Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom Gardner?s theory of Multiple

Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, in which he defines 7 different ways that people are intelligent, has become a driving force in educational theory in the English Speaking world. Personal experience in a Master's Degree in Elementary Education program with the University of Phoenix revealed that virtually every class which contained a lesson planning element required that the various intelligences be addressed in lessons. A Google search on 'ESL and Multiple Intelligences' conducted on June 8, 2006 returned approximately 450,000 internet articles on Multiple Intelligences in teaching English as a Foreign Language alone. The theory is certainly popular, and is used in training teachers and parents alike in educating their children.

But does the idea that there are seven kinds of intelligence carry over into teaching English as a foreign language to adults' According to Mary Ann Cristison and Deborah Kennedy, the answer is yes. In their article for the ERIC digest, they state that adult learners who have had limited success in classes stressing linguistic and mathematical skills may have more success in ESL classes which address the Multiple Intelligence theories. (Christisen, 1999). A good goal in teaching lessons in any subject, including ESL, is to involve as many of the intelligences as possible in study and activation in order to stimulate as many means of learning as possible. This can help students learn more easily (Currie 2003).

What exactly are the multiple intelligences' Briefly stated, Gardner says that people have different ways of learning based upon more active regions in their brains. He lists seven different intelligences: Verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical rhythmic. An eighth intelligence, naturalistic, was added in 1997. These various intelligence are discussed at length in many different locations, and won't be further defined here, but in order to address some of the ways of using them together, it is necessary to at least have their names.

Addressing the various intelligences in a single lesson may be impossible, but lessons can be devised which address them in groups of 2 or more, or even sequentially. It can be said that having students listen to language while underscoring various words/ phrases/ or sounds engage both the verbal/linguistic and the bodily/kinesthetic at the same time. It can be possible, however to involve most, if not all, of the intelligences using various activities to teach a particular subject. However, Rolf Palmberg, among others, have designed language lessons engaging most of not all of the intelligences in their design. The 'Our House' lesson (Palmberg) illustrates discussing language related to a house or home using songs, drawings, poetry, and movement thus activating many of the intelligences in the same lesson.

There may be some serious issues with whether or not the Multiple Intelligences theories are accurate, but there is no doubt whatever that the theory is in vogue, and that teachers throughout the world, of every subject, and at all age groups, are teaching to address the Multiple Intelligences.


Christison, Mary Ann and Kennedy, Deborah, 'Intelligences: Theory and Practice in Adult ESL., ERIC Digest, 12/1999.

Currie, Karen L., 'Multiple Intelligence Theory and the ESL Classroom ' Preliminary Considerations', The Internet TESL Journal, Vol IX, No. 4, April 2003 [downloaded from on June 8, 2006]

Palmberg, Rolf, 'ESL Lesson Plans', downloaded from on June 8, 2006.