The Multiple Intelligence Classroom: Matching Your Teaching Methods With How Students Learn

By Benna Golubtchik

from New Teachers Handbook

If you subscribe to the theory that all students can learn, then it is important for you, as an educator, to equip yourself with as many strategies as possible to reach those students who do not seem to learn well from the more traditional teaching methods. Many students are frustrated by their lack of success in the school environment, which measures primarily reading and mathematics skills. They may fall into a routine of convincing themselves and their teachers that they cannot succeed no matter what they do, as they have been led to believe that they are intellectually inferior to their classmates who score higher on tests. In fact, these students could be very successful in careers that require other aptitudes, such as mechanics, art, music, design, and a whole range of professions that focus on interpersonal skills. By recognizing and building on your students’ strengths, you can help them develop the tools they need to succeed.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences

Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, theorizes that people are intelligent in different ways. This is a relatively new way of looking at intelligence, as schools have traditionally measured it by IQ scores. According to Gardner’s theory, each person is born with a full range of capacities and aptitudes; though some are naturally stronger, and some naturally weaker in each individual. These differences do not indicate that one person is more or less intelligent than the next, but simply that each one learns, thinks, processes, and produces differently.

A person’s preference for a particular intelligence greatly influences how that person learns. For example, a verbal learner learns by using words, while a kinesthetic learner learns and expresses him/herself best through physical movement. Your goal should be to recognize and take advantage of the natural learning styles of all of your students, while helping them to improve the skills that are weaker. The more skillful you become at working with multiple intelligences, the more your students will learn, and the more lively and engaging your classroom will be.

Research has shown that many discipline “problems” can also be understood and dealt with by applying the theory of multiple intelligences. What teachers used to think of as “petty annoyances” can tell you a great deal about a student’s intelligence profile. Not all students will be quiet when you request it, and if they are, they may not all be giving you their full attention. Some students have difficulty sitting still even for short periods of time. Others tap their feet or pencils without even realizing they are doing it, or that it is disturbing to other students. Some are constantly daydreaming. Some are extremely quiet and do not participate in class. Others are always whispering to their neighbors. If you think of these behaviors not simply as discipline problems, but as learning challenges, you can help your students channel their natural tendencies into productive means for learning.

Below we have outlined Gardner’s different types of intelligence, and for each type, a variety of classroom activities through which students can demonstrate their learning. Many of the activities overlap, as there are certain elements that apply to more than one type of intelligence.


The most important skill taught in school is the ability to use language for effective communication. Language skills include reading, writing, listening, speaking, and making connections. This intelligence goes beyond simple verbal and grammatical tasks; it is the basis for creating stories, using metaphors and similes, symbolic thinking, and conceptual patterning. Our experience has demonstrated that verbal intelligence can be brought out through the use of humor, jokes, puns, plays on words, and other creative language manipulations. 

Students who are strong in this type of intelligence learn best by repeating, saying out loud, hearing, and seeing words, but rely on a variety of different learning techniques. Many students learn better from hearing words spoken orally than they do from silent reading, and you may find that these students like to read out loud to themselves, which can be disruptive to the class. They may appear rude and disinterested in class when their eyes wander from the written text, but in fact they could just be trying to shut out distractions and absorb the material aurally. Rather than viewing this as a discipline problem, try to find ways to accommodate students who learn best aurally.

A student with highly developed verbal/linguistic intelligence and an active imagination may have trouble engaging in subject matter that does not tap into this natural proclivity, and may even do poorly in school as a result of disinterest. Fortunately, most subject areas can be approached through a verbal route and this type of student should be encouraged to apply his/her verbal creativity in as many areas as possible. Personal attention can be very encouraging to these students and you may want to display their work in class, or ask them to read aloud to the class. At the same time, be aware that because they have heightened language sensibilities, all forms of non-constructive verbal criticism such as sarcasm, negative comments, and humiliation can completely turn them off to learning.

Classroom activities that tap into this type of intelligence include:

  • Writing a journal.
  • Creating a real or imagined correspondence between historical or contemporary characters.
  • Composing scripts that depict historical events.
  • Writing newspapers of a different time period, complete with then-current events, fashion, entertainment, and feature items.
  • Rewriting difficult information in a simpler form for younger students.
  • Interviewing a famous person with knowledge of a topic, or whose accomplishments are admired.
  • Inviting a guest speaker and planning appropriate questions.
  • Reading poetry or writing poetry, stories, ideas, or thoughts.
  • Creating analogies to explain concepts.
  • Designing bulletin boards.
  • Using recording devices.
  • Doing dramatic readings.

Students who are strong in this type of intelligence learn most readily through rhythm, melody, and music. They like to sing, hum, listen to music, and/or play instruments. They are good at picking up sounds, remembering melodies, noticing rhythms, and keeping time, and can easily memorize words that have been set to music. These students often prefer to tell or hear information aloud rather than read silently. Soft music in the background helps them focus and concentrate on their work. They may have trouble concentrating on a lesson if they cannot find a way to link the subject to music. They often use mnemonic devices and put words to melodies to help them memorize facts, rules, and procedures. It can help these students focus if you incorporate popular songs from the places and time periods being studied in class. They should be encouraged to make up rhymes and catchy rhythmic phrases that contain the material they need to study. They may enjoy teaching rhythmic patterns, vocal sounds, and musical tones to others; composing music; and choreographing dances.
Activities that bring this intelligence out in students and can help them prove mastery of content include:
  • Writing an original song, rap, jingle, or cheer.
  • Playing instruments.
  • Composing music that conveys the theme or mood of the lesson.
  • Researching, comparing, and contrasting music of different cultures or time periods.
  • Identifying rhythmic patterns in music or poetry.
  • Creating a rhythmic way to remember information.
  • Performing a rap or song that summarizes information.


The subjects most often associated with logical/mathematical intelligence are math and science; however, the skills involved can be applied to almost any content area. These skills include the capacities for inductive and deductive reasoning, understanding and applying abstract concepts, and critical thinking.

Students with a high level of this type of intelligence like to develop strategies, perform experiments, reason things out, work with numbers, ask questions, and explore patterns and relationships. They learn best by categorizing or classifying new information, and working with abstract patterns. They work well with symbols and formulas, are able to solve complex problems, logic games, and puzzles, and are good at deciphering codes. They are highly methodical and will carefully examine their past experiences when determining what their next move will be. They work well with problem-solving tools such as computers and calculators. Their thought processes are mostly sequential, and they can therefore find their own mistakes when given an explanation. They may question assignments or become immobilized if directions are too open-ended, but at the same time these learners often want to solve problems in their own way and might argue with a teacher who cannot accept alternative methods. They will challenge any concept that does not make sense immediately according to their own ordered universe. These students are easily bored by repetitive activities and need to be engaged in the challenge of problem solving in order to connect to their work.

Activities that take advantage of this type of intelligence and allow students to 
demonstrate their understanding include:

  • Creating trivia games that others can play.
  • Developing crossword and other puzzles for classmates to solve.
  • Constructing a time line and filling in details.
  • Writing how-to books.
  • Investigating authentic problems and developing possible solutions.
  • Mapping a location.
  • Diagramming procedures.
  • Creating a “web” organizer or Venn diagram to organize information to present to others.
  • Using pattern blocks, unifix cubes, Legos, and other math manipulatives to demonstrate concepts.
  • Playing calculator games.
  • Conducting research and laboratory experiments.
  • Categorizing facts and information.
  • Composing analogies.


People who demonstrate visual/spatial intelligence tend to focus on the visual arts or the use of objects in their learning. They have acute perception of form, shape, depth, color, and texture, and are able to form clear images in their minds. They tend to have active imaginations and are adept at expressing themselves through original drawings, paintings, sculptures, design patterns, and color schemes.

These students respond well to visual aids such as overhead projectors, maps, posters, photographs, and videos. They may find it difficult to read long passages that are not accompanied by illustrations, to write, or to communicate in general with words. Most younger elementary students enjoy expressing themselves through this aptitude.

Activities that give students a chance to display their knowledge through visual/spatial intelligence include:

  • Drawing or painting a picture, poster, chart, or sketch representing what they have learned.
  • Making a three-dimensional model such as a physical map.
  • Creating colorful designs, shapes, and patterns to illustrate a scene from nature or history.
  • Imagining and visualizing how literary or historic figures might have changed events.
  • Taking photographs or using a video camera to create a pictorial report.
  • Constructing props and costumes to dramatize an event.
  • Creating Venn diagrams or concept maps to explain information to others.
  • Developing color-coding systems to categorize information.
  • Building a shadow box or diorama display.


The person whose strength lies in body/kinesthetic intelligence feels a compulsion to bridge the gap between mind and body. This type of student learns through touching, physical movement, manipulating concrete objects, and interacting with his/her environment. Activities that tap into this type of intelligence include dancing, role playing, drama, gesticulations, physical exercise, sports, mime, and martial arts.

These students feel most comfortable in a classroom environment where they have the freedom to stand, stretch, and move at regular intervals. They may invent reasons to get up from their desks, as they have a real physiological need to move. If they are not permitted to move when they need to, they can become bored, distracted, anxious, and disruptive. Cooperative learning, jigsaw activities in which each member of a group is responsible for teaching the others one part of the whole story, and role playing are formats that these students respond well to. In the younger grades, numerous games and activities that incorporate movement are popular and successful. Students can learn the letters of the alphabet by shaping their bodies like those letters. They can also trace new letters in a box of sand or on sandpaper.

Students who are strong in this type of intelligence can demonstrate their mastery of content through:

  • Dramatizing a literary or historical event.
  • Role playing.
  • Creating a dance or movement that tells a story.
  • Going on field trips to appropriate sites.
  • Participating in learning centers.
  • Learning outdoors.
  • Acting out vocabulary words or a sequence of events.
  • Constructing projects and making diagrams, models, or replicas of systems or procedures.
  • Building puppets and putting on a show related to content.
  • Pantomiming a sequence.
  • Playing charades.


Interpersonal intelligence is displayed primarily through communication, positive interaction, and the formation of positive personal relationships. It also entails the ability to see situations from various perspectives and the desire to motivate others towards a common goal. Individuals with highly developed interpersonal intelligence are team players and possess strong leadership qualities.

As learners, they have a preference for solving problems by discussing them first in a group and coming up with a common solution. They are skilled at understanding people, organizing, collaborating, communicating, and mediating conflicts. Their true concern for others can lead them to ignore their own needs, but you can help them focus on their learning by creating opportunities for them to be helpful to others while developing their skills. These students enjoy cooperative learning, one-on-one peer tutoring, and exercises that ask them to identify with a character or figure they are studying.

Students with a high level of interpersonal intelligence can demonstrate their knowledge through:

  • Participating in jigsaw activities, where each person in a group is responsible for specific tasks.
  • Working on interactive computer software, e-mail, and the Internet.
  • Joining any group project.
  • Sharing cooperative learning strategies.
  • Identifying with figures in art or literature.
  • Studying or creating oral histories.
  • Interviewing or creating imaginary interviews with relevant people (real, historical, or literary).
  • Constructing a family tree.
  • Peer tutoring.


The essential component of this intelligence is knowledge of the self. This means being in tune with one’s emotions, thought processes, attitudes, and reactions, and taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions, especially for one’s learning. A student who has a high level of intrapersonal intelligence may have a strong will, control over his/her emotions, and the ability to plan in advance and set independent personal goals. The energy and focus of these learners can be a catalyst for other students, though at times their interests may take them in directions that have little relationship to class goals. These students generally prefer to work alone, but they do need a lot of one-on-one interaction, guidance, and reinforcement from their teacher. This type of student may feel uncomfortable in groups and may not voluntarily participate in class discussions, though he/she is stimulated by thought-provoking questions, and is capable of contributing a unique perspective.

These students sometimes appear excessively quiet and withdrawn and may even exhibit antisocial behavior as a result of failing to recognize the needs of others. You can help them connect in a positive way with their peers by creating opportunities for them to share their original ideas, knowledge, and research with other students.
Activities that engage and assist intrapersonal learners include:

  • Writing journal entries that summarize content and any personal reactions to content.
  • Completing independent assignments.
  • Meeting with the teacher outside of class.
  • Investigating complex problems.
  • Researching topics of interest.
  • Reflecting in a journal about their learning process.
  • Creating personal files of topics they have studied.
  • Writing first-person accounts of events.
  • Personalizing a character and writing his/her “autobiography.”
  • Constructing a bibliography that can be used by others.
  • Self-assessing projects and products to determine how to improve learning.


The person with a strong naturalist intelligence will recognize and discriminate among objects found in our natural world.

Naturalists watch and observe the environment. They appreciate and discern differences among living things, and have a keen interest in the laws and forms of nature. They enjoy going on hikes and being outdoors. Naturalists will care for the classroom pet and plants, organize and sort classroom collections of rocks, shells, leaves, insects, and other items from nature, and categorize anything.

Activities the naturalist will enjoy include:

  • Going on field trips and nature walks.
  • Forecasting and tracking the weather.
  • Observing the sky, clouds, stars, and space.
  • Hiking in natural surroundings.
  • Reporting on nature videos.
  • Listing attributes of objects.
  • Recording changes or development over time.
  • Photographing nature.
  • Devising classifications.
  • Sorting and categorizing items.
  • Caring for plants and animals.
  • Using graphic organizers.
  • Reconstructing the natural setting in a historical place.
  • Predicting the effects of extreme natural phenomena.

Adapting Gardner’s theory to an authentic classroom

You can help your students gain self-esteem by giving them the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of their subjects while expressing themselves through their most highly-developed intelligences. This is not to say, however, that you should gear activities only to the students’ strengths. On the contrary, you should work to improve your students’ skills in all areas, so that they will be prepared to undertake tasks that tap their weaker abilities as well. 

In a real classroom situation, you cannot individualize instruction for each of your students. It is simply not a realistic goal. What you can do is teach in a variety of ways and regularly offer an exciting range of activities to your students. When you are planning a unit, try to incorporate various types of intelligences into the activities. A natural way to accomplish this is by teaching in an interdisciplinary format. Life is an integrated experience, and integrating subjects can make the content more meaningful to students.

Here is an example from a high school science class. The goal of the project is to analyze local water purity. Samples from various taps and nearby bodies of water are collected and sent for testing to the local Environmental Protection Agency. EPA agents and town or city officials can be interviewed. Local newspapers can become sources of information. Then results can be compared. Charts and diagrams can be developed. Models can be constructed. Students can reflect on the results and report them in a variety of ways. This problem-based assignment involves the gathering of data, hypothesizing, synthesizing, reading, writing, reporting, interpreting information, making references, and working collaboratively. The teacher has incorporated math, science, reading, and writing into this single project.

Ultimately, the most important skill you can impart to your students is the ability to solve problems. It is not enough to identify your students’ stronger and weaker intelligences and teach accordingly. Rather, it is essential that you make your students aware of their own talents, learning processes, and potential. You want to prepare them to face problems with confidence; with a knowledge of which personal resources they can tap into and which new strategies they feel comfortable trying out. This self-knowledge is perhaps the best preparation you can give them for the future.


This chapter is based on the work of Howard Gardner. If you want more information on Gardner’s theory and would like to go straight to the source, check out these books:

Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
Gardner, Howard. Frames of Minds: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

You can contact Howard Gardner, co-director of Project Zero, a research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, at:

Project Zero
Harvard Graduate School of Education
321 Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138