This page was originally authored by Jim Tattrie and Amber Van Der Mark (2008).
This page has been revised by Rachel Bronk (2009) Christine Stewart (2011) and Kat Costales (2018).
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was founded in 1983 by American psychologist and Harvard professor, Howard Gardner(1943-present). This learning theory was developed to expand the concept of intelligence from one that was calculated solely using a standard I.Q. test. Gardner believed the I.Q. test was too limiting and disregarded the extensive range of human potential (Armstrong, 2010).
There are currently eight intelligences that classify human ability. These include logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. An additional two intelligences, spiritual and existential, may eventually be included but is not yet (Woolfolk, Winne, Perry & Shapka, 2009). Children and adults have all eight intelligences, and it is common for individuals to identify with and exhibit strengths in more than one area (Armstrong, 2010). All individuals differ in their intelligence profiles, due to hereditary and environmental factors (Gardner & Hatch, 1989).
Gardner's book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), was written to contribute to the field of developmental psychology, as well as behavioural and cognitive science. Although it was not his primary intention, the book was met with considerable interest within the field of education, as he developed a multifaceted definition of intelligence. According to Gardner, intelligence is too diverse to be measured by writing a test. Rather, "intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings" (p.x Gardner, 1983).
Gardner's research on brain damage informed the development of this theory. He noticed that after a stroke, for example, some areas of the brain are affected, but others are not (Woolfolk, Winne, Perry & Shapka, 2009). Additionally, individuals may exhibit particular strength in one of the areas, but not display abilities in the others. The degree of development of each intelligence depends on an individual's education and culture (Chipongian, 2000).. Gardner established a series of criteria to define human faculties, which eventually became known as "intelligences" (Smith, 2008). Howard Gardner was interviewed by the Massachusetts School of Law regarding the development of the multiple intelligence theory.
Howard Gardner initially identified seven types of intelligences (Gardner, 1983). He classified these into:
- Intelligences generally valued in schools (Linguistic Intelligence and Logical-mathematical Intelligence)
- Intelligences associated with the arts (Musical Intelligence, Spatial Intelligence and Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence)
- Personal Intelligences (Interpersonal Intelligence and Intrapersonal Intelligence)
Since these intelligences were identified in 1983, Gardner and his colleagues have since revisited the multiple intelligences and came up with the following potential candidates for inclusion on their list (Gardner, 2003):
- Naturalist Intelligence
- Spiritual Intelligence
- Existential Intelligence
- Moral Intelligence
Of these, it was decided that Naturalist Intelligence should be included alongside the original seven.
Presently, the following eight intelligences are accepted as representing Gardner's Multiple Intelligences:
- Linguistic Intelligence
- Logical-mathematical Intelligence
- Spatial Intelligence
- Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence
- Musical Intelligence
- Interpersonal Intelligence
- Intrapersonal Intelligence
- Naturalist Intelligence
Gardner's Notable Works Relating to Multiple Intelligences
- Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1983)
- The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach (1991)
- Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993)
- Intelligence: Multiple Perspectives - Orlando: Harcourt, 1996.
- Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century - New York: Basic Books, 1999
- Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years, 2003. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois, April 21, 2003. 
The Multiple Intelligences
Linguistic Intelligence ("Word Smart")
- Keywords: read, write, talk, listen, memorize, focus
- Description: Linguistic Intelligence allows students to communicate and make sense of the world through language. Students who enjoy playing with rhymes, who always have a story to tell and who quickly acquire other languages all exhibit linguistic intelligence. Students often think in words and learn well by listening to others speak, by reading, writing, and verbalizing.
- Given the opportunity to hear, see, and say words associated with desired outcomes, these students will readily learn practically anything of interest to them.
Favourite Activity in School: English and Social Studies.
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: Creative Writing; Reading; Journal Writing; Biographies; Interviews; Reports; Debates; Literature Circles.
Possible Career Paths: Poet, Journalist, Historian, Author, Teacher, Lawyer
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence ("Number/Reasoning Smart")
- Keywords: quantify, think, reason, solve, conceptualize
- Description: Logical-Mathematical Intelligence enables students to use and appreciate abstract relations. Students who carefully analyze the components of problems (either personal or school-related) before systematically testing solutions are using their Logical-mathematical Intelligence. Students possessing this intelligence type as a strength can easily use categorization, classification, inference, generalization, and calculation. They are natural critical thinkers, and adeptly handle long chains of reasoning.
- These students learn best when provided with opportunities to classify, categorize, work with abstractions and to experiment. They like to figure things out by asking questions, exploring and finding the order and logic in the content to be learned.
Favourite Activity in School: Math and Science.
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: Calculations; Numbers; Scientific Thinking; Sequencing; Logical Problems; Puzzles, Video Games
Educational Technology Tools: Databases; Spreadsheets; Mind Maps; Timeline Software.
Possible Career Paths: Scientist, Mathematician, Philosopher, Engineer, Accountant
Spatial Intelligence ("Image Smart")
- Keywords: see, draw, visualize, mind-map, create, design.
- Description: Students with strong Spatial Intelligence are able to transform information learned and to recreate visual images from memory. Students who turn first to the graphs, charts, and pictures in their textbooks, who like to "web" their ideas before writing a paper, and who fill the blank space around their notes with intricate patterns are using their spatial intelligence.
- Students with spatial intelligence absorb information best through visualizing, using the "mind's eye", and by manipulating and working with pictures and images.
Favourite Activity in School: Visual Arts Class
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: Guided Imagery; Collages; Cartooning; Designing; Illustrating; Graphing; Sculpting.
Educational Technology Tools: Picture Editing Software; Glogster; Prezi; Digital Cameras; Video Cameras.
Possible Career Paths: Architect, Sculpture, Engineer, Interior Designer.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence ("Body Smart")
- Keywords: build, act, touch, move.
- Description: Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence allows students to use all or part of the body to create products or solve problems. Students who excel in PE classes, dance classes and on sports teams; who prefer to carry out class projects by making models rather than writing reports, and who toss crumbled paper with frequency and accuracy into waste baskets across the room demonstrate a great use of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Students with this type of intelligence process knowledge through their bodily sensations and learn best by touching, manipulating, and moving. They often will have a natural sense of how their body should/would react in demanding physical situations. Students with this type of intelligence learn best when provided with a kinetic component, where the learner can interact with space in some way to help them process and remember the new information through their body.
Favourite Activity in School: Physical Education, Daily Physical Activity, Recess.
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: Dancing; Acting; Drama; Role Playing; Inventing; Physical Gestures; Performing; Using Manipulatives.
Possible Career Paths: Athlete, Surgeon, Dancer, Choreographer, Carpenter, Firefighter
Musical Intelligence ("Music Smart")
- Keywords: sing, play.
- Description: Musical Intelligence allows students to create, communicate, and understand meanings made out of sound. Students who seem particularly attracted by birds singing outside the classroom window or who constantly tap out intricate rhythms on the desk with their pencils demonstrate musical intelligence. Students who have a well developed musical intelligence excel at remembering melodies, noticing the rhythms of life, and usually keep perfect time. They are hummers of tunes, singers of songs, most likely play an instrument, and often listen to music. Students with musical intelligence learn best by listening to melodies, writing musical notations, or by using rhythm to help them master new concepts.
Favourite Activity in School: Music
Targeted Educational Interests/Strategies: Chants; Music; Singing; Rhythmic Patterns; Humming; Instrumental Sounds.
Educational Technology Tools: Interactive Books; Song Stories; Tone Matrix; Garage Band; Audacity; Video and Audio Recordings; Synthesizing Software.
Possible Career Paths: Composer, Instrumentalist, Musician, Singer.
Interpersonal Intelligence ("People Smart")
- Keywords: interaction, cooperative learning, social, understanding.
- Description: Interpersonal Intelligence enables students to recognize and make distinctions about others' feelings and intentions. Students exhibit this intelligence when they thrive on small group work, when they notice and react to the moods of their friends and classmates, and when they tactfully convince the teacher of their need for extra time to complete the homework assignment. They are often natural leaders, and take others "under their wing". They are almost always with a group of people and have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. They like to talk with others, to teach others, and to organize, mediate and communicate in group activities. They generally understand people and instinctively know how to work with them. Students with this type of intelligence will learn best when given the opportunity to interview others, share ideas, and to cooperate and collaborate to complete any task.
Targeted Educational Interests/Strategies: Feedback; Co-operative Groups; Discussions; Group Projects; Teamwork; Interviews; Team Assessment.
Favourite Activity in School: Group Work, Open Learning Centres, Recess.
Possible Career Paths: Teacher, Journalist, Politician, Psychologist, Salesperson., Counsellor, Therapist.'
Intrapersonal Intelligence ("Self Smart")
- Keywords: independent, reflective
- Description: Intrapersonal Intelligence helps students to distinguish among their own feelings, to build accurate mental models of themselves, and to draw on these models to make decisions about their lives.
- Although it is difficult to assess who has this capacity and to what degree, evidence can be found in students' uses of their other intelligences; how well they seem to be capitalizing on their strengths, how aware they are of their weaknesses, and how thoughtful they are about the decisions and choices they make. These types of students have the ability to reflect on internal states, have a good meta-cognitive awareness, good concentration, higher order reasoning, and an awareness of personal feelings.
- Students with a well developed intrapersonal intelligence have an accurate picture of their inner self - their strengths and weaknesses, their inner moods, goals, intentions, motivations, temperament, beliefs, and desires. They have the capacity to cultivate a great self - discipline, self-understanding, and high self-esteem. They seem to be self-motivating, need their own quiet space to work in, and "march to the beat of a different drummer" (usually their own). These learners take in knowledge more easily through independent study and self-paced instruction. They absorb new information best when involved in individual projects.
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: Reflection; Autobiography; Focusing; Goal Setting; Higher Order Reasoning; Awareness of Personal Feelings.
Favourite Activity in School: Individual Work Time, Journal Writing, Quiet Time.
Possible Career Paths: Independent Work, Philosopher, Professor, Researcher.
Naturalist Intelligence ("Nature Smart")
- Keywords: spiritual.
- Description: Naturalist Intelligence allows people to distinguish among, classify, and use features of the environment. Students that exhibit this form of intelligence can name and describe the features of every make of car around them. They find it easy to categorize plant names and recognize animals.
Target Educational Interests/Strategies: History; Philosophy; Religion; Botany; Geology; hands-on field work.
Favourite Activity in School: Science, Nature Walks, Outdoor Play Time.
Educational Technology Tools: Digital Cameras; Google Earth.
Possible Career Paths: Farmer, Gardener, Botanist, Geologist, Florist, Archaeologist, Biologist, Astronomer, Veterinarian.
"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place." - Margaret Mead
Multiple intelligence theory can be applied to any educational setting, from early childhood to adult education. Educators who design learning environments inclusive of the multiple intelligences are cognizant of the various abilities and faculties students bring to the classroom. This framework personalizes learning and allows students to learn and demonstrate their knowledge in a way that aligns with their strongest intelligences and unique ways of learning. It also provides a reference point for teachers to present material using a variety of approaches, allowing more students to develop a deeper understanding of concepts (Multiple Intelligence Institute, 2011).. Traditionally, schools have focused on the linguistic and logical intelligences, so by including the additional six, students will receive a balanced and well-rounded education. There are various ways to address the multiple intelligences, including tapping into the potential educational technology has to teach 21st century skills to 21st century learners.
Teachers can administer multiple intelligence surveys that identify students' areas of strength. Identifying how learners process information informs the teacher's practice, from planning and teaching to assessing. This Multiple Intelligence Quiz from the Birmingham Grid for Learning (2011) aims to identify an individual's dominant intelligences. While this is a useful snapshot, teachers need to be mindful of labeling students, as the distribution of intelligences in individuals can shift overtime with experience (Chipongian, 2000)..
Dr. Thomas Armstrong, is an educator with over 35 years of teaching experience from primary to doctoral levels, and has won multiple awards for speaking engagements and authoring books that focus on learning and human development. In these videos, he talks about effective implementation of multiple intelligences in classroom instruction.
There are various books available that were published to help teachers effectively implement multiple intelligences into their teaching practice. Here is a short list:
- Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, by Thomas R. Hoerr
- Eight Ways of Knowing: Teaching for Multiple Intelligences, by David Lazear
- Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardner
- Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, by Howard Gardner
- Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, by Thomas Armstrong
- Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences, by Linda and Bruce Campbell and Dee Dickinson
Misuses and Applications
Misuses and Applications of Multiple Intelligences Theory (Woolfolk, Winne, Perry & Shapka, 2009)
Many educators have embraced this theory to differentiate instruction and to reach all learners, however sometimes the theory is misused by simplistic application. Gardner has identified positive and negative applications of his theory, outlined below.
1. Trying to teach all concepts or subjects using all intelligences: "There is no point in assuming that every subject can be effectively approached in at least seven ways, and it is a waste of effort and time to attempt to do this."
2. Assuming that it is enough just to apply certain intelligences, no matter how you use it: For bodily kinesthetic intelligence, for example, "random muscle movements have nothing to do with the cultivation of the mind."
3. Using an intelligence as a background for other activities, such as playing music while students solve math problems. "The music's function is unlikely to be different from that of a dripping faucet or humming fan."
4. Mixing intelligences with other desirable qualities: For example, interpersonal intelligence "is often distorted as a license for cooperative learning," and intrapersonal intelligence "is often distorted as a rationale for self-esteem programs."
5. Direct evaluation or even grading of intelligences without regard for context: "I see little point in grading individuals in terms of how 'linguistic' or how 'bodily-kinesthetic' they are."
1. The cultivation of desired capabilities: "Schools should cultivate those skills and capabilities that are valued in the community and in the broader society."
2. Approaching a concept, subject matter, discipline in a variety of ways: Schools try to cover too much. "It makes far more sense to spend a significant amount of time on key concepts, generative ideas, and essential questions and to allow students to become familiar with these notions and their implications."
3. The personalization of education: "The heart of the MI perspective--in theory and in practice--inheres in taking human difference seriously."
Original Source: Gardner, H. (1998). Reflection on multiple intelligences: Myths and messages.
Stop Motion Video
Multiple Intelligences by Brittany Reid https://youtu.be/RsvRVMsq26Q
BGFL (2011). Birmingham grid for learning - Multiple intelligences (secondary). Retrieved February 19, 2011 from
Brualdi, A. (1996). Multiple intelligences: gardner's theory. "Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation," 5(10), 1-3. Retrieved from http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=5&n=10
Chipongian, L. (2000). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://brainconnection.positscience.com/topics/?main=fa/mult-intelligence-class
Dr. Thomas Armstrong (2010). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.php
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4-9.
Gardner, H. (2003). MI after twenty years. Retrieved from http://www.howardgardner.com/Papers/documents/MI%20After%2020_Feb-03_HG.pdf
Multiple Intelligence Institute. (2011). MI Theory to Practice. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://www.miinstitute.info/show/resources_7.html
Nolan, J.L. (2003). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. "Education," 142(1), 115-119.
Smith, M. (2008). Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and education. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm.
Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., Perry, N. & Shapka, J. (2007). Educational Psychology. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.