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What is the Multiple Intelligences Theory?


Did you know that each person has unique intelligence and that we thrive in certain learning environments while struggling in others? There are eight different types of intelligence, as put forth by Howard Gardner. People can have varying levels of intelligence, and they can change over time. Teachers can use multiple intelligences in the classroom for the benefit of their students by customizing lessons, classroom layouts, and assignments for these multiple intelligences.

Keep reading to find out about all eight bits of intelligence, how to implement multiple intelligences in the classroom, and how to benefit from them.

What is the Multiple Intelligences Theory?

The Multiple Intelligences Theory throws away the idea that intelligence is one sort of general ability and argues that there are actually eight types of intelligence. One is not more important than the other, but some may help people succeed at different things.

For example, a person with high musical intelligence and low visual-spatial intelligence may succeed in music class but may struggle in art class.

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence

Howard Gardner of Harvard University first came up with the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. Gardner argues that there are eight types of intelligence, far more than the standard I.Q. test can account for.

He goes on to say that these multiple intelligences “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning.”

Gardner argues that schools and teachers should teach in a way that supports all types of intelligence, not just the traditional ones such as linguistic and logical intelligence.

The Eight bits of Intelligence

1. Linguistic Intelligence (“word smart”)

2. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)

3. Visual-Spatial Intelligence (“picture smart”)

4. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“body smart”)

5. Musical Intelligence (“music smart”)

6. Interpersonal Intelligence (“people smart”)

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence (“self smart”)

8. Naturalist Intelligence (“nature smart”)

Linguistic Intelligence

“Lots of open books with text” \
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Linguistic intelligence, also called verbal-linguistic intelligence, is about knowledge of language use, production, and possibilities.

Those with this type of intelligence have the ability to use language to express themselves and assign meaning by way of poetry, humor, stories, and metaphors. It is common for comedians, public speakers, and writers to be high in linguistic intelligence.

Teaching for Linguistic Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high linguistic intelligence:

  • Use creative writing activities such as poetry or scriptwriting
  • Set up class debates
  • Allow for formal speaking opportunities
  • Use humor, such as joke writing or telling
  • Make sure there are plenty of reading opportunities

Learning with Linguistic Intelligence:

Learn your best by writing, practicing speeches, creating jokes, journaling, and reading.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

“Logical display of information on screen”
Photo by Yancy Min on Unsplash

Logical-mathematical intelligence is commonly thought of as “scientific thinking,” or the ability to reason, work with abstract symbols, recognize patterns, and see connections between separate pieces of information. It makes it possible to go through the scientific process of calculating, quantifying, hypothesizing, and concluding.

This type of intelligence is high in scientists, mathematicians, computer programmers, lawyers, and accountants.

Teaching for Logical-Mathematical Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high logical-mathematical intelligence:

  • Provide opportunities for problem-solving
  • Involve calculations
  • Create activities that involve deciphering a code
  • Use pattern or logic games
  • Organize new information in an outline format

Learning with Logical-Mathematical Intelligence:

Learn your best by creating information outlines with points, and making patterns of the information.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

“Room of visual art on easels”
Photo by Matthieu Comoy on Unsplash

Visual-spatial intelligence is all about the visual arts, graphics, and architecture. This type of intelligence allows people to visualize objects from different perspectives and in different ways, use objects within space, form mental images, and think in three-dimensions.

People high in visual-spatial intelligence include painters, architects, graphic designers, pilots, and sailors.

Teaching for Visual-Spatial Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high visual-spatial intelligence:

  • Use mind mapping techniques
  • Use guided visualizations or verbal imagery
  • Provide opportunities for artistic expression using a variety of mediums (paint, clay, etc.)
  • Allow for make-believe or fantasy
  • Create collages for visual representations

Learning with Visual-Spatial Intelligence:

Learn your best by creating something visual using space such as a collage, art piece, or written map of the information.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

“Student using the body to express oneself”
Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use the body to express emotion, play games, or create new products. It is commonly referred to as “learning by doing.” This type of intelligence enables people to manipulate objects and the body.

High bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is common in dancers, athletes, surgeons and artisans.

Teaching for Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence:

  • Use body sculpture
  • Use of role-playing, miming, or charade games
  • Allow for physical exercise, dance, or martial arts
  • Create opportunities for dramatic arts such as skits
  • Use human graphs

Learning with Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence:

To learn at your best, try creating a movement routine or role-play to learn a concept or remember information.

Musical Intelligence

“Open music book with song lyrics”
Photo by Michael Maasen on Unsplash

Musical intelligence is all about music. Individuals with high musical intelligence have a greater knowledge of and sensitivity to tone, rhythm, pitch, and melody. But this type of intelligence isn’t just about music — it’s also about sensitivity to the human voice, audio patterns, and sounds in the environment.

Composers, musicians, conductors, and sound directors all have high musical intelligence.

Teaching for Musical Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high musical intelligence:

  • Use instruments and instrument sounds
  • Use environmental sounds to illustrate a concept
  • Allow for musical composition and performance
  • Allow students to create songs about a topic

Learning with Musical Intelligence:

To learn best with your musical intelligence, try making a song with content you need to know.

Interpersonal Intelligence

“University of the People students putting hands together in a circle”
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Interpersonal intelligence is all about working with others and communicating effectively with others both verbally and nonverbally. It involves the ability to notice distinctions in others’ moods, temperaments, intentions, and motivations.

High interpersonal intelligence is often found in teachers, counselors, politicians, and religious leaders.

Teaching for Interpersonal Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high interpersonal intelligence:

  • Teach collaborative skills
  • Provide plenty of group work opportunities
  • Use person-person communication
  • Use empathy

Learning with Interpersonal Intelligence:

To learn best with high interpersonal intelligence, try doing most of your work in a group or with another person. Try to put yourself in the shoes of people or situations you are learning about.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

“Female with high intrapersonal intelligence journaling on a tree stump”
Photo by Doug Robichaud on Unsplash

Intrapersonal intelligence involves knowledge of the self in ways such as feelings, a range of emotional responses, and intuition about spirituality. This type of intelligence allows people to be conscious of the unconscious and to discern higher patterns of connection between things in our world.

Psychologists, philosophers, and theologists have high intrapersonal intelligence.

Teaching for Intrapersonal Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high intrapersonal intelligence:

  • Practice meditation
  • Allow for plenty of self-reflection
  • Use mindfulness
  • Practice reaching altered states of consciousness

Learning with Intrapersonal Intelligence:

To learn best with intrapersonal intelligence, try using mindful walks, meditation, and metacognition.

Naturalist Intelligence

“University of the People student looking at naturalist drawings in a notebook”
Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Naturalist intelligence is about discerning, comprehending, and appreciating plants, animals, the atmosphere, and the earth. It involves knowing how to care for animals, live off the land, classify species, and understand systems in nature.

High naturalist intelligence is seen in farmers, zookeepers, botanists, nature guides, veterinarians, cooks, and landscapers/gardeners.

Teaching for Naturalist Intelligence:

Use the following activities and techniques for students and groups with high naturalist intelligence:

  • Practice conservation
  • Have a classroom plant or animals to care of
  • Observe nature, go on nature walks
  • Use species classification
  • Provide hands-on labs of natural materials

Learning with Naturalist Intelligence:

To learn at your best, do your learning outdoors. Work with natural materials or animals as much as possible to work through concepts.

Educational Benefits of Applying Multiple Intelligences Theory

The benefits of this theory are many, and they can be applied across all ages and in all subjects. Students who are given ways to learn and perform at their best are more likely to enjoy school and are more likely to succeed academically.

Planning With Intelligence:

Variation Approach: When students are first made aware of the types of intelligence, they must complete activities of all types to better select their intelligence types.

Choice Approach: Students can be given the option to complete some activities of a long list of activities suited for different types of intelligence.

Bridge Approach: If most or all of the students in a classroom or group are high in the same type of intelligence, activity or classroom layout can be focused on that one type.

What Multiple Intelligences Theory Can Teach Us:

Additional research may be needed in order to understand the best possible methods to assess and support a range of intelligence in the classroom. For now, the theory has already taught students, teachers, parents, and administrators to broaden their definition of intelligence and to include all types in the equation.

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom:

There are many ways to use the theory of multiple intelligences in the classroom.

How can Multiple Intelligences be Implemented in the Classroom?

Table that shows how to implement multiple intelligences in the classroom

Classroom Layout

The best way to layout a classroom to support multiple intelligences is to have places in the room that works for each type of intelligence.

For linguistic intelligence, there should be a quiet area for reading, writing, and practicing speeches.

For logical-mathematical intelligence, there should be an area where students can conduct scientific experiments.

For visual-spatial intelligence, include an open area for object manipulation or art creation.

For bodily-kinesthetic intelligences, an open area for body movement could be provided.

For musical intelligence, including a separate area for music listening and creating, perhaps with soundproofing or headphones.

For naturalistic intelligence, outdoor space or indoor aquarium or terrarium could be provided.

For interpersonal intelligence, there should be an area with large tables for group work, while for intrapersonal intelligence there should be areas for individual activities.

How to Identify the Intelligence in Your Classroom

It can be hard to identify which intelligences are in the classroom. Observation and working together with the students to understand what is working for them is key. University of the People offers a Master’s in Education, where you are taught to identify the types of intelligence and how to implement them.

Expand Upon Traditional Activities:

Traditional activities in the classroom tend to focus on linguistic and logical-mathematical types of intelligence. These should be expanded to include other types of intelligence as well. For example, teachers can use debate to teach logic or use clay manipulatives for math learning.

Results of This Program:

When multiple intelligences theory is implemented properly in the classroom, it can have very positive results. Students develop an increased sense of responsibility, self-direction, and independence, discipline problems are reduced, students develop and apply new skills, cooperative learning skills increase, and overall academic achievement increases.

The Teacher’s Role:

“Teacher using multiple intelligences theory in the classroom”
Photo by Rio Lecatompessy on Unsplash

The teacher’s role is extremely important in making sure students get the most out of multiple intelligences theory in the classroom. Teachers should work with the students, rather than for the students, to develop the best activities, projects, and layouts. Teachers should continuously observe students’ interests and successes in different areas and continually change the classroom layout and plan accordingly.

Teaching in the Way the Child Learns:

Teaching using the multiple intelligence theory is essentially teaching in the way the child learns. It involves giving up long-held traditional beliefs about how to teach and instead puts the child first at the center of the planning.

Factors In Educational Reform

According to Gardner, there are four factors in educational reform: assessment, curriculum, teacher education, and community participation.

Gardner argues that in addition to using multiple intelligences, educational reform should occur within the following:

  • Assessment: Children should be assessed according to their learning styles and intelligence, and traditional forms of assessment should not be used to drive instruction.
  • Curriculum: Curriculum has traditionally been unchanged, and no one seems to know why. Curriculums should shift to focus on skill development and knowledge formation.
  • Teacher Education: There must be a way to attract more talented teachers into the profession, keep them there, and incentivize them to use research-backed methods.
  • Community Participation: Children and adolescents don’t stop learning at 3:00 pm. The entire community must be committed and involved in the education of young society members.

Challenges of Multiple Intelligences Theory

Accommodating so many different bits of intelligence within the classroom is difficult, and some intelligence may not lend themselves well to group learning situations.

Teachers should still try to incorporate as many as possible and give students the opportunity to use their intelligence types at least some of the time if all the time is not feasible.

The Difference Between Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

Multiple intelligences and learning styles are commonly confused with one another, but they are not the same.

Multiple intelligences represent different intellectual abilities and strengths, whereas learning styles are about how an individual may approach a task. Learning styles are fluid, and may not correlate completely to the intelligence type.


As a teacher, it is important to use multiple intelligences in the classroom, but first, you must understand the multiple intelligence theory and know which intelligences your students have to be able to teach them in the best way possible.

As a student, it is important to know which intelligences you have so you know the most effective way to learn.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what the multiple intelligences are and how you can use them to your benefit to help both yourself and others learn better and faster than ever before.