Using Multiple Intelligences in the Young Learners’ Classroom

ID-10053661                       (Image courtesy of

Today we’d like to talk about the “many ways to learn” that are available to us through the theory of Multiple Intelligences (what we will refer to as MI).

This theory was proposed by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University in 1983.  Dr. Gardner proposed that there was not just ONE intelligence that we could measure in people, but MANY.

Later, Dr. Thomas Armstrong took this theory and made it even more practical for teachers of children by creating the following MI Pizza! (We’ve adapted it from the original.)  He referred to each intelligence as a way of being “smart.”

MIPizzaEach student learns in different ways.  Some learn best through words, as in the Word Smart category above.  Other students learn best through visual support such as pictures and photos.  Some learn well through music, while others learn best by moving.

Of course, it is difficult for us to know how each of our students learn best.  Therefore, the best way to approach MI in the classroom is to provide as many ways to learn as possible in each of our lessons.  Here are some guidelines to consider as you plan tomorrow’s lesson, based on the MI Pizza shown above:

1.  Word Smart:  Are you providing strong Word support?  Write words on the board, even if students are pre-readers.  When you speak the words, say them slowly, quickly, or with different voices and emotions.  Play with words!  Use poems, tongue twisters, onomatopoeia (words formed from actual sounds, such as “bark,” “clap,” “giggle,” “splash,” “whisper,” and many others), and alliteration  (such as “skipping skeletons,” “blue bouncing balls,” or “Walter is washing windows.”)

2.  Picture Smart:  Are you providing a lot of visual support for the language you are teaching?  Most children are strong visual learners, so illustrations and photos are important for comprehension and retention of language.  In addition, when you write letters or words, draw close borders around them so that students become aware of their shapes.  Picture books and art activities are also an important part of every lesson.

3.  Logic Smart:  Patterns are important for learning.  Find ways to present language in patterns to tap into a child’s sense of logic.  Many chants and songs use patterns.  So do “pattern predictable” books that repeat words, phrases, and language in fun ways.  Give students opportunities to solve word problems or puzzles that use logic.

4.  Nature Smart:  This type of intelligence is also logical, finding similarities and differences in the world around us.  Look for opportunities to “classify” and “categorize” vocabulary.  For example, have students put food words into groups such as fruits and vegetables. You can also put some words in chronological, or “time” order, such as a butterfly’s life cycle:  egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.  Thinking logically helps students learn better.

5.  Music Smart:  There is more and more research being done about the power of music to help learning.  Young learners are natural singers, so bring music into every lesson.  Songs and chants help students to learn and remember target vocabulary and phrases.  The steady beat in music helps students develop fluency and proper intonation.  Use musical sounds such as “snap,” “clap,” “pat,” and “stamp,” as you chant with children.  In addition, use transitional songs to help children move quickly from one activity to another (see our blog post below about transitional songs).

6.  Body Smart:  Closely tied in with music is “movement.”  Children love to move, and in fact they learn better by moving.  For example, making letter shapes with their fingers, their arms, their whole body, and together with friends can help students remember those letters better.  Moving to commands (Total Physical Response) helps students learn a variety of action verbs.  Add movement to the songs and chants you use in the classroom.  Any opportunity to move will bring greater learning and motivation into your classroom.

7.  People Smart:  Children are social beings.  A language classroom should be a place where children interact using English in a variety of ways.  Songs, chants, and activities can be done first with the entire class, then with small groups, then with partners.  Non-competitive games, folk dances, and role plays all help students to learn and achieve goals together.

8.  Self Smart:  Finally, give your students a chance to personalize their learning through creative activities such as individual art projects that use the target language.  Give individual students opportunities to think of their own ways to make letter shapes or move to action verbs.  By personalizing what they have learned, students make English a lasting part of their lives.

These eight “ways of learning” can and should be combined as often as possible in your lessons.  Very often, the best and most successful activities bring all of these “ways of learning” together in one event.  In future blog posts, we’ll give you some examples of these activities and how you can use them effectively.  Until then, keep a copy of the MI Pizza in your lesson planner, reminding you to bring many ways to learn into each and every lesson.

Happy Teaching!   Chuck and Kathy

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