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Multiple intelligences

Teaching strategies

Multiple intelligences

A guide for classroom teachers, teacher aides and students

Multiple intelligences – refers to the 8 intelligence types published by Howard Gardner in 1983: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic.

Art class in a school.

A person’s IQ is traditionally thought of as the best way to judge their intelligence. IQ tests are designed to compare a person’s problem-solving abilities to the wider population. An IQ score of 100 is the average of all people who take an IQ test. But what if IQ was just one way of measuring intelligence? What about social intelligence – the ability to communicate, convince and persuade others? What about people with artistic and creative skills, such as architects and graphic designers? What about professional athletes, musicians or everyday people who are good at working with their hands? Surely these people are ‘intelligent’ at what they do.

The theory of multiple intelligences (first conceived by the now famous developmental psychologist Howard Gardner) argues that there are many different types of intelligence – 8 in fact – with no single type more important than any other.i Gardner’s 8 categories of intelligence are verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. A person’s intelligence level is not the same for each category. For example, a person that thrives in a team environment and has ‘the gift of the gab’ might score extremely high in the interpersonal category but low in several other categories. For some industries, such as child-related and caring industries, a high logical-mathematical intelligence is not as useful as a high verbal-linguistic and interpersonal intelligence (a teacher’s primary job is to communicate after all).

Intelligence type

Explanation/personal characteristics

Verbal-linguistic Enjoys using, manipulating and interpreting language. Often very articulate and enjoys writing, reading, listening to debates and thinking about abstract concepts and ideas.
Logical-mathematical Prefers concrete tasks that involve reasoning, the use of numbers and patterns. Enjoys problem-solving tasks with logical solutions.
Visual-spatial Is good at visualising space, dimensions and the environment. May enjoy statistics, working with models, charts, maps and diagrams.
Bodily-kinaesthetic Is typically interested in sports or gross motor activities that use the body in some way. Is ‘hands on’ and prefers to learn by doing.
Musical-rhythmic Has a strong creative streak and an interest in subjects such as art, music and creative writing. Enjoys making things.
Interpersonal Has a high emotional IQ and ability to learn with and from others. Thrives in a cooperative learning environment.
Intrapersonal Places an emphasis on personal development and often prefers to learn on their own (such as by self-reflection).
Naturalistic Prefers learning outdoors either in or about nature and has an interest in subjects such as animals, horticulture and agriculture.

Hint: Gardner was open to the idea that there might be additional types of intelligence such as existential and moral intelligence, teaching-pedagogical intelligence and digital intelligence. Could there be other types such as strategic and planning intelligence? Can you think of any?

Based on the theory of multiple intelligences, 2 people can be as ‘smart’ as each other but in very different ways. For example, a person with high naturalistic intelligence may be very well regarded in the field of ecology or agriculture – they could be one of the best ecologists in the world. However, they may have much lower levels of other types of intelligence, such as verbal-linguistic. On the other hand, someone who is traditionally thought of as being intelligent (by the IQ measure) may score very low on several of the intelligence types identified in Gardner’s theory. The multiple intelligences theory highlights that intelligence comes in many different forms. Additionally, it hinges on the context and tasks that a person undertakes – intelligence in one situation does not always equate to intelligence in a different situation.

Based on the theory of multiple intelligences, 2 people can be as ‘smart’ as each other but in very different ways.

The main takeaways from the theory of multiple intelligences are as follows:

  • Intelligence can be measured in many different ways and one type should not be privileged over any other.
  • Teachers should not assume that reasoning and mathematical intelligence are the only types of intelligence.
  • Teachers can identify students’ strengths and weaknesses based on intelligence types and use that to their advantage (creating units or work, resources and different approaches).
  • Students gravitate toward career paths and interests that reflect their strongest intelligence type.
  • Students prefer to learn through approaches that favour their strongest intelligence type.
  • Teachers should not box students into 1 or 2 intelligence types or teach to a single type. Variety should be provided to all students to encourage a well-rounded education.
  • Teachers can show students that they are intelligent in certain ways (even if not in the traditional sense) to build their self-esteem and confidence.
  • Programs, lessons and activities can be designed to address a range of intelligence types.
  • Topics, concepts and problems can be presented and studied in diverse ways. For example, some students prefer to learn by socialising while others prefer to learn on their own – create activities for both types of students.
  • Content can be framed and linked to different intelligence types to help diverse groups of students achieve a higher level of competence and understanding. For example, mathematical concepts can be reframed in terms of their application to nature, art, history, technology, relationships or self-development.
  • Variety is important in a class environment. Some students learn better in cooperative situations; others learn through art and creativity; some prefer to learn on their own with guidance from an expert. A well-rounded education means students can adapt and are capable of learning in a range of different ways.

Hint: a common trap for new teachers is to ‘teach the way they were taught’ or to teach using strategies, learning styles and intelligence types that work best for them. For example, an extroverted teacher high on the intrapersonal intelligence type and low on the logical-mathematical type may heavily favour activities that reflect their personal learning preferences and strongest intelligence type, while de-emphasising or outright dismissing other approaches that don’t match their preferences, values and beliefs.

Foot notes:

  1. Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York, NY: Basic Books.

About the author

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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