Lau, J., & Jacobs, G. M. (2002). I am smart: Applying the theory of multiple intelligences to English language teaching. Teaching English Language and Literature, 18(2), 27-31.


Janilane Lau, Mayflower Primary School, and George Jacobs, consultant to Mayflower Primary School,


I Am Smart: Applying the Theory of Multiple Intelligences to

English Language Teaching


By now, most teachers in Singapore have heard the term multiple intelligences and some of us have attended courses and workshops about it. In this article, we (the authors) will describe how a group of Primary 3 teachers worked together to use the concept of multiple intelligences (MI) to expand our teaching. But first, here’s a bit of background on MI. Those of you already familiar with MI may wish to skip this section.


What Is Multiple Intelligences?


Two key points to understand about MI are:


·        Traditionally, intelligence was thought of as the single score that a person received on an IQ test. There was just one type of intelligence. MI theory says that, instead, there are many different ways to be smart. Thus, the name, multiple intelligences. The person most associated with MI is Howard Gardner who in 1983 published a book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.


·        Traditionally, intelligence was thought of a fixed. If children’s IQ was measured at age 6, whatever their score at that time would be their IQ level the rest of their lives. MI theory says that we can progress in all the intelligences throughout our lives.


MI fits well with current trends in education in Singapore and around the world. A key trend is towards recognising individual differences. Previously, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching was used. Students who did not learn well in this one way, were sieved out. That approach may have been okay in societies that did not value active thinking by all citizens, but today, we emphasise lifelong learning and see every citizen as a precious intellectual resource. No one can be neglected. Thus, we educationists strive to broaden instruction, so that all students can succeed and so that everyone can develop to their full potential as well-rounded members of society.


Further, educationists today recognise the value of diversity. Rather than trying to get all students to fit a standard mould, we value different perspectives and hope students will see diversity as a resource instead of as an impediment. By combining our strengths, we can better achieve our common goals.


What Are the Intelligences?


Based on a list of criteria, currently Gardner has identified eight intelligences, although this is not seen as a complete list. Each intelligence carries with it different perspectives on the world. Below is a brief description of each.


·        Verbal-linguistic (Word Smart) – Thinking in words; learning through reading, writing, listening and talking.

·        Logical-mathematical (Math-Logic Smart) – Thinking in numbers and patterns; learning through problem-solving, symbols and analysis.

·        Visual-spatial (Art-Space Smart) – Thinking in pictures and images; learning through visualising, drawing and creating graphic organisers, such as mind maps and tables.

·        Musical-rhythmic (Music Smart) – Thinking in rhythm, lyrics and melody; learning through music, chants and poetry and the words that accompany them.

·        Bodily-kinaesthetic (Movement Smart) – Using the whole body or parts of the body to solve problems, make things and demonstrate ideas; learning through hands-on activities and role play.

·        Naturalist (Nature Smart) – Being aware of and interested in nature and patterns in nature; learning by classifying and observing nature and other phenomena.

·        Intrapersonal (Self Smart) - Feeling comfortable with oneself and understanding oneself; learning by taking time to reflect and consider the relevance of ideas for oneself.

·        Interpersonal (People Smart) – Understanding and respecting others; learning by discussing, explaining, asking and debating with others.


MI helps us broaden good teaching into excellent teaching. It’s not about making a big change in how teaching is done, especially for primary school teachers, because we have always used a wide range of ways to teaching. Indeed, MI is not new. Many teachers were teaching via a range of intelligences before they ever heard of MI and even before the concept of multiple intelligences was developed.


Although in some ways MI is not new, MI theory does assist us in at least four ways:


·        MI theory provides us with theoretical support for adding variety to our teaching.


·        MI theory reminds us of the importance of teaching in a variety of ways.


·        Since the appearance of MI theory, many useful ideas and techniques have been developed for teaching via MI.


·        MI theory has encouraged ministries of education and similar bodies all over the world to support and expand on what teachers have been doing for years in teaching concepts in a variety of ways.


A Learning Circle on Multiple Intelligence


Learning Circles (LCs) are nothing new among teachers at Mayflower Primary School and many other schools. LCs are groups of teachers who meet regularly for professional self-development. At Mayflower, LCs normally consist of teachers from the same level, and the LC is part of the agenda of our fortnightly level meetings. During the LC, we share experiences, information and skills, seek to iron out problems and make plans.


This MI LC began after an in-school workshop on the use of  MI. We, the Pr 3 teachers, decided to come together to further familiarise ourselves with this strategy in order to enhance learning through the use of MI. We knew that when we attend a workshop, no matter how good the workshop is, ideas often tend to get lost amidst the hectic pace of school. LCs provide a way to set aside a guaranteed period of time to put the workshop ideas into practice. Further, LCs provide positive peer pressure to try things out in our classrooms in order to report our experiences at the next LC meeting.


MI is appropriate to the teaching of any subject area, but we decided to focus on English and Mathematics lessons. Here’s the process we followed:


1.      Choose an upcoming lesson.

2.      Brainstorm ideas for teaching the lesson via different intelligences.

3.      Discuss these ideas, brainstorm more ideas, anticipate problems and suggest modifications.

4.      Decide on a plan that all the teachers could follow to infuse a range of intelligences into the lesson.

5.      Divide up work for preparing any necessary materials.

6.      Teach the lesson and note what seemed to work well and what did not work so well.

7.      Debrief how the lesson went with LC members recounting their experiences.

8.      Identify strengths and weakness.

9.      Develop ways to improve the lesson the next time it is taught.

10.  Repeat the cycle for another lesson using what was learned in the previous lesson as a guide.


We didn’t feel a need to include all eight intelligences into each lesson. Typically, teaching only involves verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences. Our goal was to add others. Having so many powerful brains together made lesson planning much easier, and having so many skilful hands together made creating the teaching materials, such as worksheets, much easier too.


Also, it should be pointed out that LC members were free to apply the lesson as they saw fit to suit their own class, and not everyone did all the activities developed by the LC. Some teachers may not have used any of the activities. In this regard, participation was voluntary.


George Jacobs served as our ‘critical friend’, someone outside the LC who gave advice. He helped us become aware of various resources we could use, such as those in the reference list at the end of this article. For example, he pointed out techniques that we could use to infuse a particular intelligence. One such technique is Kinaesthetic Symbols, from Multiple Intelligences: The Complete MI Book by Kagan and Kagan. (Kinaesthetic symbols are symbols that students form with their hands or other parts of their bodies to represent ideas they are studying.) With each lesson, the planning got easier, as we became more and more familiar with how to apply MI.


The Learning Circle has also enabled us to enjoy maximum benefit with minimum output. As “more heads are better than one” we are able to learn new ideas from each other, develop better strategies, gain greater insight into the complex art of teaching and save on resources and on time in planning.  As we work more closely together, we build better rapport with one another.


With the infusion of MI, our lessons came alive. Pupils’ interest was captivated and they were motivated to participate actively alone, in groups and as part of the entire class. Students were able to give their best, as there were activities to cater to each individual’s preferred ways of learning. Pupils’ enthusiasm in responding to our questions and their creativity were just some of the signs which convinced us that MI was making learning effective and fun.


On completion of the LC on MI, we took our sharing to another level by presenting samples of our lessons to the rest of the school’s teaching staff so that our colleagues who had focused on other areas for their LCs could also benefit from our sharing in infusing MI. 


A Sample Lesson


The following is a sample lesson based on PETS, a primary school English textbook series. Class: Primary 3 (mixed ability) 

Objective: Pupils are able to use “who” in adjectival clauses to describe a person








Multiple Intelligence Applied




      Tuning In : A Game – “Who Is It”

  1. Students from groups of four. Each group member has a number: 1, 2, 3, or 4.
  2. Teacher writes the name of a pupil in the class on a piece of paper but does not show the paper to the class.
  3. The teacher leads the class ia a word splash to generate useful vocabulary for the game.
  4. Each group puts their head together to think of a question to ask to help them deduce whose name is written on the paper. (Teacher only answers with a “Yes, it is a student who …” or “No, the person is not a student who …” )
  5. Teacher writes answers on the board, so as to model the correct form. Teacher randomly calls a number to ask their group’s question.
  6. Groups put their heads together to guess whose name is written on the piece of paper and explain what information led them to their guess.
  7. Teacher randomly calls a number. Students with that number give and explain their group’s guess.







Interpersonal (working in their groups)


Verbal/Linguistic (formulating questions and discussing guesses)


Logical/Mathematical (using clues to guess the answer).



To enable more interaction.


The teacher demonstrates pupils how to ask questions using ‘who’, such as: Is this a classmate who is a girl? Is this someone who is tall? Is it a pupil who wears spectacles? Is this a person who is seated near the front of the class?


The teacher encourages pupils to ask for only positive traits and give pupils enough time to discuss so as to generate logical questioning and to check that they are using ‘who’ and using it properly.


Pupils in the other groups have to listen attentively so as not to repeat questions. Each group is given only one chance, so all questions asked matter a lot to them.




  1. The teacher explains the placing of ‘who’ next to the noun it qualifies.
  2. Each pupil works alone to draw a teacher or pupil that everyone knows.  They do not show their drawings to others.
  3. One at a time, each group member stands and takes questions from their groupmates, just as the teacher did in the first activity.
  4. The other group members take turns to ask questions.
  5. After groupmates guess, students show their drawings to the group and point out




Visual/Spatial (doing the drawing)



Naturalist (observing  characteristics)


The teacher visits each group to check on how they are doing in terms of following the procedure and using the grammar point.


The teacher stops the class once or twice to point out particularly good questions or answers.


If some pupils are having difficulty, they can work with a partner to answer questions for their other two group members. 


One or two students can come to the front of the room to play the game with the entire class.


Instead of using people, the game can be played with other animals.







  1. Each group member has a half piece of rough paper. They each write their names at the top of their paper.
  2. Pupils write something to describe themselves, e.g., I am a student who helps others.
  3. Pupils pass the paper to their left. They add one sentence to the description of the person whose name is at the top of the paper.
  4. The papers go around the group at least twice, so that there are at least eight sentences describing each group member.
  5. Pupils can then do PETS worksheets.





Naturalist (using half pieces of rough paper shows concern for the environment)


Intrapersonal intelligence (writing to describe themselves)









The teacher stops the class once or twice to point out particularly good sentences that pupils have written. This is done to highlight writing about positive traits, using the grammar point correctly, and being creative.


Options for including other intelligences:


A. Bodily/Kinaesthetic – One student pantomimes an occupation and others make a sentence for that occupation. For example, a student pantomimes someone sweeping the floor, and groupmates say, “A cleaner is a person who sweeps the floor.”


B. Musical/Rhythmic –


i. As students are working in their groups, the teacher plays lively music in the background.


ii. Pairs make up riddles in the form of chants. These riddles describe people and use ‘who’.  The other pair in the foursome tries to guess who is being described in the chant.








Recommended reading


Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria, Virginia, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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


Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (1998). Multiple intelligences: The complete MI book. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publications.


Lazear, D. G. (1999). Eight ways of teaching: The artistry of teaching with multiple intelligences (3rd ed.). Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Training and Publishing.


Nicholson-Nelson, K. (1998). Developing students’ multiple intelligences. New York: Scholastic.




Janilane Lau teaches Primary 3 and 4 at Mayflower Primary School and serves as Level Head.


George Jacobs teaches courses for Staff Training Branch and serves as a consultant for schools.