How Teachers use Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory

by Andy Minshew


Gone are the days when teachers could rely on an IQ test to measure a student’s intelligence. A recent study involving over 100,000 participants found that no one test can measure how well a person would perform cognitive tasks.[8] Because most intelligence tests give only a two-dimensional picture of a person’s mental abilities, they don’t always capture a student’s full potential. If you want to help students develop cognitive skills in a way that meets them at their strengths and shores up their weaknesses, one of the best ways to do so is through Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory.

Based on research from psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and other cognitive disciplines, Dr. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory was created to better represent the diversity in human intelligence.[4] This theory not only considers traditional learning abilities like math and science skills as markers of intelligence, but it also includes more diverse abilities, such as musical, social, and nature-based skills. Read on to discover the definition of multiple intelligences and how you can use multiple intelligences activities in the classroom.

What are Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences?

child practicing counting skills multiple intelligences

In the past, many held up the IQ test as the “golden standard” for measuring intelligence; however, it does not fully capture all of the ways a child can succeed. Just because a child has poor mathematical skills, for example, doesn’t mean that they have impaired artistic or social skills.[5] For this reason, it’s long been important for educational researchers to find better ways to measure a person’s potential beyond the reading and logical skills that IQ tests measure.[9]

The multiple intelligences theory was created by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, in 1983. It challenges the then-dominant (and still sometimes prevalent) belief that only linguistic and mathematical skills can define a person’s intelligence.[2] Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed eight different skill sets that better grasp the full scope of a child’s abilities.[2]

It’s important to note, however, that Gardner’s multiple intelligences constitute an educational theory and not scientific fact. While many teachers find the theory to be a helpful framework for their curriculum, few studies have been done on whether it is the most accurate model of human intelligence or on its success rate in schools.[15] But from a professional development standpoint, the theory of multiple intelligences is a great reminder for teachers that all students have different strengths and the potential for academic achievement.

The list of Gardner’s multiple intelligences includes:

  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Spatial intelligence
  • Musical intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  • Naturalistic intelligence
  • Interpersonal intelligence
  • Intrapersonal intelligence

Each of these intelligences are relatively independent of one another.[1] This means that a child can be highly proficient in one intelligence and struggle with another. An athlete, for example, could have strong bodily-kinesthetic and spatial intelligence but poor musical intelligence. That’s why it’s so important to use instructional strategies that involve a variety of these multiple intelligences so every child has the opportunity to learn in a way that works best for them.

Linguistic Intelligence

Linguistic intelligence involves the ability to comprehend words while reading, writing, or speaking. This can include reading and writing in a person’s native tongue, but it also involves the ability to learn new languages.

A few activities and skills related to linguistic intelligence include:

  • Reading books aloud or independently
  • Learning new vocabulary words
  • Writing stories, sentences, or essays

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

Logical-mathematical intelligence refers to the ability to use reason and analysis to solve problems. Children with strong logical-mathematical skills are also often skilled at identifying patterns to develop answers to a question.

A few logical-mathematical intelligence skills and activities include:

  • Learning addition, subtraction, and other math concepts
  • Using the scientific method to test hypotheses
  • Using logical abilities to create compelling debates

Spatial Intelligence

Spatial intelligence involves the ability to visualize and manipulate environments. Children with strong spatial intelligence are aware of the space around them and skilled at manipulating it in creative or innovative ways.

Spatial intelligence skills or activities you could use in class include:

  • Putting together puzzles
  • Painting, sculpting, or other artistic activities
  • Performing tasks that involve hand-eye coordination

Musical Intelligence

Musical intelligence is defined as the ability to appreciate, create, and perform music. It involves not only does sensory musical activities, but also the theoretical side of music, such as composition.

musical intelligence example of child holding triangle instrument

A few musical intelligence skills or activities can include:

  • Practicing pitch or a sense of rhythm
  • Learning to sing or play an instrument
  • Recognizing musical notes or patterns

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence involves skillfully moving and controlling your body. Children with a strong sense of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence often succeed in hands-on activities rather than theoretical assignments.

If you want to try bodily-kinesthetic intelligence activities in class, a few ideas can include:

  • Participating on a sports team
  • Doing relay-races or outdoor games
  • Learning the choreography to a dance

Interpersonal Intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence refers to the ability to interact with others in a healthy and meaningful way. Students skilled in interpersonal intelligence can be introverted or extroverted, but they are often good at making and maintaining friendships.

Activities and skills related to interpersonal intelligence include:

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Coinciding in some ways with interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and analyze your own emotions, actions, and beliefs. It is closely linked to the social-emotional skill of self-awareness, or developing an understanding of yourself and how others perceive you.

Skills and activities that involve interpersonal intelligence include:

Naturalistic Intelligence

The eighth type of intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, refers to a person’s sensitivity to and appreciation for the natural world. Students with naturalistic intelligence often have an affinity for recognizing and interacting with plants and animals.

A few activities or skills related to naturalistic intelligence include:

  • Hiking, camping, or other outdoor activities
  • Taking care of animals
  • Recognizing different types of plants

In addition to these eight types of intelligences, Dr. Gardner considered adding existential intelligence. This would involve a person’s ability to understand themselves and the world around them with a philosophical mindset.[10] At this time, however, it is not one of the official intelligences in his theory.

How the Multiple Intelligences Theory Can Help You Reach Struggling Learners

multiple intelligences theory young learnersOne of the main reasons that Gardner’s learning styles can lead to more effective teaching strategies than IQ-based strategies is because the approach is better at reaching children with disabilities. Traditional intelligence tests simplify the complexity of the human brain and can be biased against certain demographics. People with anxiety, for example, generally do poorly on these tests but may otherwise be intelligent.[7]

Using multiple intelligences in the classroom, on the other hand, is proven to help students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.[11] Not all students’ strengths are within traditionally valued types of intelligence like reading or math skills. By discovering the intellectual gifts a child already possesses, you can find ways to work with their existing strengths and help slow learners in the classroom.

Additionally, multiple intelligences theory can help teachers see cognitive abilities in a way that better aligns with science than traditional intelligence tests. Even four- and five-year-olds display strengths and weaknesses within different types of intelligence that function independently.[1] When a student struggles with one skill, keeping the multiple intelligences theory in mind can help teachers see a student’s potential instead of just their weaknesses.

5 Multiple Intelligence Activities and Tips for Reaching Different Types of Learners

When you use multiple intelligences theory in your school, you can provide every student with differentiated instruction strategies that work with their strengths and weaknesses.[4] Not only can this approach help students improve, but it can also help teachers change their perspective towards slow learners or students with disabilities.

Use these five multiple intelligence activities and strategies to help all children in your class reach their potential:

  • Try to link all instructional objectives to at least two types of intelligences. If you’re teaching students about multiplication tables, for example, you could add visual references or teach children a song about multiplying.[3]
  • The multiple intelligences theory is connected to multisensory learning, which teaches that children learn better with activities that involve more than one sense.[14] Engage your students’ visual, tactile, auditory, and other senses to reach more students.
  • Incorporate all of the different multiple intelligences at least once a week. Create a weekly checklist with all eight intelligences so you make sure you’re using a comprehensive multiple intelligence strategy in class.
  • When planning interventions for struggling students, discover what their strengths are as connected to the multiple intelligences theory. If a child has strong spatial intelligence but poor linguistic skills, for example, you may be able to use their strengths to teach difficult concepts.
  • Use multiple intelligence strategies with ELL students, as this can be particularly helpful for teaching concepts in a language other than their native tongue.[13]


  1. Gardner, H., and Hatch, T. Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, November 1989, 18(8), pp. 4-10.
  2. Silver, H., Strong, R., and Perini, M. Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences. Educational Leadership, September 1997, 55(1), pp. 22-27.
  3. Armstrong, T. Multiple Intelligences: Seven Ways to Approach Curriculum. Educational Leadership, November 1994, 52(3), pp. 26-28.
  4. Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligences as a Partner in School Improvement. Educational Leadership, September 1997, 55(1), pp. 20-21.
  5. Davis, K., Christodoulou, J., Seider, S., and Gardner, H. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, 2011, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Huntsmann, P.R., and O’Loughlin, V.D. Another Nail in the Coffin for Learning Styles? Disparities among Undergraduate Anatomy Students’ Study Strategies, Class Performance, and Reported VARK Learning Styles. Anatomical Sciences Education, 2019, 12(1), pp. 6-19.
  7. Oostdam, R., and Meijer, J. Influence of test anxiety on measurement of intelligence. Psychology Rep, February 2003, 92(1), pp. 3-20.
  8. Hampshire, A., Highfield, R.R., Parkin, B.L., and Owen, A.M. Fractionating Human Intelligence. Neuron, December 2012, 76(6), pp. 1225-1237.
  9. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Multiple Intelligences: Challenging the Standard View of Intelligence. Retrieved from
  10. Smith, M. Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from
  11. Gardner, H. The theory of multiple intelligences. Annals of Dyslexia, January 1987, 37(1), pp. 19-35.
  12. Denig, S.J. Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles: Two Complementary Dimensions. Retrieved from
  13. Beare, K. Multiple Intelligence Activities. Retrieved from
  14. Kallenbach, S., and Viens, S. Multiple Intelligences in Practice: Teacher Research Reports from the Adult Multiple Intelligences Study. Retrieved from
  15. Waterhouse, L. Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence: A Critical Review. Educational Psychologist, 2006, 41(4), pp. 207-225.

More education articles