Adapting Instruction to Multiple Intelligences

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

In the early 1980s, Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences took the educational world by storm. Educators had long dabbled in learning modalities--verbal, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic methods for receiving information--and recognized that not all students learn the same way. The multiple intelligences go beyond learning modalities, as they deal with the way information is process and how learning occurs in individuals. In his research, Gardner identified a minimum of eight "intelligences," problem-solving and product-producing capabilities.

  • verbal-linguistic
  • logical-mathematical
  • visual-spatial
  • bodily-kinesthetic
  • musical-rhythmic
  • intrapersonal
  • interpersonal
  • environmental-naturalist


Recently, Gardner added a ninth intelligence (existentialist) to the list. Because the ninth intelligence is so new, not much has been written about it yet, particularly about its applications in the classroom, if any. Keep your eyes and ears open for new information!

Many books and articles sprang from Gardner's work, some of which are truer to the theory than others. As you look at resources devoted to the multiple intelligences, make sure that they are not just collections of "fun" activities. If the activities don't focus on solving problems or producing products, they probably aren't valid applications of the theory.As you look at each intelligence, think about how you could apply it to your classroom instruction. Keep in mind that the intelligences are manifested in different ways; for example, a verbal-linguistic child who has complementary interpersonal strengths, may be a talker, whereas a verbal-linguistic child who is more intrapersonal may be a writer.

  1. Verbal-linguistic (word strong) — These students speak, read, or write well. They like manipulating words (jokes and puns) and playing with language (word games). To develop verbal-linguistic intelligence, have students read and write in a variety of genres, give speeches, participate in performances, and hear the magic of language by reading telling stories. Have them create word games, crossword puzzles, and word searches. Model your love of language.
  2. Logical-mathematical (math strong) — These students are good with numbers and enjoy logic problems and puzzles. They enjoy figuring things out and coming up with unusual solutions. To develop logical-mathematical intelligence, use Think Alouds for solving mathematical problems. Ask students how they came up with the answer, why they think it's right, and if they can think of another way to solve the problem. Have them record information on graphs, establish time lines, and create maps. Let them explore how things work.
  3. Visual-spatial (space strong) — These students doodle and design. They "see" things differently in their minds, and they recognize spatial relationships. To develop visual-spatial intelligence, read stories with well-described visual images, such as James and the Giant Peach. Have students listen to the words the author uses and draw a picture from the description. Say, "I feel like I'm really there because I can 'see' what's happening." Let students demonstrate understanding through drawing, painting, sculpting, and creating backdrops and scenery for class plays. Use videos, slides, art, puzzles, and mazes.
  4. Musical-rhythmic (music strong) — These students are affected by music, rhythm, and environmental sounds. They sing, whistle, hum, tap, and sway. They are able to attach feelings to music and can create and replicate tunes. To build musical-rhythmic intelligence, have students create songs or raps to explain concepts (e.g., a song describing the rock cycle), put their own learning to music, or participate in music and dance from a variety of sources. Play different types of music during the day.
  5. Environmental-naturalist (nature strong) — These students have empathy for stranded crickets and butterflies with broken wings. They seem to "come alive" when allowed to interact with nature. They are able to see patterns and relationships in nature and life. To develop environmental intelligence, read stories about environmental issues to your students, categorize and classify objects of all kinds, or turn your classroom into a nature lab complete with plants and animals. Conduct lessons outside on occasion or even create a playground nature area as a school service project--"nature strong" students will be happy to maintain it.
  6. Interpersonal (people strong) — These students are sensitive to other people's needs and moods. They excel at cooperative activities and solving conflicts between classmates. To develop interpersonal intelligence, use cooperative learning, have students tutor each other, and teach students methods for solving group problems, perhaps using class meetings as a forum for social problem solving. Let them interact with others when problem solving. Don't insist that they quietly work alone much of the time; they need to talk to be productive. Instead, teach them procedures for using a "one-inch voice" (a voice that doesn't go further than "one inch" from their lips).
  7. Intrapersonal (self strong) — These students are self-motivated and reflective. They watch and listen, taking in conversation rather than contributing to it. They prefer working alone, need quiet time to process new ideas, and daydream often. They usually need space and time away from hustle and bustle of the classroom agenda so they can pursue ideas in their own way. To develop intrapersonal intelligence, give students time at the end of each day to reflect on what they have learned and experienced in a journal, involve them in setting personal goals, and allow them to work at their own pace. Share your own reflections, listing two or three reasons why the day was a good one.

Keep in mind that the multiple intelligences are problem-solving capabilities. Allow students to use all the intelligences to solve a problem--read about it, analyze it, draw it, act it out, work to a rhythm, relate it to nature, talk about it, or reflect on it. Having multiple ways to solve a problem is beneficial for all of us, particularly when problems are complex and require innovative thinking.

Multitudes of educational applications have been developed based on multiple intelligence theory. Below are examples of three teaching structures that can be used to address the intelligences in your classroom. You may implement the structures sequentially, using the variation approach at the beginning of the year, then add student choices, and finally teach bridging techniques to the students. A combination of these structures ensures a balance of activities to meet the needs of all your students. The multiple intelligences also make great assessments

Planning With Intelligence
The Variation Approach
When first beginning instruction using strategies compatible with the multiple intelligences, students will need to participate in a wide variety of experiences to learn about their preferences. The teacher's lessons rotate among the intelligences. All students complete the activities.

The Choice Approach
If the students are widely varied in their preferred intelligence or unsure of their preferences, the teacher offers a choice in each intelligence to the students. Students complete one or more activities.

The Bridge Approach
If the intelligence demand is primarily in one intelligence, the activity is focused on that intelligence. All students do the activity together, and the teacher offer bridging techniques to help students deal with the intelligence and the content in a successful manner.



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