Multiple intelligences theory in teaching english

About the author. Kyzykeeva Almagul Master in Foreign Languages: two foreign languages, senior teacher of the Department of Foreign Languages of the Kazakh-American Free University.

Annotation. The article considers different types of intelligence according to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence, as well as the possibility of using various types of tasks recommended for a certain type of intelligence when teaching English as a foreign language. In the English as a Foreign Language Classroom teachers actively use the above-mentioned strategies, activities, and techniques. Brainstorming, debates, different types of reading (characteristic for linguistic intelligence students) may be used when developing speaking and reading skills. Puzzles, games, if-then, cause-effect situations, problemsolving exercises (logical-mathematical intelligence) may be used at different levels for developing productive skills. Charts and graphs (spatial intelligence) may be used for presenting grammar material, mind maps, idea sketching for developing foreign language speaking skills. Activities suggested for bodily kinaesthetic or musical students may be used for teaching the language to young learners. Interpersonal intelligence activities are used for developing productive skills. Naturalist intelligence activities can be used in teaching the language through CLIL.

Multiple Intelligences Theory was developed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983. Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, an adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University. The author of thirty books translated into thirty-two languages, and several hundred articles, Gardner is best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments [1].

According to the original Theory of Multiple Intelligences there is not just one type of human intelligence the way people understand and perceive the world but seven. Later the theory was revised and its last version states there are eight or even more autonomous types of intelligences.

The original Gardner’s theory includes the following types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal [2].

Linguistic type of intelligence implies the ability to analyze information and create products involving oral and written language such as speeches, books, and memos. It is the ability of individuals to use words effectively, whether orally (e.g., as a storyteller, orator, or politician) or in writing (e.g., as a poet, playwright, editor, or journalist). This intelligence includes the ability to manipulate the syntax or structure of language, the phonology or sounds of language, the semantics or meanings of language, and the pragmatic dimensions or practical uses of language. Some of these uses include rhetoric (using language to convince others to take a specific course of action), mnemonics (using language to remember information), explanation (using language to inform), and metalanguage (using language to talk about itself).

Logical-mathematical intelligence includes inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning abilities, logic, as well as the use of numbers ( a mathematician, tax accountant, or statistician). It is an ability to develop equations and proofs, make calculations, and solve abstract problems (e.g., as a scientist, computer programmer, or logician). This intelligence includes sensitivity to logical patterns and relationships, statements and propositions (if-then, cause-effect), functions, and other related abstractions. The kinds of processes used in the service of logical-mathematical intelligence include categorization, classification, inference, generalization, calculation, and hypothesis testing.

Visual-spatial (or just spatial) type of intelligence is the ability to mentally visualize objects and spatial dimensions, to recognize and manipulate large-scale and fine-grained spatial images. The ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately is essential for hunters, scouts, or guides), while the ability to perform transformations upon those visual-spatial perceptions is well-developed at interior decorators, architects, artists, or inventors. This intelligence involves sensitivity to color, line, shape, form, space, and the relationships that exist between these elements. It also includes the ability to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas, and to orient oneself appropriately in a spatial matrix.

Body-kinesthetic (sometimes also called bodily-kinesthetic) intelligence uses the wisdom of the body and gives individuals the ability to control physical motion. It is an ability to use one’s own body to create products, solve problems, to express ideas and feelings (e.g., as an actor, a mime, an athlete, or a dancer) and facility in using one’s hands to produce or transform things (e.g., as a craftsperson, sculptor, mechanic, or surgeon). This intelligence includes specific physical skills such as coordination, balance, dexterity, strength, flexibility, and speed, as well as proprioceptive, tactile, and haptic capacities.

Musical-rhythmic (or just musical) intelligence is the ability to master music as well as

rhythms, tones and beats, to produce, remember, and make meaning of different patterns of sound. It is the ability to perceive (e.g., as a music aficionado), discriminate (e.g., as a music critic), transform (e.g., as a composer), and express (e.g., as a performer) musical forms. This intelligence includes sensitivity to the rhythm, pitch or melody, and timbre or tone color of a musical piece. One can have a figural or “top-down” understanding of music (global, intuitive), a formal or “bottom-up” understanding (analytic, technical), or both.

Interpersonal type of intelligence implies the ability to communicate effectively with other people and to be able to develop relationships. It is an ability to recognize and understand other people’s moods, desires, motivations, and intentions. This includes sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way (e.g., to influence a group of people to follow a certain line of action).

Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, motivations, inner states of being, and self-reflection. It is an ability to recognize and understand one’s own moods, desires, and intentions. This intelligence includes having an accurate picture of oneself (one’s strengths and limitations); awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, temperaments, and desires; and the capacity for self-discipline, self-understanding, and self-esteem [3, 4].

The eighth type of intelligence was added by Gardner in the mid-1990’s. Naturalistic intelligence allows individuals to identify and distinguish among products of the natural world such as animals, plants, types of rocks, and weather patterns. It is essential for biologists, meteorologists, zoologists, etc. In the case of those growing up in an urban environment, this also includes the capacity to discriminate among inanimate objects such as cars, sneakers, and CD covers [4].

The followers of Howard Gardner, in particular, Thomas Armstrong singles out the key points of the Multiple Intelligences Theory to be remembered:

  • each person possesses all eight intelligences the eight intelligences function together, individuals being highly developed in some intelligences, modestly developed in others, and relatively underdeveloped in the rest;
  • most people can develop each intelligence to an adequate level of competency – it depends on the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction;
  • intelligences usually work together in complex ways no intelligence exists by itself in life, they are always interacting with each other, e.g. when children play active, outdoor games, they need bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (so as to run, throw a ball, and catch), spatial intelligence (to orient themselves to the playing field and to anticipate the trajectories of flying balls), and linguistic and interpersonal intelligences (to successfully argue a point during a dispute in the game). The intelligences may be taken out of the context only for the research of their essential features and learning how to use them effectively;
  • there are many ways to be intelligent within each category there is no standard set of attributes that one must have to be considered intelligent in a specific area, e.g. a person may not be able to write, to create products in written form, but be highly linguistic because he or she can tell an interesting story or has a large oral vocabulary. People may show their gifts within intelligences as well as between them [4].

The Multiple Intelligences Theory can be successfully used in the classroom as it clearly describes what students with high level of certain intelligences think, love, and need, thus prompting the ways of teaching and learning.

For instance, students who are highly linguistic, usually think in words. They love reading, writing, telling stories, playing word games, and for successful learning they need books, tapes, writing tools, paper, diaries, dialogue, discussion, debate, stories.

Logical-mathematical students are reasonably-thinkers. They prefer such activities as experimenting, questioning, figuring out logical puzzles, calculating. To get better results a teacher should use materials to experiment with, science materials, manipulatives, trips to planetariums and science museums during the course.

Spatial students think in images and pictures. They are ready for designing, drawing, visualizing, doodling. As a means of instruction it is advisable to use art, Legos, videos, movies, slides, imagination games, mazes, puzzles, illustrated books, trips to art museums.

Highly bodily-kinesthetic students perceive the world through somatic sensations and love dancing, running, jumping, building, touching, gesturing. In learning they need role-play, drama, movement, building things, sports and physical games, tactile experiences, hands-on learning.

Highly musical students think via rhythms and melodies. They prefer singing, whistling, humming, tapping feet and hands, listening. In learning they need sing-along time, trips to concerts, playing music at home and school, musical instruments.

Interpersonal students think by bouncing ideas off other people. They prefer leading, organizing, relating, manipulating, mediating, partying. They are better taught through friends, group games, social gatherings, community events, clubs, mentors / apprenticeships.

Highly intrapersonal students think in relation to their needs, feelings, and goals. They like setting goals, meditating, dreaming, planning, reflecting and feel need in secret places, time alone, self-paced projects, choices.

Highly naturalist students think through nature and natural forms. They love playing with pets, gardening, investigating nature, raising animals, caring for planet earth. In learning they need access to nature, opportunities for interacting with animals, tools for investigating nature (e.g., magnifying glasses, binoculars) [4].

The preferences and inclinations of students determine the strategies, activities, and materials to be used in the classroom, e.g. when working with highly linguistic students a teacher will use books, brainstorming, choral reading, debates, extemporaneous speaking, individualized reading, journal keeping, largeand small-group discussions, lectures, manuals, memorizing linguistic facts, publishing (e.g., creating class newspapers), reading to the class, sharing time, storytelling, student speeches, talking books, tape recording one’s words, using word processing software, word games, worksheets, writing activities.

With logical-mathematical students it is preferable to use classifications and categorizations, computer programming languages, creating codes, heuristics, logic puzzles and games, logical problem-solving exercises, logical-sequential presentation of subject matter, mathematical problems on the board, Piagetian cognitive exercises, calculations and quantifications, science thinking, scientific demonstrations, Socratic questioning.

Highly spatial students require using such strategies, techniques, and materials as 3-D construction kits, art appreciation, charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps, color cues, computer graphics software, creative daydreaming, draw-and-paint/computer-assisted-design software, graphic symbols, idea sketching, imaginative storytelling, mind-maps and other visual organizers, optical illusions, painting, collage, and other visual arts, photography, picture literacy experiences, picture metaphors, videos, slides, and movies, visual awareness activities, visual pattern seeking, visual puzzles and mazes, visual thinking exercises.

Bodily-kinesthetic students are better taught through body answers, body maps, classroom theater, competitive and cooperative games, cooking, gardening, and other “messy” activities, crafts, creative movement, field trips, hands-on activities of all kinds, hands-on thinking, kinesthetic concepts, manipulative, mime, physical awareness exercises, physical education activities, physical relaxation exercises, tactile materials and experiences, use of kinesthetic imagery, using body language/hand signals to communicate, virtual reality software.

Highly musical students are better taught through creating new melodies for concepts, discographies, group singing, linking old tunes with concepts, listening to inner musical imagery, mood music, music appreciation, musical composition software, musical concepts, playing live music on piano, guitar, or other instruments, playing percussion instruments, playing recorded music, rhythms, songs, raps, and chants, singing, humming, or whistling, super memory music, using background music.

With highly interpersonal students it is preferable to use academic clubs, apprenticeships, board games, community involvement, conflict mediation, cooperative groups, cross-age tutor-

ing, group brainstorming sessions, interactive software or internet platforms, interpersonal interaction, parties or social gatherings as context for learning, peer sharing, people sculptures, simulations.

Highly intrapersonal students are easily taught through choice time, exposure to inspirational/motivational curricula, feeling-toned moments, goal-setting sessions, independent study, individualized projects and games, interest centers, one-minute reflection periods, options for homework, personal connections, private spaces for study, self-esteem activities, self-paced instruction, self-teaching programmed instruction.

Naturalist students prefer to be taught through use of aquariums, terrariums, and other portable ecosystems, class weather station, eco-study, gardening, nature-oriented software, nature study tools (binoculars, telescope, and microscope), nature videos, films, and movies, nature walks, pet-in-the-classroom, plants as props, windows onto learning [4].

The Multiple Intelligences Theory may and should be applied to almost any course or discipline. As for the English as a Foreign Language Classroom, the theoretical implications and practical use suggestions of the Multiple Intelligences Theory can be easily adopted here. In the English Language Classroom students learn not only linguistic (phonetic, grammatical, stylistic, etc.) phenomena, but also different things and concepts of the environment in the target language. This also is of high importance now, because of new trends, requirements, and approaches to teaching students foreign languages.

In the English as a Foreign Language Classroom teachers actively use the above mentioned strategies, activities, and techniques depending on a specific type of intelligence. Brainstorming, debates, different types of reading (characteristic for linguistic intelligence students) may be used when developing speaking and reading skills. Puzzles, games, if-then, cause-effect situations, problem-solving exercises (logical-mathematical intelligence) may be used at different levels for developing productive skills. Charts and graphs (spatial intelligence) may be used for presenting grammar material, mind-maps, idea sketching – for developing foreign language speaking skills. Activities suggested for bodily-kinesthetic or musical students may be used for teaching the language to young learners. Interpersonal intelligence activities are widely used for developing productive skills. Naturalist intelligence activities may be used in teaching the language through CLIL.


  1. Harvard School of education Official Site. Faculty. Howard Gardner. Retrieved from on June 19, 2017
  2. Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Basic books.
  3. Davis, K. (2012) The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from https:// howardgardner 01. pdf on June 19, 2017
  4. Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Ascd. Retrieved from https: // erwinwidiyatmoko. on June 21, 2017
Year: 2017
City: Almaty
Category: Philosophy