How to Use Multiple Intelligences
to Reach Every Child

Part one in a three-part series on MI

You already know that some students respond well to visual cues and others need verbal instructions to help them understand assignments. Building on these natural learning tendencies, called multiple intelligences, can make a big difference in helping your students learn. How?

Multiple intelligences theory is a way of identifying the natural strengths or styles of learning (intelligences) each one of us possesses. Intelligences shape the way we understand, process, and use information. According to Harvard educational theorist Howard Gardner, people have at least eight relatively independent forms of intelligence. To help you pinpoint your students' areas of strength, here are some brief descriptions of each different intelligence:

Logical/mathematical (analytical, concept-oriented)
Visual/spatial (image, picture-oriented)
Naturalist (enjoys organizing natural patterns)
Bodily/kinesthetic (excels at physical movement, both gross and fine motor)
Musical/rhythmic (oriented to tonal and rhythmic patterns)
Interpersonal (good person-to-person skills)
Intrapersonal (inner-directed, reflective)
Verbal/linguistic (oriented to words, language)

How multiple intelligences can work for you

All of us are strong in some intelligences and not as strong in others. Knowing a student's individual strengths will allow you to customize materials to match his or her natural aptitudes and interests.

Traditionally, two intelligences – logical/mathematical and verbal/linguistic – have been most emphasized in classroom curricula. To reach learners with strengths in other "nontraditional" areas takes some time and effort, but all students will benefit in the end.

Learning is more fun and productive when classroom activities and materials better match students' learning styles. Following are some tips to help you create lesson plans and activities to support students in the ways that they learn best.

Logical/mathematical: Enjoys working with numbers, doing experiments

Teaching tip: Use "science thinking": Ask students to identify scientific principles in areas other than science.
Fun activity (grades 4-6): Find three random things (e.g., a blade of grass, the word long, and the process of jumping) and ask your students to invent an object that uses all three things.
Fun activity (grades 6-8): Ask students to reinvent or improve upon the designs of everyday objects.

Visual/spatial: Enjoys drawing and painting

Teaching tip: Use colors as visual cues: Use a variety of colors of chalk and markers when writing in front of the class. Students can use different colored markers to "color code" materials they are studying.
Fun activity (grades 4-6): Draw an unusual shape and have each student include it in a drawing of his or her own.
Fun activity (grades 6-8): Play drawing games such as Pictionary or Win, Lose or Draw. Have students make rapid drawings to capture key points being discussed in a class lesson.

Naturalist: Enjoys studying things in nature, such as rocks, dinosaurs, insects, plants

Teaching tip: Noticing patterns: Encourage students to form their own systems for sorting and categorizing information.
Fun activity (grades 4-6): Show pictures of various animals or plants and ask students to figure out what they have in common.
Fun activity (grades 6-8): Given certain basic guiding principles, ask students to describe an animal, ecosystem, or other natural entity. To stimulate creativity, the entity need not exist at present, but should be theoretically imaginable.

Bodily/kinesthetic: Enjoys dancing, crafts, or sports
Teaching tip: Classroom theater: Students can act out the material to be learned through role playing.
Fun activity (grades 4-6): Ask students what they like to eat for lunch, and have them act out the answers in a game of charades.
Fun activity (grades 6-8): Use the human body as a "map" for learning new information in different subjects. In geography, for example, the body might represent Europe. If the head is Scandanavia, then where is Italy?

Dr. Tracy Heibeck, a specialist on learning on the Web, is a child psychologist who has been an instructor at Harvard Medical School for over a decade. She holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Stanford University.

Multiple Intelligences Overview
Maximize Student Potential with Multiple Intelligences
Use Multiple Intelligences to Enhance Self-Esteem

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