Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

This quote, attributed to Albert Einstein (Dodd, n.d.), expresses the idea that is embodied by the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory, developed by psychologist and neuroscientist Howard Gardner, states that intelligence is not a single, fixed attribute--but, rather, multi-faceted in both capacity and degree (Koch, 2012). Far more than what can be measured by an IQ test, the multiple intelligences in Gardner's theory allows for many areas where people can be gifted in varying degrees. There are eight areas of intelligence that are widely accepted, plus three more that Gardner has proposed, but remain tentative. These areas include (Koch, 2012):

Linguistic Intelligence, verbal or "word smart"-- the ability to manipulate words and languages; strength in reading, writing and other related applications.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, or "number/math/science smart" -- ability to manipulate numbers, analyze problems, and think logically; strength in math, science, and other areas that utilize logical thinking.

Musical Intelligence, or "music smart" -- capacity to recognize and appreciate musical patterns, rhythm and pitch; this type of intelligence lends itself to skill with composing and/or playing music and musical instruments. 

Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence, or "body smart" -- the ability to move one's body in a coordinated way, handle objects skillfully, and use the body to solve problems; learning can be enhanced for this type of intelligence by the use of physical objects, such as number counters, letter tiles or blocks, or other items that can be handled and manipulated.

Spatial Intelligence, or "art smart" -- capacity to recognize and mentally manipulate patterns and relationships in physical space.

Interpersonal Intelligence, or "people smart" -- ability to understand and interact with other people; understanding the moods and intentions of others.

Intrapersonal Intelligence, or "self smart" -- ability to understand one's own feelings, strengths, weaknesses and motivations.

Naturalist Intelligence, or "nature smart" -- a sensitivity and appreciation for the natural world; ability to understand and classify attributes of living things and features of the environment.

Existential Intelligence (proposed) -- concern about the meaning of life and death, philosophy, and religion.

Spiritual Intelligence (proposed) -- the ability to understand the nature of existence in all of its manifestations.

Moral Intelligence (proposed) -- understanding rules, behaviors, and attitudes that govern the sanctity of life (p. 109, table 5.3).

In classroom experiences, teachers will encounter students who will exhibit diverse talents and challenges and, by examining these diverse abilities, will be able to see varying levels of intelligence in each of these areas. For example, my oldest child has a noticeable talent for manipulating numbers; math and science come easily for her. She demonstrates a high degree of logical-mathematical intelligence.  My younger daughter, however, struggles in math--unless she has manipulatives (such as counters, base-10 blocks, etc). This displays a high preference for bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Learning about our students and discovering each of their unique styles of learning and intelligence will allow us to adapt our teaching methods so we can better serve the needs of our students.
In order to illustrate how the Gardner's multiple intelligence theory can be used in the classroom, let's look at phonics instruction--introducing the basic letter sounds--for early elementary students. To ensure that students of diverse intelligences are well-served, here are some strategies that can be used to incorporate elements of Gardner's theory into classroom activities.

1. The letters will be displayed in the room for students to see. When the class learns new words with the letter sounds we've covered ("cat", "bat", "mat", etc), these words will be added to the display so that students can see the words and read them often. This enhances learning for visual learners, as well as learners who possess verbal intelligence and benefit from the opportunity to see and decode the verbal information.

2. Students will be given the opportunity to use their body to form the letters being learned. Physical activity not only enforces learning and encourages healthy brain function (Jensen, 2008), it also enhances the learning experience for students with a high level of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

3. Allowing students to create the letter shapes from clay, finger paint, sand or other substance is another good way to enforce learning. Additionally, this activity enhances learning for students who possess a high level of spatial intelligence, as it allows them to visualize the letter, then create it with an artistic medium.

4. Letter manipulatives, such as blocks or tiles allow learners to arrange letters into words. This allows for students to exercise verbal intelligence as they manipulate the letters, but it also enhances learning for students who learn better using bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, since they are able to physically arrange and rearrange the letters. My son particularly enjoys this activity. Using the letter tiles, he was able to discover that the letter "M" turned upside down becomes the letter "W". He also enjoyed finding that "BAT" spelled backwards becomes "TAB". Being able to manipulate the letters into different arrangements to create new words inspires several different types of thinking, which is beneficial for students with multiple intelligences.

5. Music is a wonderful way to make learning more fun and effective. For teaching phonics, songs can be used to teach the letter sounds. Perhaps some of my readers learned to read with the help of the "Letter People"? (visit this link for a memory refresher!!!  I fondly remember meeting the "Letter People" in kindergarten--each letter person had his or her own song that emphasized the letter's sound. I know I have a high musical intelligence, so it's no surprise to me that this was both a memorable and effective way for me to learn the letter sounds!

To discover your dominant intelligence types, follow this link to an online quiz:


Dodd, S. (n.d.). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved November 1, 2011 from

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning (2nd ed.). California: Corwin Press.
Koch, J. (2012). Teach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.
Multiple Intelligences Quiz. (2011). Retrieved November 1, 2011 from

Santrock, J. W. (2009). Educational psychology (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.



Lori V.

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