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Starting with multiple intelligences
– activities for foreign language teachers

by Rolf Palmberg

In 1983, Howard Gardner, the creator of the Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory, suggested that all individuals have personal intelligence profiles that consist of combinations of seven different intelligence types. These intelligences were verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (Gardner 1983, 1993). In 1997 Gardner added an eighth intelligence type to the list, naturalist intelligence, followed by a ninth type two years later, existentialist intelligence (Gardner 1999). To the best of my knowledge, Gardner's MI Theory was first applied exclusively to foreign-language teaching by Michael Berman in his 1998 book A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom.

Inspired by Rosie Tanner’s two papers on Howard Gardner’s MI Theory and how to apply them in foreign-language teaching (Tanner 2001a, 2001b), I decided to expand her suggestions into an eight-step activity plan for teachers who are familiar with Gardner’s MI Theory in general but do not know exactly how and where to start.

Step One

Identify your own intelligence profile. There are several questionnaires available, one of the most comprehensive ones being Walter McKenzie’s survey published on the internet (McKenzie 1999). Another fairly comprehensive one (specifically aimed at language teachers) is the one by Rosie Tanner (2001a).

Step Two

Identify your learners’ intelligence profiles. Again, there are several questionnaires to be found for this purpose, e.g. the one in Berman (1998). Another way of identifying learners’ intelligence profiles is through observation, using e.g. Thomas Armstrong’s checklist which is available on the internet (Armstrong 2000).

Step Three

Study the list of activities (methods of work, types of practice, classroom techniques) presented in Berman’s book (1998) and try to categorise them according to the intelligence they cater for. Which of them are best suitable for foreign-language teaching in general and which are best suitable for your learners in particular?

Step Four

Study the language-skills activities chart suggested by Tanner (2001b). Select one of the four language skills (e.g. reading) and cut out the list of suggestions made for that particular language skill for each of the eight different intelligences contained in the chart. Next, prepare a similar list of activities for each intelligence, but this time concentrating on another language skill (e.g. listening). When you have finished, compare your list of activities with Tanner’s list of suggested activities.

Step Five

Examine some foreign-language teaching workbooks. Try to identify a number of typical exercises or activities for each of the nine intelligences. How many can you find that cater for five or six different intelligences at the same time? Are there specific intelligences that are often linked to one another, or, to put it differently, are there specific intelligences that can often be catered for through a single type of exercise or activity?

Step Six

Reflect on your most recent foreign-language lesson. Assuming that you had to do the same lesson again, this time with a class consisting of, say, only bodily-kinaesthetic learners, what would you do differently? Why?

Step Seven

Select a teaching topic for a specific learner group. Write down the topic on a large sheet of paper and draw a circle around the word. Make notes of all tasks, texts, exercises, methods of work, aids, activities, songs etc. that relate to the given topic and that you come to think of. Do not mind if they appear unrealistic or impracticable. Next, arrange your ideas according to the intelligence you think they cater for the best. (If you are a spatial learner yourself, you might want to draw nine new circles around the central circle and draw lines from the central circle to each of the new circles. Label the new circles according to each intelligence, and write down your ideas into the appropriate circles; idea based on Armstrong 1999).

Now take an overall look at your sheet of paper. Are there activities that can be combined? Are there activities that can be modified to fulfil the teaching objectives more efficiently? Are there activities that for some reason do not seem suitable for the present context? Next, rearrange the remaining, possibly modified ideas and activities into a logical order (from old to new; from easy to more difficult).

Step Eight

Plan a new language lesson the way you normally do, using, if applicable, the ideas you came up with during Step Eight. Then answer the following questions (modified from Nicholson-Nelson 1998) and make adjustments into your lesson plan wherever necassary:

(a) Have you provided the learners with opportunities to speak, listen, read and write?
(b) Have you included numbers, calculations and/or activities requiring critical thinking?
(c) Have you included pictures, graphs and/or art?
(d) Have you included activities involving movement?
(e) Have you included music and/or rhythms?
(f) Have you included pair work and/or group work?
(g) Have you provided the learners with private learning time and/or time for reflexion?
(h) Have you included categorisation tasks and/or arranging exercises?
(i) Have you helped the learners consider the topic/theme/grammar point(s) of today’s lesson in relation to a larger context?


Armstrong, T. 1999. 7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences. New York: Plume Books.

Berman, M. 1998. A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. [A new edition of the book is in press.]

Gardner, H. 1983. Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. 1993. Multiple intelligences. The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. 1999. Intelligence Reframed. Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

McKenzie, W. 1999. Multiple Intelligences Survey.

Nicholson-Nelson, K. 1998. Developing Students’ Multiple Intelligences. New York: Scholastic Professional Books.

Tanner, R. 2001a. ”MI and you”. English Teaching professional 21 (pp. 57-58).

Tanner, R. 2001b. ”Teaching intelligently”. English Teaching professional 20 (pp. 40-41).


Rolf Palmberg is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education at Åbo Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland, where he has taught EFL methodology since 1979. His publications comprise a number of books and papers mainly in the fields of applied linguistics and EFL methodology.
He is also the author of a range of CALL programs and Java applets, available at: His non-academic interests include geographical enclaves and tripoints.

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