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Draw on the multiple intelligences to develop every child's literacy skills in new ways

Draw on the multiple intelligences to develop every child's literacy skills in new ways

By Kristen Nicholson-Nelson

Perhaps you've taught a child who is a genius on the athletic field, moving with elegance and grace, or a child who excels at playing the saxophone. Yet, strengths and intelligence aren't always this simple and discrete. In reality, children are complex and highly individualistic.

Susie, for example, is an excellent math student. But no student who excels in math sits down to tackle an assignment and uses only her or his math-logic intelligence. Susie achieves by drawing on the rich resources of her multiple intelligences, or different learning styles. She uses intrapersonal intelligence when she realizes that she needs a quiet place to do the math. And when she comes to a difficult problem, she uses interpersonal intelligence by asking the right person in the right way for assistance. Word problems draw upon her verbal-linguistic intelligence. Geometry and graphs require her to use spatial intelligence. Therefore, we can't label Susie as a math-logic-intelligent student but as an intelligent student.

My desire to avoid separating intelligences was bolstered upon hearing a 1995 speech given by Howard Gardner, Ph.D., the Harvard professor who developed the multiple intelligences theory. He spoke about the importance of recognizing that students need all the intelligences, interacting with one another, to achieve genuine understanding. With this in mind, I set out to develop a classroom environment that would help students see themselves as wonderful amalgamations of different intelligences.

More Than One Way to Be Smart

There are now eight recognized types of intelligence-math-logic, verbal-linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalistic (the latter recently added to the list by Gardner). As individuals, students bring all the intelligences to bear upon their daily activities, although each person has distinct areas of strength. Knowing where students' natural talents and interests lie may help us tailor lessons to their particular way of seeing the world, as well as introduce them to fresh, creative ways of approaching a subject. Use the chart at the end of this article, "Eight Ways of Being Smart," as a reproducible guide-to refer to and share with colleagues and parents. It should help you become sensitive to each individual's preferred learning style.

The following are ideas for activities and strategies to develop literacy skills through the multiple intelligences. For the majority of my students, these techniques have opened doors to the world of language.

Primary Literacy Strategies


• Have students write before reading.
• Make letters with clay or paint, in sand or flour, with a typewriter and on the computer.
• Have students use hand movements and body formations to form letters.
• As they read, have students touch once under each word (not syllable).


• Recite simple poems and rhythmic, repetitive stories.
• Sing song lyrics to practice letters and reading.
• Repeat tongue twisters to practice and isolate specific sounds.


• Have students use rulers or strips of paper to underline what they're reading.
• Use different colors on bulletin boards to represent specific sounds.
• Design pictures out of letters or groups of letters, such as a camel out of the capital letter B.
• Draw "word pictures" to show the meaning of the words. For example, tall would be written with tall letters, and rain with drops around it.
• Have students draw a picture to represent a word and write the word inside the picture.
• Share big books (oversize storybooks).


• Make dice with letters on them instead of dots. Use them to play letter and sound games.
• Display a flannel board with cloth letters, or a metal board with magnetic letters. Show students how new words are formed when one letter is changed (fine, dine, line). Then have them practice.
• Locate letters numerically in the alphabet by creating a poster that shows letters ordered that way (A=1, B= 2, and so forth).


• Provide language experiences by writing down stories as children tell them to you. Read them aloud and encourage students to read them back to you.
• Use word flash cards.
• Teach prereading skills-having your students hold books, turn pages, and read from left to right.
• Have children learn word families-words that are phonetically alike or sound similar.
• Have students "echo," or repeat, what is read aloud.


• Encourage partners, groups, or the entire class to read aloud together.
• Have students teach younger children the alphabet and sight words.
• Host reading parties at which students read in small groups and listen to guest readers.


• Provide a quiet, cozy reading corner.
• Give students opportunities to read silently.
• Keep special bulletin-board "Book Favorites" lists on which students can write their own favorites.
• Have younger students practice reading aloud to a stuffed animal.

Intermediate Literacy Strategies


• Challenge youngsters to act out the story.
• Have each student impersonate a character in the story to explain how that character is feeling.


• Have students keep a long-term collage on a bulletin board to add to as the story progresses.
• Guide children to use graphic organizers (Venn diagrams, flowcharts, graphs, mind maps).
• Ask students to predict the next chapter and picture it in their minds.


• Play music that has a tone that relates to a story children have just read in class.
• Put the story to music and sing or play it.
• Use song lyrics to teach phonetic rules or proper grammatical usage.


• Have each student write a summary of a story.
• Guide youngsters to discuss the decisions that characters made in the story.
• Use dialogue reading. Assign each child a specific book-character's dialogue to read aloud.


• Ask pupils questions in the form of syllogisms: "If , then ?"
• Have students make a timeline to show the order of events in a book.
• Present words in list form, showing similarities and differences between word families. For example, act, react, and deactivate would be listed together.


• Host reading parties in the classroom.
• Request that students help younger students with their reading.
• Try "popcorn reading," in which one student reads from a literature selection, then calls on another student to continue reading, and so on.


• Designate private and comfortable reading nooks in the classroom.
• Have students keep a word or book log to show words they are learning and books they are reading.
• Have students listen to audiobooks.

Awakening the Multiple Intelligences

By incorporating multiple intelligences methods in all your lesson plans, you can improve students' skills across the curriculum. Employing these strategies will often benefit all the children in the class-not just those whose particular talents and strengths are being addressed that day.

Awakening your students to the multiple intelligences broadens their understanding and presents them with fresh, innovative problem-solving techniques and insights. Children develop an awareness of their own strengths and interests and discover that there isn't always one way to learn.

The traditional Chinese adage "Let a hundred flowers bloom" is a wonderful theme for the use of multiple intelligences theory in your classroom. Begin slowly, find what works for you and your students, then stand back and breathe in the fragrance of your beautiful, blooming flowers.

Eight Ways of Being Smart

Inteligence Area Is strong in Likes to Learns best through
Verbal-Linguistic reading, writing, telling stories, memorizing dates, thinking in words read, write, tell stories, talk, memorize, work at puzzles reading, hearing and seeing words, speaking, writing, discussing and debating
Math-Logic math, reasoning, logic, problem-solving, patterns solve problems, question, work with numbers, experiment working with patterns and relationships, classifying, categorizing, working with the abstract
Spatial reading, maps, charts, drawing, solving puzzles and mazes, imaging things, visualization design, draw, build, create, daydream, look at pictures working with pictures and colors, visualizing, drawing
Bodily-Kinesthetic athletics, dancing, acting, crafts, using tools move around, touch and talk, use body language touching, moving, processing knowledge through bodily sensations
Musical singing, picking up sounds, remembering melodies, rhythms sing, hum, play an instrument, listen to music rhythm, melody, singing, listening to music and melodies
Interpersonal understanding people, leading, organizing, communicating, resolving conflicts, selling have friends, talk to people, join groups sharing, comparing, relating, interviewing, cooperating
Intrapersonal understanding self, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, setting goals work alone, reflect, pursue interests working alone, doing self-paced projects, having space, reflecting
Naturalist understanding nature, making distinctions, identifying flora and fauna be involved with nature, make distinctions between things in nature working in nature, exploring living things, learning about plants and natural events

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