Essential Skills
Multiple Intelligences


"Intelligence is the ability to find and solve problems
and create products of value in one's own culture."
-Dr. Howard Gardner



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Link to Learning Styles

Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
It's not how smart you are, it's HOW you are smart!

















Ever see the bumper sticker, "My kid beat up your honor student?" That's a not so enlightened approach to today's topic: Multiple Intelligences. You see, the violent kid being raised by the troglodyte is exhibiting his Kinesthetic skills while humiliating the child that excels in the Linguistic/Logical domains. The encouraging part of this is that the knuckle-dragging mouth breather can be taught to excel at other areas as well!

There is a constant flow of new information on how the human brain operates, how it differs in function between genders, how emotions impact on intellectual acuity, even on how genetics and environment each impact our cognitive abilities. While each area of study has its merits, Howard Gardner of Harvard University has identified different KINDS of intelligence we possess. This has particularly strong ramifications in the classroom, because if we can identify different strengths among these intelligences teachers can accommodate different learning styles more successfully according to their orientation to learning.

Dr. Gardner 's work suggests nine intelligences. He speculates that there may be many more yet to be identified. Only time will tell. These are the paths to children's learning that teachers can address in their classrooms right now. They are:

VISUAL/SPATIAL - learning visually and organizing ideas spatially. Seeing concepts in action in order to understand them. The ability to "see" things in one's mind in planning to create a product or solve a problem.

VERBAL/LINGUISTIC - learning through the spoken and written word. This intelligence was always valued in the traditional classroom and in traditional assessments of intelligence and achievement.

MATHEMATICAL/LOGICAL - learning through reasoning and problem solving. Also highly valued in the traditional classroom, where students were asked to adapt to logically sequenced delivery of instruction.

BODILY/KINESTHETIC - learning through interaction with one's environment. This intelligence is not the domain of "overly active" learners. It promotes understanding through concrete experience.

MUSICAL/RHYTHMIC - learning through patterns, rhythms and music. This includes not only auditory learning, but the identification of patterns through all the senses.

INTRAPERSONAL - learning through feelings, values and attitudes. This is a decidedly affective component of learning through which students place value on what they learn and take ownership for their learning.

INTERPERSONAL - learning through interaction with others. Not the domain of children who are simply "talkative" or "overly social." This intelligence promotes collaboration and working cooperatively with others.

NATURALIST - learning through classification, categories and hierarchies. The naturalist intelligence picks up on subtle differences in meaning. It is not simply the study of nature; it can be used in all areas of study..

EXISTENTIAL - learning by seeing the "big picture": "Why are we here?" "What is my role in the world?" "What is my place in my family, school and community?" This intelligence seeks connections to real world understandings and applications of new learning.

Most teachers are now working on assimilating this knowledge into their strategies for helping students learn. While it is too early to tell all the ramifications for this research, it is clear that the day is past where educators teach the text book and it is the dawn of educators teaching each child according to their orientation to the world.



Isolation as a Brain Function

As medicine studies isolated brain functions through cases of brain injury and degenerative disease, we are able to identify actual physiological locations for specific brain functions. A true intelligence will have its function identified in a specific location in the human brain.

Prodigies, Savants and Exceptional Individuals

Human record of genius such as Mozart being able to perform on the piano at the age of four and Dustin Hoffman's "Rainman" character being able to calculate dates accurately down to the day of the week indicate that there are specific human abilities which can demonstrate themselves to high degrees in unique cases. Highly developed examples of a true intelligence are recorded in rare occurrences.

Set of Core Operations

There is an identifiable set of procedures and practices which are unique to each true intelligence.

Developmental History with an Expert End Performance

As clinical psychologists continue to study the developmental stages of human growth and learning, a clear pattern of developmental history is being documented of the human mind. A true intelligence has an identifiable set of stages of growth with a Mastery Level which exists as an end state in human development. We can see examples of people who have reached the Mastery level for each intelligence.

Evolutionary History

As cultural anthropologists continue to study the history of human evolution, there is adequate evidence that our species has developed intelligence over time through human experience. A true intelligence can have its development traced through the evolution of homo sapiens.

Supported Psychological Tasks

Clinical psychologists can identify sets of tasks for different domains of human behavior. A true intelligence can be identified by specific tasks which can be carried out, observed and measured.

Supported Psychometric Tasks

The use of psychometric instruments to measure intelligence (such as I.Q. tests) have traditionally been used to measure only specific types of ability. However, these tests can be designed and used to identify and quantify true unique intelligences. The Multiple Intelligence theory does not reject psychometric testing for specific scientific study.

Encoded into a Symbol System

Humans have developed many kinds of symbol systems over time for varied disciplines. A true intelligence has its own set of images it uses which are unique to itself and are important in completing its identified set of tasks.


The Lesson Plan

Brief Description

Use an online inventory to determine students' learning strengths and intelligences.


Students will

  • take an inventory to determine their learning strengths and weaknesses.
  • create graphs to show their learning strengths. (optional)
  • build a program to improve their learning by studying their personal learning strengths.
  • learn about areas where they might need to work harder.
  • learn to appreciate differences among their classmates.

multiple intelligences, intelligence, learning style, self-esteem, differentiation, Gardner, inventory, survey

Materials Needed

  • one or more of the online resources listed below
  • paper and supplies for creating graphs to show learning strengths

Lesson Plan

What are your students' learning styles? Which of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences best applies to each of them? Those are things any teacher might want to know in order to differentiate instruction for his or her students -- but this activity also can provide eye-opening information for the students themselves!

An inventory of students' learning styles can build self-esteem by helping them discover their strengths; learn about areas in which they might need to make more effort; and appreciate the differences among themselves.

Published inventories are readily available to help teachers and students determine their learning strengths. You also can find some excellent free resources online:

How Many Ways Are You Smart?
This simple printable (pdf) page provides an easy tool for discovering which of eight intelligences students favor. Students can do the activity on their own by simply folding the inventory sheet in half and making a checkmark next to each of the 24 statements that describe them. Then, they unfold the paper and tally the results. Be sure students share the results with you!

Multiple Intelligences Inventory
If you're looking for a more in-depth MI inventory, this one provides ten statements that relate to each of nine intelligences. Students identify the statements that describe them as learners. They then tally and graph the results on their own. If you're looking for additional statements related to each of the intelligences, you might use the Web page What Are My Learning Strengths?

You might also share with students some of what the inventory means. The Multiple Intelligences Kids' Page offers some kid-friendly explanations.

With older students, you might want to turn this activity into a research project in which they research "multiple intelligences" and learn more about the intelligence(s) they favor.

You also can learn more about a teacher who has used learning inventories in the classroom in the Education World article Your Students: No Two Are Alike

Those are just a few of the many resources you'll find online that can help you (and your students) learn more about the learning styles your they favor. Following are some additional resources:

Note: The informal inventories above represent only a small sampling of the available tools; the results should not be used as a sole measure of students' learning strengths or abilities.


Students share (in words, pictures, or writing -- depending on their learning strengths) what they learned about how they learn.