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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

October 10, 2001

How Are Your Students Smart?

by Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto & Karen Frazier-Tsai


KidsWhat is intelligence? What does it mean to be smart? The traditional view of intelligence is that it is something we are born with, you can't change it, and that tests exist that can tell us how smart we are. The theory of multiple intelligences challenges this view. Research by Howard Gardner of Harvard University suggests that we all have several intelligences. He has so far identified eight distinct types of intelligence that we all possess to some degree. We don't have the same strength in each intelligence area, and we don't have the same combination of intelligences. The idea is that our minds are just as distinct and individual as our personalities.

How are you smart? How are your students smart?

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
Students who are "word-smart" are good with words and language. They love to read, write, and use words in games, puzzles and stories. They learn best by reading, listening, speaking and writing.

Math-Logic Intelligence
Students who are "number-smart" are able to reason deductively or inductively. They recognize patterns and relationships, and are usually good problem-solvers and questioners. They learn best by putting new information into patterns or relationships, or by putting it into a mathematical context.

Most tests are heavily weighted toward these first two intelligences. Students who are successful in the school system and who do well on tests are probably strong in verbal or logical intelligence. A few tests measure spatial intelligence, but to a much lesser degree. For the most part, it's a verbal, logical world in which our students compete.

Spatial Intelligence
Spatially intelligent students are "picture-smart." They enjoy working with maps, diagrams, mazes and puzzles. They learn best if new information is presented in the form of a picture, either a physical picture they can look at, or a mental picture they can visualize, and by drawing.

Musical Intelligence
Students who are "music-smart" are good at remembering songs, and hearing the underlying rhythm of language. They learn best if new information is presented in the context of a chant or song.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
"Body-smart" students are good at athletics or activities requiring coordination. They are also often good at using their bodies to communicate non-verbally. They learn best through body movement.

Interpersonal Intelligence
Students who are "people-smart" understand people. They work well in pairs and groups and tend to be leaders who are good at organizing, communicating and negotiating. They learn best by sharing and discussing new information with others.

Intrapersonal Intelligence
"Self-smart" students know themselves. They know their own strengths and weaknesses, have a strong sense of self and work well alone. They often set goals for themselves. These students learn best by thinking through new information on their own, at their own pace.

Naturalist Intelligence
"Nature-smart" students understand how nature works. They often recognize and can name different plants, animals or rocks. This is the most recently identified intelligence, and its analysis is far from complete. However, it appears that this may also be the intelligence that allows us to classify cultural artifacts, like cars, or shoes, or trendy fashions. Nature-smart students may learn best if new information is presented in a nature context, or if they are allowed to compare and contrast the information with what they have already learned.

What does Multiple Intelligence Theory mean for us as teachers of children?

The idea that there are different ways of being smart reaffirms what we as teachers have always sensed--that our students are each uniquely gifted with intelligence. Some may need help with math homework while others struggle with reading. If we treat all children the same, then we tend cater to just one type of intelligence, usually verbal-linguistic. Some children learn language better if they can sing it or attach gestures to it. We can improve our lessons by using an understanding of intelligences to identify our students' strengths and weaknesses, and to consciously plan lessons designed to incorporate as many of the intelligences as possible.

That's not to say we should allow ourselves to use multiple intelligence theory to label our students. This limits their potential as much as measuring them all with one standard of intelligence. There is also a risk that if we see that a student as "music-smart" we might not expect much from him or her during lessons taught toward the other intelligences. However, all of the intelligences can be strengthened with practice. If we teach to all of the intelligences, students will have a chance to learn in the way that they are smartest, and strengthen their weaker areas. The end result is more intelligent students, better equipped to succeed in a complex world.

How can we use what we know about multiple intelligences to improve our teaching?

We can use our knowledge of the eight types of intelligence as effective tools in planning our lessons. By including activities to reach different intelligences, we can be sure that our lessons are balanced, and that all of our students have an equal chance to master new language. This doesn't mean that every language item needs to be taught seven or eight ways. It's enough to remember that language can be taught in more than one way. There are things that our students need to know in order to be successful speakers and readers and writers and listeners of English, and we have to be imaginative and persistent in helping them understand these things better.

To help you evaluate your own lesson plans, here is a brief breakdown of how some frequently used types of classroom activities fit into a scheme of multiple intelligences. (These activities are all from the Let's Go Teacher's Book.)

Verbal-Linguistic activities
These include activities where children play with words, or respond to words, or do something with language. Examples include Bingo, Concentration, Scramble, Slap, Baseball, and word games like I See Something.

Math-Logic activities
These include activities where children have to find patterns or relationships, or use their reasoning skills to solve a puzzle. Examples include Charades, Guessing games like Guess the Word or Guess What I'm Saying, Living Sentences (or other activities where students put items in order), puzzles, and fill-in-the-blank activities.

Spatial activities
These include activities where children are able to draw, or use their imaginations, or treat letters or words as pictures. Examples include Find the Match, finding and underlining all instances of a specific word (or letter) in some text, Picture Game (or other drawing games), Picasso, and Back-to-Back Picture activities.

Body-Kinesthetic activities
These include activities where children are able to move their bodies. Examples include board races, Charades, Scramble, Slap, Baseball, Do as I Say, Please, Robot Game, Command Chains or Lines, rhythm games, relay races, and team games. This would also include activities where we ask children to attach gestures to verbs and other vocabulary in order to help them remember.

Music activities
These include activities that are musical, or rhythmic, or activities that include music in the background. Examples include Walk and Talk, Hot Potato, songs, chants and rhythm games.

Interpersonal activities
These include activities where students work in pairs or groups. Examples include Walk and Talk, Conversation lines, Step Away lines, Find Your Partner, Command Chains or Lines, and roleplays.

Intrapersonal activities
These include activities where students work alone. Examples include workbook activities, and exercises in which students personalize their answers. This would also include times where we allow students some silent time in class as they internalize new language.

Naturalist activities
These include activities that involve nature as a theme, as in reading passages or thematic units, and also activities that involve classifying and categorizing language. Examples include activities like identifying which object or letter is the same or different, or deciding which item comes next in a series, grouping words in various categories (such as use, or part of speech, or beginning sound, etc.).

Many of the activities mentioned above actually overlap in several different areas of intelligence. Therefore, when you use them in your classes, several types of intelligences can be strengthened through one activity. For example, Find Your Partner activities, where students are using picture cards to make a match and then have a conversation, let students practice language using interpersonal, spatial, body-kinesthetic, and verbal intelligences because they are looking at pictures, moving around the room, and are talking to each other using the language they've learned. Another activity that strengthens several intelligences is a picture game in which students must guess what another student has drawn. This activity emphasizes spatial, interpersonal, math-logic, and verbal intelligences.


By considering what we know about multiple intelligences when we plan our lessons, we can encourage our students to practice using language in a number of different ways. If we vary the types of activities we use we will be better able to reach all the distinct and different minds in our classes.

Multiple Intelligence Theory is a work in progress and our understanding of it and its applications for the classroom is likely to evolve as the theory matures. Just as there is no one intelligence against which to measure our students, there's no one right way to implement Multiple Intelligence Theory in our lessons. It is however, very important that we take individual differences among our students very seriously. We need to get to know students as individuals, and do our best to design lessons to teach to their different intelligences, and to help them to use and strengthen their other intelligences as well.

Want to find out more about Multiple Intelligence? Here are some resources we recommend:

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. 1993.
This is the primary resource that all other MI books and sites have developed from.

Kristen Nicholson-Nelson. Developing Students Multiple Intelligences. 1998.
A really clear application of MI to elementary school classes.

Web resources:
21st Century Schoolhouse
In addition to useful links, there are a lot of good activity ideas for the different intelligences.

Although most of these literacy ideas are geared toward adult education literacy classes, I found quite a few that would be appropriate for children's literacy in EFL, also. - Teachers Professional Resources
This section of the Scholastic site is a treasure box of teacher resources. In particular, an assessment article by Nicholson-Nelson, Let 100 Flowers Bloom, includes some wonderful MI literacy ideas for children classes.

Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto came to Japan in 1985 with a teaching certificate in English, a Masters in TESL and an idea that teaching English in Japan for a couple of years would be a fun adventure. Fifteen years later, she is still here, enjoying working with Japanese children and their teachers. Barbara frequently contributes articles to the the JALT Teaching Children SIG Newsletter and the Association for Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ) Journal, and is co-author of Let's Go, the most popular children's course in Asia.

Karen Frazier-Tsai

Karen Frazier-Tsai has conducted numerous teacher-training seminars and workshops throughout Asia, and has taught and advised students in both U.S and Taiwan. She is currently working for an American elementary school as the liaison for the Japanese bilingual program. She is a co-author of the new, Let's Go Second Edition.

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