Using the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

by Elvin Klassen1

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 parentheses)

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:

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

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

For more information on multiple intelligences, check out

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