Teaching Students Who Have a Naturalist Intelligence

Grey Wagtail;Motacilla cinerea, walking
Marc Zimmermann Naturalist & Ethnographic Photographer / Getty Images

Naturalist intelligence is one of researcher Howard Gardner's nine multiple intelligences. This particular intelligence that involves how sensitive an individual is to nature and the world. People who excel in this intelligence typically are interested in growing plants, taking care of animals or studying animals or plants. Zookeepers, biologists, gardeners, and veterinarians are among those that Gardner sees as having high naturalist intelligence.


Twenty-three years after his seminal work on multiple intelligences, Gardner added the naturalist intelligence to his original seven intelligences in his 2006 book, "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice." He previously laid out his original theory with seven identified intelligences in his 1983 work, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences." In both books, Gardner argued that there are better -- or at least alternative -- ways to measure intelligence than standard IQ tests for students in both regular and special education.

Gardner says that all people are born with one or more "intelligences," such as logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and even musical intelligence. The best way to test, and develop, these intelligences is by practicing skills in these areas, says Gardner, and not through paper-and-pencil/online tests.

Famous People With High Naturalist Intelligence

In Multiple Intelligences, Gardner gives examples of famous scholars with high naturalist intelligence, such as: 

  • Charles Darwin: History's most famous evolutionary scientist, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution through natural selection. Darwin's famous journey on the HMS Beagle allowed him to study and collect natural specimens from across the globe. He published his finding in the classic book explaining evolution, "The Origin of the Species." 
  • Alexander von Humboldt: This 19th Century naturalist and explorer was the first person to suggest that humans were having an impact on the natural world and causing climate change. His declaration was made over 200 years ago based on observations he recorded during his travels through South America.
  • E.O. Wilson: The world's greatest naturalist, and the father of sociobiology, wrote a 1990 book, "Ants" -- one of two books for which he won the Pulitzer Prize -- that explained how these insects create social structures, organizations, and hierarchies -- traits that were once thought only humans possessed.
  • John James Audobon: This naturalist created a collection of paintings, "Birds of America," published in four volumes from 1827 to 1838. Audobon is considered the father of the conservationist movement and inspired millions to take to the woods, lakes, and mountains in search of rare bird sightings.

Using the Naturalist Intelligence in ELA Class

Perhaps the best example to use in a classroom of a naturalist intelligence is one offered by the poet, William Wordsworth. Wordsworth summed up his own naturalist intelligence best in his poem, "The Tables Turned" when he encouraged the reader to get up from his studies and go out of doors. After reading the poem, teachers could simply end the lesson, and take Wordsworth's advice and march the class out-of-doors! (with administration's permission, of course).

Two stanzas highlight Wordsworth's enthusiasm for Nature as a teacher for all:

"Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; 
Why all this toil and trouble?" 
"Come forth into the light of things, 
Let Nature be your teacher." 

Characteristics of Naturalist Intelligence

Some of the characteristics of those students with naturalist intelligence include their:

  • Physically/emotionally adverse to pollution
  • Intense interest in learning about nature
  • Dramatic enthusiasm when in contact with nature
  • Powers of observation in nature 
  • Awareness of changes in weather

Gardner notes that "such persons with a high degree of naturalist intelligence are keenly aware of how to distinguish the diverse plants, animals, mountains, or cloud configurations in their ecological niche."

Enhancing a Student's Naturalist Intelligence

Students with naturalist intelligence are interested in conservation and recycling, enjoy gardening, like animals, like to be outside, are interested in the weather and feel a connection to the earth. As a teacher, you can enhance and strengthen your students' naturalist intelligence by having them:

  • Attending class outside 
  • Keep a nature journal to record changes or discoveries in nature
  • Illustrate discoveries in nature
  • Read books and articles about nature and the environment
  • Write articles about nature (poems, short stories, news articles) 
  • Giving lessons on weather and nature
  • Performing skits about nature and cycles
  • Conduct research on local foliage

Students who have naturalist intelligence may take informed action, as suggested in the Social Studies Standards, in order to preserve the environment. They may write letters, petition their local politicians, or work with others to create green spaces in their communities.

Gardner suggests bringing what he calls the "summer culture" into the rest of the year -- and into the learning environment. Send students outside, take them on short hikes, teach them how to observe and identify plants and animals -- and help them get back to nature. This is the best way, says Gardner, to increase their natural intelligence.

View Article Sources
  • Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

    Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons (Completely rev. and updated.). New York: BasicBooks.

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Kelly, Melissa. "Teaching Students Who Have a Naturalist Intelligence." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, thoughtco.com/naturalist-intelligence-8098. Kelly, Melissa. (2021, July 29). Teaching Students Who Have a Naturalist Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/naturalist-intelligence-8098 Kelly, Melissa. "Teaching Students Who Have a Naturalist Intelligence." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/naturalist-intelligence-8098 (accessed March 30, 2023).