Multiple Intelligences

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Multiple Intelligences is an approach to teaching, introduced by Howard Gardner in 1983, that focuses on his belief the learners' intelligence is not a single structure like IQ but a conglomerate of different types of "intelligences". Gardner’s multiple intelligences extents the concept of the one intelligence and defines a broader variety of intelligences for everyone. This takes into account the idea that a person who is good at mathematics is not necessarily good at other tasks. Furthermore it questions the concept that a person with low mathematical skills is considered to be less intelligent even though he or she might be a high achiever in other areas like music, sports, etc.

The hypothisis has met a mixed response, with many psychologists resisting a differentiation of the concept of intelligence as empirically unsupported and many educationalists supporting the practical value of the approach. It is often suggested that Gardner’s "Intelligences" should rather be called "abilities" to avoid such criticism.


The traditional assumption about intelligence is that it is a single, unchanged, inborn capacity. This intelligence can be measured using tests like the Stanford – Binet with results showing the traditional idea of IQ. “Those tests measure only logic and language, leaving out a whole lot of other capacities that the human brain has to offer” (Richards & Rodgers, 1986). Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as 'the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting' (Gardner & Hatch, 1989).

He therefore proposed eight different intelligences. In the original thesis he included seven intelligences and in 1999 an eighth intelligence, the "naturalist intelligence", was added. Other intelligences such as the existential, emotional or moral intelligence were considered. These additional ones were not included due to what he felt was insufficient evidence that they fit his criteria.

These criteria or ‘signs’ consist of

  • Potential isolation by brain damage.
  • The existence of idiots, savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.
  • An identifiable core operation or set of operations.
  • A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state' performances.
  • An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.
  • Support from experimental psychological tasks.
  • Support from psychometric findings.
  • Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system.

(Howard Gardner 1983: 62-69)


Gardner (1999) discusses the following inteligences:

Linguistic intelligence

Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. This is completely made up.

Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence. hoi

Logical-mathematical intelligence

Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner's words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think in a logical way.

This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

Musical intelligence

Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.

According to Howard Gardner, musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.

Spatial intelligence

Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas and to form mental images about it.

This intelligence is regarded as one needed by architects, sculptors and painters.

Interpersonal intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.

Intrapersonal intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations.

In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

Naturalist intelligence

Naturalist intelligence refers to the ability to understand and organize the patterns of nature while stoned.


In his book Intelligence Reframed - Multiple Intelligences for the 21st century, Gardner considers evidence for three "new" intelligences, namely the Naturalist, the Spiritual and the Existential. In the course of this book, he explains the pros and cons of including those intelligences in the list and he also introduces other capacities which he maintains one could think of to be an intelligences. For example Gardner considers whether there is also some kind of Moral intelligence.

Learner and teacher role

The learner role. One major aspect of the learner role is that every learner is unique. The focus is on the learner and his or her different abilities to learn things. The learners develop their own personality within the frame of the foreign language classroom. Learners may take an intelligence inventory to create their own multiple intelligences profiles to answer, "What type of learner am I?" They are an active part in the classroom and they are aware of aims and achievements and reflect on their own learning.

The teacher role. The teacher may introduce his students to the existence of multiple intelligences and guide them in identifying, celebrating and making use of all their intelligences through language learning activities that exercise the students' multiple intelligences.

Typical tasks & classroom materials for each intelligence

Most of the mentioned tasks are taken from Christison (1997) and a more detailed list can also be found in Approaches and Methods in Language teaching (Riachrd and Rogers 2001).

Linguistic. All task types that deal with reading, writing, listening and speaking are part of this intelligence. Since this is the most important aspect for TEFL please see below for further information.

Logical/Mathematical. Tasks for this aspect can be scientific thinking, solving logic problems or puzzles or playing board and computer games that require planning ahead and strategic decisions.

Spatial. This intelligence can be brought into the classroom by adding material such as charts, diagrams, videos, photography. Such tasks like drawing or painting, using mind maps and imaginative storytelling can be used.

Bodily/Kinesthetic. Activities for this intelligence often require a lot of time such as cooking or field trips but there are other activities such as small creative movements, small classroom games (like Simon says) or role playing. For good additional ideas the Total Physical Response approach could be implemented.

Musical. Group singing, making instruments & playing instruments as well as listening to music are among the suitable activities especially designed for this intelligence. Especially implementing modern pop songs into the classroom can be a very successful activity since it is often correlated with a high amount of intrinsic motivation.

Interpersonal. One of the easiest to implement is the Interpersonal intelligence. It is already activated by simple lectures of the teacher but it is even more enhanced by activities like group work. For further idea's check the Communicative approach and the Cooperative approach.

Intrapersonal. Tasks trying to implement this intelligence aim at the student’s ability to organize themselves and also to be aware of their own merits and flaws. Tasks that can help students to achieve such a state can be independent work, reflective learning, journals, self-image evaluation or help in finding & creating goals.

Naturalist There are no specific tasks for this in the literature but this intelligence can be enhanced by showing connections between different topics to create a broader image of the world within the students. This can be done by using bilingual teaching, implementing topics such as culture, ethics, biology or everyday life within the language classroom.

How to design a multiple intelligences lesson

The hypotheses of multiple intelligences is mainly intended to inform and influence teachers' teaching styles. Although some schools embrace the concept, no multiple intelligences syllabus has been created. Nevertheless, Lazear (1991) created a so-called basic developmental sequence that can be considered an alternative to the general syllabus. It contains four stages:

  • Stage 1: Awaken the Intelligence. A broad variety of sensory input should create students who are ready for the following lessons
  • Stage 2: Amplify the Intelligence. Students are supposed to tell, share and bring their own experiences and objects into class and discuss them
  • Stage 3: teach with/for the Intelligence. This stage is the general “traditional" teaching phase with work done in group project worksheets and the amplified intelligence is used to solve the tasks and therefore enhance the learning
  • Stage 4: Transfer of the Intelligence. Students reflect on their previous experiences and try to relate these tasks to other school or real life problems.

In 1998 Nicholsen–Nelson suggested another approach to applying multiple intelligences in language teaching in which they gave more direct suggestions about how one might work with perceived multiple intelligences in a language classroom.

  • Play to your student's strengths. If your student is good a specific intelligence then you should structure the learning material to this strength.
  • Variety is the spice of life. Try to let every student participate in as many different intelligences during the lesson as possible and also try to find as many variations as you can to already known task types to make them more effective.
  • Pick a tool suited for the job. Language has many different dimensions, aspects or functions. These different facets should always be linked to the most appropriate intelligence.
  • One size fits all. Everyone has to participate in all the exercises to make sure that their use all their Intelligences . The multiple intelligences approach aims to develop the whole person and not just enhance already high intelligences.
  • Me and my people. Be aware that different cultures value different intelligences. Western culture with its IQ test has a biased view on the intelligences. Language learning in particular needs to increase more than the the students' IQ and is also a progress of understanding, communication and culture.


  1. Each student is seen as an individual with his or her own strengths and weaknesses.
  2. The teacher learns how each student may learn best and may give suitable tasks to teach the content demanded by the curriculum.
  3. Students may be motivated and confident when using an intelligence they know is one of their strengths.
  4. Due to many different tasks the students are more intrinsical motivated


It may be difficult and impractical to tailor lessons to students various individual intelligences, especially within large classes.


Most criticism against Gardner’s multiple intelligences hypothesis does not necessarily try to undermine his idea but the way he presents it. One of the main problems is that a clear definition of what "intelligence" remains a matter of some debate. Given this, defining multiple versions of an already intangible concept presents difficulties. In addition it does not seem to be entirely clear why the arguably ill-defined word "intelligences" should be used in place of pre-existing and easily understood words such as "abilities" or "talents".

Furthermore, if concepts such as "morality" and "spirituality" are to be considered "intelligences" then it is difficult to imagine any human trait or characteristic is not an "intelligence". While Gardner is welcome to redefine the word "intelligence" in this way, by expanding its meaning so substantially he also devalues it.

In addition, "intelligence" has generally been considered to be an attribute which is fixed genetically and which is only redeveloped by the environment. By including such socially-determined traits such as "morality" he is expanding the definition even further. When asked for firm scientific evidence in favour of the hypothesis Gardner is a little reticent. [1]

In practical terms one might also object to the increased workload and the impracticality that would be involved in implementing all "intelligences" all the time. Supporters respond to this final objection by maintaining that this is not necessary because Gardner’s theory does not imply the need for all intelligences all the time but tries to make teachers aware of the huge differences in learning styles of their students.


Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed. Multiple Intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books

Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T.S. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge University: University Press

Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching.

Christison, M. (1997). An introduction to multiple intelligences theory and second language learning. In J.Reid (ed.), Understanding Learning Styles in the Second Language Classroom. Engelwoods Cliffs, N.J.: prentice Hall/Regents 1-14

Lazear, D. 1991 Seven Ways of teaching: The Artistry of Teaching with Multiple Intelligences. Palatine, Ill.:IRI Skylight.

Nicholsen-Nelson, K. 1988. Developing Students Multiple Intelligences. New York: Scholastic

Smith, Mark K. (2002, 2008) Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences, the encyclopedia of informal education,

Multiple Intelligences Research and Consulting Inc.


See also

External links