Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. Here is a discussion of the eight different intelligences Dr. Gardner proposes and their relationship to the ESL / EFL classroom. Each explanation is followed by lesson plans or exercises which can be used in class.

Verbal / Linguistic

Explanation and understanding through the use of words.

This is the most common means of teaching. In the most traditional sense, the teacher teaches and the students learn. However, this can also be turned around and students can help each other understand concepts. While teaching to other types of intelligences is extremely important, this type of teaching focuses on using language and will continue to play the primary role in learning English.

Example Lesson Plans

(re)Introducing Phrasal Verbs to ESL Students
Comparative and Superlative Forms
Countable and Uncountable Nouns - Noun Quantifiers
Reading - Using Context

Visual / Spatial

Explanation and comprehension through the use of pictures, graphs, maps, etc.

This type of learning gives students visual clues to help them remember language. In my opinion, the use of visual, spatial and situational clues is probably the reason learning a language in an English speaking country (Canada, USA, England, etc.) is the most effective way to learn English.

Example Lesson Plans

Drawing in the Classroom - Expressions
Vocabulary Charts

Body / Kinesthetic

Ability to use the body to express ideas, accomplish tasks, create moods, etc.

This type of learning combines physical actions with linguistic responses and are very helpful for tying language to actions. In other words, repeating "I'd like to pay by credit card." in a dialogue is much less effective than having a student act out a role-play in which he pulls out his wallet and says, "I'd like to pay by credit card."

Example Lesson Plans

Lego Building Blocks
Young Learner's Games for ESL Classes - Simon Says
Telephone English


Ability to get along with others, work with others to accomplish tasks.

Group learning is based on interpersonal skills. Not only do students learn while speaking to others in an "authentic" setting, they develop English speaking skills while reacting to others. Obviously, not all learners have excellent interpersonal skills. For this reason, group work needs to balanced with other activities.

Example Lesson Plans

Conversation Lesson: Multinationals - Help or Hindrance?
Creating a New Society
Guilty - Fun Classroom Conversation Game
Let's Do Tourism

Logical / Mathematical

Use of logic and mathematical models to represent and work with ideas.

Grammar analysis falls into this type of learning style. Many teachers feel that English teaching syllabi are too loaded towards grammar analysis which has little to do with communicative ability. Nonetheless, using a balanced approach, grammar analysis has it's place in the classroom. Unfortunately, because of certain standardized teaching practices, this type of teaching sometimes tends to dominate the classroom.

Example Lesson Plans

English Grammar Review
Different Uses of "Like"
Conditional Statements - Reviewing the First and Second Conditional


Ability to recognize and communicate using melody, rhythm, and harmony.

This type of learning is sometimes underestimated in ESL classrooms. If you keep in mind that English is a very rhythmic language because of its tendency to accent only certain words, you'll recognize that music plays a role in the classroom as well.

Example Lesson Plans

Grammar Chants
Music in the Classroom
Practicing Stress and Intonation
Tongue Twisters


Learning through self-knowledge leading to understanding of motives, goals, strengths and weaknesses.

This intelligence is essential for long-term English learning. Students who are aware of these types of issues will be able to deal with underlying issues that can improve or hamper English usage.

Example Lesson Plans

Setting ESL Objectives
English Learning Goals Quiz


Ability to recognize elements of and learn from the natural world around us.

Similar to visual and spatial skills, Environmental intelligence will help students master English required to interact with their environment.

Example Lesson Plan

Global English

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, January 29). Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).