, make collaborative decisions, create songs, solve deductive-reasoning problems, read, write, and illustrate. Some more specific examples of student activities may include:

  • Word smart activities: read, write, and learn in many traditional modes. Analyze and organize information in written form.
  • Math smart activities: work with math games, manipulatives, mathematical concepts, science experiments, deductive reasoning, and problem solving.
  • Picture smart activities: explore subject areas using various art media, puzzles, charts, and pictures.
  • Music smart activities: compose and sing songs about the subject matter, make their own instruments, and share the theme in rhythmical ways.
  • Body smart activities: make models, dramatize events, and move to music in ways that relate to the content of the subject matter.
  • People smart activities: develop cooperative learning skills as they solve problems, answer questions, create learning games, brainstorm ideas, and discuss that day’s topic collaboratively.
  • Self-smart activities: explore the present area of study through research, reflection, or individual thought.

To begin teaching with the seven intelligences, try the following:

  • Teach your students about the seven intelligences and the different ways we learn. Help them get better at using these different ways.
  • Vary the lessons so students have an opportunity to use all seven intelligences.
  • Instead of always using traditional tests, have students demonstrate what they’ve learned by using different intelligences.
  • Help students see how much they have learned by keeping samples of work, journals, and portfolios.
  • Begin building a profile of how each of the students learns best by observing them in various activities.
  • Give students a chance to use the different intelligences every day.
  • Discuss with them which intelligence they use for each activity.
  • Ask students how you can test what they’ve learned.
  • To close a unit, have students do projects, exhibits, or performances to demonstrate what they genuinely understand about what they have learned.

Help students develop their seven intelligences through the opportunity of exploring a wide variety of learning activities.

Student Self-Reflection Inventory

After students have been introduced to the theory, you may be interested in having them respond to the following inventory. It asks students to reflect on their present strengths. It will provide you with useful information about how they like to learn and how they perceive their strengths. By administering the inventory again later in the year, it will show how students have changed.

Your Current Learning Preferences

What is your favorite school subject?

What do you like to spend your time on when not doing schoolwork?

How do you like to learn about things? (reading, drawing, acting things out, etc.)

Check all the things you think you are good at:

___ reading
___ discussing
___ journal writing, poetry, other kinds of writing
___ music (singing, rhythm, listening, playing instruments)
___ art (drawing, painting, sculpting, collage, etc.)
___ math (calculating, solving story problems, measuring, etc.)
___ movement activities (acting, dancing, juggling, etc.)
___ building activities (constructing things from any materials)
___ working with others
___ working alone and thinking about things

List other things you think you do well that are not listed above.

What do you think is your strongest intelligence? Check one.

____ Word smart
____ Music smart
____ Math smart
____ People smart
____ Picture smart
____ Self smart
____ Body smart

What would you like to do better?

What do you think you are doing better?

About what subjects would you like to learn more?

What other thoughts or suggestions do you have to make learning more interesting?

Summary of the Seven Ways of Teaching

IntelligenceTeaching MatierialsInstructional Strategy
Word Smartbooks, tape recorders, typewriters, books on taperead, write, talk, listen
Math Smartcalculators, math games, math manipulatives, science equipmentquantify it, think critically about it, conceptualize it
Picture Smartgraphs, maps, videos, Lego sets, art materials, camerassee it, draw it, visualize it, color it, mind-map it
Body Smartbuilding tools, clay, sports equipment, tactile learning resourcesbuild it, act it out, touch it, get a gut feeling of it
Music Smarttape recorder, tape collection, musical instrumentssing it, rap it, listen to it
People Smartboard games, party supplies, props for role playsteach it, collaborate on it, interact with respect to it
Self Smartself-checking materials, journals, materials for projectsconnect it to your personal life, make choices with regard to it

For more information on multiple intelligences, check out http://www.celebratekids.com.

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial use.