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Catering for Multiple Intelligences in EFL Coursebooks
by Rolf Palmberg
Department of Teacher Education, Abo Akademi University

(Extret del web http://www.hltmag.co.uk/jan02/sart6.htm)


Multiple Intelligences - a brief introduction

In 1983, Howard Gardner, the creator of the Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory, suggested that all individuals have personal intelligence profiles that consist of combinations of seven different intelligence types (Gardner 1983). Such profiles differ to various degrees from person to person, and it is probably rare for anyone to have only one predominating intelligence type. To identify one's own intelligence profile, or those of one's students, one can use for example multiple intelligences checklists of the type presented in Berman (1998) and Mckenzie (1999b).

Gardner's original list contained verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence types, and in 1997 he added an eighth intelligence type to the list, that of naturalist intelligence. Two years later he introduced a ninth type, that of existentialist intelligence, and at the same time discussed the possibilities of two or three additional ones (Gardner 1999).

Multiple intelligences and ELT

Michael Berman was, to the best of my knowledge, the first to apply Gardner's MI theory to ELT. In his book A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom (1998), Berman provides an outline of the theory and devotes one chapter to each intelligence to illustrate the variety of exercises/activities/tasks that can be used during EFL lessons to cater for that intelligence type in practice. In a subsequent book entitled ELT through Multiple Intelligences (2001), advertised in the introduction as a resource book to accompany the first one, Berman elaborates the topic further, providing EFL teachers with a new selection of stimulating and challenging exercises aimed at the various intelligence types.

In both books, Berman emphasises the importance for teachers of catering for the various student intelligence profiles that exist in a particular learning environment. Yet the existence of different intelligence profiles does not automatically mean that teachers have to prepare individual lesson plans for every student in the class. In fact, many language exercises can cater for several intelligence types at the same time, as the following example from Redman and Ellis (1990) illustrates. In a three-step activity on the topic "Man and Nature", students are first required to identify the eight animals in a picture, using dictionaries if necessary. They are then required to work in pairs and decide (a) which of the sixteen adjectives in a box they normally associate with each of the eight animals and (b) whether there are words in the box that cannot be used when describing an animal. Next, the students are required to work in groups and decide which of the animals they would most like to preserve (and why), assuming that the animals were all endangered species. The students thus use their visual-spatial intelligence to identify the animals, their verbal-liinguistic intelligence to describe the animals, their intrapersonal intelligence to work in pairs and groups, and their naturalist intelligence to classify the animals.

Teachers who want to concentrate on one or several specific intelligence types can therefore easily find exercises that cater for the intelligence type(s) in focus. Not all teachers, however, are eclectic in the sense that they select their texts and exercises from various sources and make adaptations whenever needed. Many teachers prefer to select one coursebook as the basis for a language course and systematically take their students through the book from beginning to end. The question is: can these teachers be certain that the selected coursebook contains a sufficient number of exercises for the wanted intelligence types?

An analysis of an EFL coursebook

In the autumn of 2000, a group of student teachers who participated in a EFL methodology course at the Department of Teacher Education at Abo Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland, conducted an analysis of a current coursebook in order to determine its intelligences profile. Or, to put it differently, they wanted to find out the proportional distribution of exercises that catered for each of the nine intelligence types in that particular coursebook, and, at the same time, to identify some of the problems involved in such an analysis.

The student teachers first agreed among themselves on what constitute typical exercises for predominantly verbal-linguistic learners (who enjoy expressing themselves orally and in writing and who love wordplay, riddles and listening to stories), for mathematical-logical learners (who display an aptitude for numbers, reasoning and problem solving), for visual-spatial learners (who tend to think in pictures and mental images and who enjoy charts, graphs, maps, tables and illustrations), for bodily-kinesthetic learners (who experience learning best through various kinds of movement), for musical-rhythmic learners, (who learn best through songs, patterns, rhythms and musical expression), for intrapersonal learners, (who like to interact with others and learn best in groups or with a partner), for naturalist learners (who love the outdoors and enjoy classifying and categorising activities), and, finally, for existentialist learners (who are concerned with philosophical issues such as the status of mankind in relation to universal existence) (Gardner 1983, 1993, 1999, Berman 1998, Mckenzie 1999a).

Next, the student teachers set out to categorise the exercises in Bricks 1, which, for the time being, is one of the most commonly used coursebooks at the lower level of the Swedish-speaking comprehensive school in Finland. This coursebook comprises a total of 31 texts interspersed with grammar sections and about 300 exercises. The first eight parts each end with 1-3 pages long "Have Fun" sections (which, however, were excluded from the analysis as they were not considered part of the coursework syllabus proper). At the end of the coursebook there are two alphabetical wordlists (English-Swedish and Swedish-English), a glossary comprising separate wordlists for each text, a map of the British Isles, and an overview of grammar structures (Lindroth et al. 1994).

Results and discussion

The results of the categorisation of exercises were as follows: 97% of the 300 exercises catered for verbal-linguistic learners , 76% for intrapersonal learners, 25% for interpersonal learners, 5% for bodily-kinesthetic learners, 8% for mathematical-logical learners, 5% for bodily-kinesthetic learners, 3% for naturalist learners, and 2% for musical-rhythmic learners. No exercises were found that catered for existentialist learners (in a language-learning context exercises of this type would be for example those requiring students to solve specific problems as a whole by working with specific parts).

According to the student teachers there was minor disagreement between group members regarding the categorisation of some of the exercises, and the above figures should therefore be seen as tentative rather than conclusive. The student teachers reported that the two main problems involved decisions as to what intelligence type (s) certain exercises catered for predominantly and interpretations as to what the instructions of certain exercises actually required students to do and what was left for the teacher to decide. They therefore decided to restrict the number of intelligence types for each exercise to the most obvious ones (i.e. the intelligence types that a majority of group members could agree on) and to be as strict as possible when interpreting the instructions of each. However, a somewhat differing procedure was adopted for interpersonal and intrapersonal exercises. An exercise that explicitly stated that it was intended for pair or group work was categorised as catering for interpersonal intelligence, whereas an exercise such as "Make a list of what you like and don't like. Then work in pairs." Was categorised as catering for both intralingual and interlingual intelligence. The remaining exercises were all categorised as catering for intrapersonal intelligence by default.

The intelligence profile for Bricks would thus stand out as predominantly verbal-linguistic and intrapersonal, with fairly low percentages for the remaining intelligence types. The fact that the coursebookis predominantly verbal-linguistic and intrapersonal should come as no surprise bearing in mind the fact that Bricks is a language coursebook (one might perhaps have expected 100% for this intelligence type). What is more surprising is the large number of exercises aimed at intrapersonal learners considering for example the general objectives of foreign language teaching set for the Finnish comprehensive school (it must be remembered, however, that the high proportion on intrapersonal exercises can be explained at least partially by the categorisation procedure adopted for the analysis). The first objective listed by the National Board of Education in the Framework Curriculum for the lower level of the comprehensive school requires the student to "get along in everyday life using the language orally", which can be difficult to fulfil through extensive work.

There is, of course, nothing to prevent teachers from asking their students to work orally in pairs even if the instructions require students to fill in blanks individually. Nor is there any way of knowing to what extent coursebook writers deliberately want to give teachers an opportunity to interpret and use (at least part of the) coursebook exercises in whatever way they find appropriate for their particular teaching situation. In fact it is most likely that teachers who use a particular coursebook will be affected by exercises that appeal to them personally and their judgement of what they find useful for their students. Therefore, in order to better fulfil the general teaching objectives set for the proficiency level in question but also to cater both for their own and their students' preferred learning styles, teachers will from time to time, whether intuitively or not, omit some exercises and change or supplement others, for example by asking their students to do translation tasks orally instead of in writing or to do individual tasks in pairs. Unfortunately this kind of adaptation of coursebook exercises in order to obtain optimum learning benefit is a point on which many coursebooks fail to provide guidance (Ur 1996).


It seems plausible to assume that the intelligence profiles of individual coursebooks reflect to a fairly large extent the personal intelligence profile (s) of the writer (s) of the coursebook, whether intentional or not. Similarly, it seems equally plausible to assume that teachers too have a tendency to identify and recognise more easily those exercises that appeal to them the most, in the same way as they tend to teach in accordance with their own preferred learning styles.

Therefore, whether or not teachers elect to base their courses on specific coursebooks or reserve the right to interpret, select and use the types of exercises that can cater for (or be designed to cater for) the intelligence profiles of their particular learner group, they must be able to assess how well the intelligence profile of the selected coursebook coincides with the majority of intelligence profiles found for that learner group. This means that in order to be able to recognise good coursebooks that can fulfil the general teaching objectives of a particular teaching unit, they must know what the main criteria for coursebook assessment are. Such criteria may be general, i.e. applicable to the appropriateness of the book for a specific language course or learner population (Cunningsworth 1984, Ur 1996). Only by recognising the fact that students are different and learn differently can teachers fully encourage them to try harder and at the same time make the learning environment as meaningful and enjoyable as possible for all parties.

This is a revised version of a paper published by M Gill, A.W. Johnson, M.L. Koski, R.D. Sell, B Warvik (eds) : Language, Learning, Literature Studies, presented to Hakan Ringbom.Turku 2001 English Dept Publications 4, Abo Akademi University.



Berman, Michael. 1998. A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing

Berman, Michael. 2001. ELT Through Multiple Intelligences. London: NetLearn Publications.

Cunningsworth, Alan. 1984. Evaluating and Selecting EFL Teaching Materials. London: Heinemann Educational Books.

Framework Curriculum for the Comprehensive School 1994. Helsinki: National Board of Education.

Gardner, Howard. 1983. Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard. 1999. Intelligence Reframed. Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

Lindroth, Harriet, Glasgow, Carita, Langstrom, Christa and Olin, Niklas. 1994. Bricks 1. Text- och ovningsbok. Engelska for lagstadiet. Borga: Soderstroms.

McKenzie, Walter. 1999b. Multiple Intelligences Survey. Retrieved November 15, 2000, from the World Wide Web: http://surfaquarium.com/Miinvent.htm.

Redman, Stuart and Ellis, Robert. 1990. A Way with Words. Vocabulary Development Activies for Learners of English. Book 2. Cambridge: CUP.

Ur, Penny. 1996. A Course in Language Teaching. Practice and Theory. Cambridge: CUP.


Darrera Actualització: 23.11.2004