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Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids - Classroom Resources for Teachers

Multiple Intelligence Theory
Classroom Resources



Dr. Howard Gardner first proposed Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory over 40 years, suggesting that IQ is not one-dimensional, and that it can't be described by a single number. Instead, he proposed that there are at least eight different types of intelligence, including visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, and more.*

While not every educator supports MI theory, I believe that it has great potential as a tool for empowering students to take responsiblity for their own learning experiences. Most kids think that someone is either smart or not smart, and that the students who are "smart" are those who excel in math and/or reading. This view makes sense when you think about how schools are designed. The current system favors students who are mathematical-logical or verbal-linguistic. But kids who are artistic, musical, or kinesthetic learners are often out of luck.

Fortunately, educators now recognize that there are many paths to understanding, and students learn best when they are able to engage in activities that take advantage of their strengths. Teachers have always intuitively known that kids learn in different ways, and Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory supported their own classroom observations and experiences. Dr. Gardner's work in this area opened the way for teachers to discuss the implications and search for practical applications in the classroom.

Dr. Gardner used terms like "bodily-kinesthetic" and "mathematical-logical," but many educators have adopted the kid-friendly terms such as those shown in the image on the right below. If you like the posters below, you can download a free PDF file of them to print.

Traditional MI Terms
Kid-Friendly MI Terms
Download a free poster of the 8 Multiple Intelligences. Black and white version included, too!
Free poster of the 8 Kinds of Smart (kid-friendly multiple intelligence names). Includes a black and white version, too!


Multiple Intelligence Theory Versus Developing a Growth Mindset

Learn how multiple intelligence theory and the research on growth mindset can empower students to take ownership of their learning!

Recently educators have been embracing the work of Carol Dweck, whose research supports the need to foster a "growth mindset." She found that praising kids for being "smart" is actually detrimental to their self-esteem and hinders them from succeeding in school. When kids are praised for being smart, they become afraid to attempt any task that includes a risk of failure. In their minds, failing at something means they aren't smart, so rather than risk failure, they avoid difficult tasks. However, teachers can easily change their students' views about what it means to be smart when they praise them for working hard and persisting when a task is challenging. Over time, students take pride in accomplishing difficult tasks, and they learn that developing a growth mindset is more important than being viewed as smart.

Some educators feel that Carol Dweck's work means that we should no longer teach our students about multiple intelligence theory, but I have a different view. I do agree that we need to be careful not to praise students for being "smart" in ANY multiple intelligence area. However, I believe that learning about MI theory can help students understand their own strengths, so they can apply this knowledge when struggling to solve a problem or facing a difficult task. For example, a student may feel that he or she is not smart in math. However, if that student realizes that he or she is a visual learner, the student will look for ways to tap into that strength when solving a tough problem. Instead of giving up, the student might draw a picture or diagram to help find the solution. Another student who is a bodily-kinesthetic learner might act out the problem to solve it.

Also, we should teach them that while a survey may show that they have strengths in some areas more than others, those surveys may not be a true reflection of their abilities. In fact, these "strengths" may be the result of experiences they have had up to this point, and they may develop strengths in other areas in the coming years as they try new things. The way we can become smarter in ALL areas is to try new experiences and be willing to face challenges, even if that means we might not be successful right away.

Ultimately, both multiple intelligence theory and the research on growth mindset can empower students to take ownership of their learning!

By the way, if you're encouraging your students to develop a growth mindset, you might object to teaching them the kid-friendly MI terms because all of those terms include the word "smart." Instead, teach your students the terms that Dr. Gardner used to describe these intelligence areas. They may enjoy the challenge of learning those big words!

How to Teach Kids About Multiple Intelligence Theory

I love teaching kids that there are many ways we are "smart" and helping them to discover their own unique strengths. Over the years, I developed a mini unit for teaching students about MI theory, and those lessons make up the core of Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids: Step-by-Step Lessons and Printables. This ebook describes exactly how to teach these concepts to your students in an engaging way using cooperative learning strategies. If you're wondering if these lessons and activities would be appropriate for your students, take a look at PDF preview of the entire book.

Teaching Multipile Intelligence Theory: Step-by-Step Lessons for the Intermediate Grades Multiple Intelligence Theory for Kids
Step-by-Step Lessons and Printables

This ebook includes cooperative learning activities, lesson plans, a student survey, printables, assessments, and answer keys for teaching a unit on MI theory. Preview ebook or click Buy Now to add it to your TpT cart.
$8.50 (Single Classroom License)
Buy Now

Click to learn about the School Site License option!

Free Multiple Intelligences survey for kids

Free Multiple Intelligence Survey for Kids

Watch the video below to learn how to download this free Multiple Intelligences for Kids survey. You can use this survey with upper elementary and middle school students to help them figure out their strengths. In the video I explain how to administer the survey and some general guidelines for using it. You can also head over to my TeachersPayTeachers store and download it from there, but I suggest that you return to this page and watch the video before you use this with students.





Print Resources for Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligence Theory: The Complete MI Book

Multiple Intelligences: The Complete MI Book
by Dr. Spencer Kagan

I first became aware of Multiple Intelligence Theory about 12 years ago when attending a teacher workshop held by Dr. Spencer Kagan. Kagan is an authority on cooperative learning. Kagan embraced Gardener's theory because it fit perfectly with his experiences and helped to explain the powerful benefits achieved when students are actively engaged and working together in teams. Kagan wrote this resource for classroom and I highly recommend it. The book includes a full description of each area as well as dozens of cooperative learning activities to enrich the learning experience. It can be ordered from Amazon by clicking on this title link or the book cover above: Multiple Intelligences: The Complete MI Book. Although it was written over 10 years ago, the information is still very relevant and useful.


Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice

Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice

by Dr. Howard Gardner ~ 2006

This is not Dr. Gardner's’ original MI book, but he has changed his theory in the last 25 years so this is actually a more up-to-date resource. This book provides excellent information on the entire theory and how it has developed over the years. Although it wasn’t written specifically for classroom teachers, it does contain a wealth of useful information for educators. You can read more reviews or order from Amazon.com.



Exploring the Rainforest: Multiple Intelligences and Cooperative Learning Activities

Exploring the Rain Forest: Multiple Intelligences
and Cooperative Learning Activities

by Laura Candler

This one was written by me! I loved teaching about the rain forest, and it was easy to integrate multiple intelligences into my lessons! Using the lessons in this book, you can take your students on a safari through the tropical rain forest. Use their limitless curiosity and enthusiasm about this theme as a springboard into every subject! Includes 36 ready-to-do cooperative, multiple intelligences activities to explore the rain forest. Working in teams and with classmates, your students will create and sing tropical tunes, write letters to conservation agencies, map the rain forests of the world, learn about the rain forest products, medical mysteries, amazing animals, jungle secrets, layers of life and much more. Loaded with reproducibles. Explore the rain forest with your class to make learning an unforgettable adventure. Learn more and read reviews on Amazon.


Free Online MI AssessmentOnline Resources for Multiple Intelligence Theory

Click the orange links below to visit these websites.

*Isn't there a 9th intelligence area?

Yes, there is. Dr. Gardner later added Existential Intelligence to his original list of eight intelligences, but I have not included it in the materials on this page. Because of the religious and spiritual nature of Existential Intelligence, it's not one that I would include in lessons for elementary students. Feel free to introduce this to your students if you wish.


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