• by Sulema Carreón-Sánchez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2015 •

Dr. Sulema Carreon-SanchezAs we begin another year of taking on the responsibility of educating students, we can reflect on what is quality and meaningful teaching. Recently, I was invited to visit a summer school classroom with elementary students, some of whom were English learners. During my visit, a teacher said: “I feel I work more and have less time to help my students. I have a weekly lesson plan, but students don’t seem to learn. What can I do that is different to help them?” While lesson plans are blueprints of what a teacher will do, it is the delivery of a lesson that is the key to making learning meaningful. This article discusses how the multiple intelligences theory can help teachers who are serving classrooms with diverse learners.

According to Marjorie Hall Haley (2004), “Students achieve greater success rates when the multiple intelligences theory is implemented.” Furthermore, she affirms, “All teachers must be better equipped to widen their pedagogical repertoire to accommodate linguistically, culturally and cognitively diverse students.”

Reflecting on the teacher’s question, a teacher’s challenge is to create a classroom within a learning environment to help all students. Teachers can, through Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, provide various instruction strategies that will lead students to reach levels of success and acquire learning in all content areas.

Teachers have choices of instructional strategies to meet the diverse needs of students, especially English learners. Various strategies in the classroom assist students in their understanding, learning and connecting to what they already know, hence, providing a rich learning environment leading to students’ success. According to Mary Ann Christison (1996), “Multiple intelligences theory offers ESL/EFL teachers a way to examine their best teaching techniques and strategies in light of human differences.”

Howard Gardner (1983) first introduced the multiple intelligences theory and acknowledged, “There is no general intelligence, but rather that each person has at least eight distinct intelligences, which can be developed throughout his or her lifetime.” The seven intelligences Gardner first introduced are: bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal-social, intrapersonal-introspective, logical-mathematical, musical-rhythmic, verbal-linguistic, and visual-spatial. The eighth, “naturalist theory,” was proposed in 1999.

Haley’s study (2004) identifies some instructional strategies and activities for English learners correlated to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. The first, bodily-kinesthetic, includes a sense of physical action, which is learning through movement and manipulating things. Some activities include role playing, dancing, total physical response (TPR), hands-on learning, manipulatives, and multimedia games or activities. Additional activities are known as stand-up and sit-down and inside/outside circle.

Strategies related to interpersonal-social learning consist of interaction with others and understanding of self. Students will be aware of their strengths or weaknesses and what makes them unique. Haley identifies activities that can help, such as cooperative teams, paired activities, peer teaching, board games, simulation, survey and polls, group brainstorming, situations and dialogues. Additional activities could involve working on vocabulary skits, vocabulary cards games, and peer editing. She states, “Cooperative learning that includes a variety of tasks accomplished through a choice of activities allow for multiple intelligences to be well represented within the context of instruction.”

Intrapersonal-introspective style of learning includes students who are the most independent of the learners. Some activities for these students include working with books, creative materials, diaries, privacy and time. In fact these students can work on describing and writing journals on particular topics and engage in independent study. These students work better independently before they share their work.

The logical-mathematical style includes logic, abstractions, reasoning, numbers and critical thinking. Activities include word order activities, grammar relationships, pattern games, number activities, classifying and categorizing, sequencing information, computer games, and cause-and-effect activities. Activities also can include oral retelling of stories, short poems, creating advertisements, cloze activities, and reading the text backwards.

The musical-rhythmic style relates to sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music. The auditory learning uses the ear and hearing when learning. Haley’s activity list includes writing jingles, jazz chants to remember vocabulary/grammar verbs, musical cloze activities, skits, plays, tonal/rhythmic patterns in music of target language. According to Brewster, et al., (2003), songs, rhymes and chants can contribute to the child’s global development, and acting together is fun and stimulates the child’s sense of humor.

Verbal-linguistic style connects high verbal-linguistic intelligence with words and languages. These students are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words. They enjoy debates, storytelling, online communications, group discussions and word games. They can work on jigsaw reading, read-alouds, and identifying main idea through the use of pyramids.

Visual-spatial style deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize in their heads. The visual and spatial learner learns through the use of the eye. Some materials that will help them include using graphs and diagrams, drawing a response, video exercises, computer slideshows, multimedia projects mind mapping, and graphic organizers. Other activities and materials include vocabulary cards, writing frames, journals, portfolios, sequencing mapping, and scaffolding charts.

The eighth intelligence is the naturalist style. This has to do with nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings their local environment. This theory focuses on the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). Activities that include science content are an ideal way of learning for the naturalist. Teachers can provide hands-on lessons for students in order to investigate, explore, and summarize what they learn. Activities that include maps, photographs, primary source documents, and video clips are what teachers can provide for this learner.

Haley found (2004) that the challenge in education is for teachers to create learning environments that foster the development of all eight intelligences. Moreover, Gahala & Lange (1997) note, “Teaching with multiple intelligences is a way of taking differences among students seriously, sharing that knowledge with students and parents, guiding students in taking responsibility for their own learning, and presenting worthwhile materials that maximize learning and understanding.” Providing opportunities for students to learn in ways in which they are most receptive maximizes their potential for success in the academic setting and in real life (Armstrong, 2009; Beckman, 1998).

One response to the teacher’s question, “What can I do different to help them?” is to incorporate Gardner’s eight multiple intelligences theory by imbedding specific related instructional strategies and setting up the classroom where students are encouraged to use language in cooperative groups. Meeting student needs, linguistically, culturally, and cognitively, can lead to not only a great learning opportunity but a positive teaching experience for teachers.


Armstrong, T. Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, third edition (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2009).

Beckman, M. “Multiple Ways of Knowing: Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences Extend and Enhance Student Learning,” Early Childhood News (1998).

Brewster, J., & G. Ellis, D. Girard. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide (London: Penguin Books, 2003).

Christison, M.A. “Teaching and Learning Languages Through Multiple Intelligences,” TESOL Journal (1996).

Gardner, H. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1983).

Gahala, E., & D. Langue. “Multiple Intelligences: Multiple Ways to Help Students Learn Foreign Languages,” Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Newsletter (1997).

Haley, M.H. “Learner-Centered Instruction and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences with Second Language Learners,” Teachers College Record (January 2004).

Sulema Carreón-Sánchez, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA’s Department of Student Access and Success. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at sulema.sanchez@idra.org.

[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2015 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]