Many ways to be smart

Here is a very brief overview of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, or different ways of being “smart.”


Skill with words; using language, expressing with words, either written or spoken, and understanding what is said or written. Related skills might include storytelling, memorizing, writing, discussing, debating, journaling, oration and reading.


Skill with numbers, puzzles, experiments; the intelligence of reasoning. Related skills include understanding principles and systems, problem solving, logic games and brainteasers, logical patterns, manipulating numbers and quantities.


The ability to create or think in images, representing the spatial world internally (mentally); manipulating objects, understanding spatial relationships. Related skills include thinking visually, remembering visual details, enjoying movies or video games, building, drawing, sculpting, doing crafts activities, designing architecture or playing chess.


The intelligence of physical skill; awareness of the body in space, capacity to use the whole body or parts of the body to solve a problem, make something or perform. Related skills include dance, athletics, role playing, getting “gut feelings” about things, acting, sports, physical games, building, movement, tactile or hands-on learning.


The intelligence of melody, tone and rhythm; hearing, recognizing, remembering or manipulating patterns of sound; a feel for rhythm. Related skills include singing, composing, playing an instrument. Can benefit from activities involving music, such as listening, singing along or playing.


The ability to understand other people, sensitivity to others’ needs. May manifest in strong social skills, the ability to cooperate and work with others, empathy for and enjoyment of others, and the presence of many friends. Related skills can involve leadership, volunteering, mentorship, teaching, counseling, listening, sales, mediation or politics.


The ability to understand the self; self-awareness, a good sense of personal strengths and weaknesses. May manifest in a desire to be alone, make choices, work independently and self-pace. Related skills include the ability to anticipate personal needs and possible reactions, pursue goals independently, reflect on and learn from experience.


The ability to discriminate among things, identify patterns in the natural world, skill at classifying and organizing. Includes the tendency to be comfortable out of doors, touching and exploring, be attracted to things related to nature, as well as the ability to recognize and categorize things like plants, rocks, animals and other elements of nature; also includes the ability to recognize cultural artifacts (like cars or clothing).


May include “an uncanny sense of spiritual concepts, asking questions that appear ‘beyond their years,’ expressing concern for others, possessing an understanding of global issues, not minding being alone for long periods of time, and being able to amuse themselves when they are alone,” (1) as well as a “sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.” (2)

Everyone possesses some variations and combinations of intelligences, weak in some and strong in others. Different “types of mind” affect how we learn, process, remember, understand, perform, and communicate. Of all the ways a person can be intelligent and capable, schools typically focus (assess, value) the first two on this list: Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical. Students who are stronger in other areas are often at a disadvantage at school.

Excerpted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2001, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL. The information on Existential Intelligence was released more recently. The definition cited here came from (1) the Indigo Society Web site and (2) the Skyview High School website.

© 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related resources:

The “Ideal” Student: Kids for whom traditional classrooms are ideally suited (and why so many non-traditional learners struggle in these instructional environments).
Ways to Reach More Students
ADHD Look-Alike Conditions
Working With Different Sensory/Modality Strengths and Limitations

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