Have you ever thought about why your students react in different ways to the activities you do in the class? Or even why different groups react differently to the same activity?

Multiple intelligences - methodology article

Why do some students really enjoy working in groups whilst others are much more productive working alone? Why do some learners draw pictures in their vocabulary books while others seem to need to just hear a word to be able to use it themselves?

  • Types of intelligence
  • Finding your strengths
  • In the classroom
  • Linking learners to activity types
  • Conclusion


Types of intelligence
American psychologist, Howard Gardner developed a theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) which can go some way towards explaining different learner styles. According to Gardner there are eight different types of intelligences.

The eight intelligences are:

  • Linguistic - The word player
  • Logical / Mathematical - The questioner
  • Visual / Spatial - The visualiser
  • Musical - The music lover
  • Bodily / Kinaesthetic - The mover
  • Interpersonal - The socialiser
  • Intrapersonal - The loner
  • Naturalistic - The nature lover (added by Gardner at a later date)


Finding your strengths
Everyone has some of each of all the intelligences, but in different people one (or more) is more pronounced. There are questionnaires that help you to work out which of the intelligences is the most prominent one.

  • If you are interested to find out your own there are several websites and you or your students can do the test online. In my opinion, one of the best ones is: http://www.bgfl.org/bgfl/custom/resources_ftp/client_ftp/ks3/ict/multiple_int/index.htm

    The test takes five minutes to complete and then provides you with a pie chart to show how your intelligence types are distributed.

In the classroom
Now you may be wondering what all this has got to do with your classes, well, although not impossible, it would be quite a real undertaking to give all your students a test to see which of the intelligences is most prominent, and then tailor-make each of your classes to suit every individual student!

  • If you want to go some way towards achieving this and it is a viable option for you there are some examples of tests in Jane Revell and Susan Norman's books 'In your hands' and 'Handing Over' (Saffire press).
  • If time, or other factors make it impossible to do individual tests for your students, you could just try to make sure that you vary the tasks and use a range of activities so that you touch upon all the types of intelligences now and again.
  • By observing your students and making notes on how they react to different activities you may well discover, for example, that you have a class with a majority of visual learners so you may try to use more flash cards or improve your board work.


Linking learners to activity types
Below is a table of learner types and some suggested activities for each type. It is adapted from Jeremy Harmer's book The Practice of English Language Teaching but was originally taken from 'How to use Gardner's intelligences in a class program' by M Loon for the University of Canberra.

Learner type Is good at Learns best by Activities
Linguistic Reading, writing and stories Saying, hearing and seeing words Memory games
Trivia quizzes
Logical / mathematical Solving puzzles, exploring patterns, reasoning and logic Asking questions, categorising and working with patterns Puzzles
Problem solving.
Visual / Spatial Drawing, building, arts and crafts Visualising, using the mind's eye Flashcards
Project work.
Musical Singing, listening to music and playing instruments Using rhythm, with music on Using songs
Bodily / Kinaesthetic Moving around, touching things and body language Moving, touching and doing TPR activities
Action songs
Running dictations
Interpersonal Mixing with others, leading groups, understanding others and mediating Co-operating, working in groups and sharing Mingle activities
Group work
Intrapersonal Working alone and pursuing own interests Working alone Working individually on personalised projects
Naturalistic Nature Working outside and observing nature Environmental projects.

Although you can't please all the students all the time, it's just good to bear in mind that there are many different ways of learning.

  • If you try an activity with one group and it falls flat, it may well be worth trying it again as it may work really well with another set of students.
  • If you can identify the loner of the class or the one who is always up and out of his seat, try and put activities into your lesson plan that you think will suit them from time to time.
  • Finding out my own intelligence type has helped me to better understand how I learn. I now sit in my Catalan class and as we get told to copy lists of random vocabulary off the board I think to myself, 'This won't work for me - I don't learn like this. I need to see some pictures of these things, I'm a visual learner!


Further reading
The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer
How to use Gardner's intelligences in a class program by M Loon
http://www.bgfl.org/bgfl/custom/resources_ftp/client_ftp/ks3/ict/multiple_int/index.htm This site gives a clear introduction to MI theory from the Birmingham Grid For Learning group.

Jo Budden, British Council, Barcelona



Jo, thank you for such a thorough explanation about multiple intelligences.
I particularly like the bit about "finding out about my own intelligence".
The ones like us who are interested in multiple intelligences, NLP, etc., sometimes are so concentrated on our learners' learning styles and strategies that we fail to find out about ours to better understand the process of learning.
I'll put into practice your advice.
Thank you!


I really liked the way you speak about yourself. It happens the same to me, because I focus so much on my students´learning styles , that I Forget my owns! And it is so importante to know ourselves because the better we do know , the better we can understand how we prepare our classes and why we teach in a certain way. I am mainly a visual learner and it is good to know it , so that I can be more carefull in relation to how to prepare my classes and why I prepare them in certain way and indeed , it makes me more connected with my students!
I definitely agree with you!
Thanks for your message!

Teresa Padrão

Dear Jo Budden, You have really created a extremely useful blog for the English language teachers. Multiple intelligences and constructivism are almost synonymous because these days child is considered the creator of knowledge or language. An english teacher should be aware of the multiple intelligences among his/her students and design tasks to cater to the needs of all the students. Thanks a lot for your highly informative and educative blog.
yours sincerely,

A helpful article about this theory conveyed to a down-to-earth stage. We, as teachers of English, can apply this knowledge not only to work with each student according to his/her type of intelligence but also to vary the activities considered in our lesson plans.
Thank you very much for this information.
Nadia González Farias

Dear Jo Budden,
Thank you for this great article! It´s very useful and interesting for everybody, but it´s essential for us teachers as we can apply all this knowledge to improve our teaching methodologies. A teacher must understand and know students’ multiple intelligences in order to create activities that are appealing to them.
Yours sincerely,
Sílvia Estêvão, Portugal

Dear Jo Budden,
thank you so much.
I think that all teaches should bear this in mind when planning their lessons.
What our children learn and the way they learn should be significant and memorable. Being able to understand the learning styles of the children we are working with (and our own) is definitely a great step to make our results more effective.


Dear Jo Budden,

I think all teachers have an idea that they learners learn differently from one another; however, having their possible differences in learning styles explained like this it's an eye-opener. Thank you.
I think we can be better teachers if we pay attention to our learners and how they learn and try to work with them.

Célia Costa

Dear Jo Budden

I really enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing your opinion and for giving me some guidelines. I will use some strategies that you mentioned in my classes. I'm sure that it is really useful to find out the type of learners that we have, so that we can develop strategies that will enable them to be successful in their learning process.

Once again thanks.

It was really nice reading your post about multiple intelligence. I do think it helped me to understand more about how to teach different learning styles with different materials and different methods, according to the multiple intelligences of our students!
Thank you very much!

Teresa Padrão

Dear Jo,

Than you very much for your post. It really helps me reflect about my own learning style, the best way to teach my students according to their learning styles improving in what we do goo and avoid mistakes.

Thank you very much

Teresa Padrão (Portugal)

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