"Multiple-Intelligences" and the Workshop Rotation Model

Revised and updated

"Multiple-Intelligences" and the Workshop Rotation Model

...a Workshop Rotation Model Article

Multiple Intelligences is the name of a theory of learning and extensive body of research by Howard Gardner and his team of researchers at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. First published in the book "Frame of Mind," M.I. describes the various learning faculties that everyone has hard-wired in the brain. These intelligences are not isolated from each other. They overlap, and can and do work with each other. And each can be developed, though people tend to have strengths.

For teaching purposes, the implication is simple. We should teach in such ways as to stimulate all the ways our students can learn a subject to create a deeper and richer learning and memory experience. 

According to Gardner, the educational application of MI is simply this: "Pluralization" -or what we in Rotation call, teach a concept or Bible story using a variety of approaches, not just one.

The educator should decide on which topics, concepts, or ideas are of greatest importance, and should then present them in a variety of ways. Pluralization achieves two important goals: when a topic is taught in multiple ways, one reaches more students. Additionally, the multiple modes of delivery convey what it means to understand something well. When one has a thorough understanding of a topic, one can typically think of it in several ways, thereby making use of one’s multiple intelligences. Conversely, if one is restricted to a single mode of conceptualization and presentation, one’s own understanding is likely to be tenuous. Link

Coincidentally, the brain research is showing that we also remember and process information in different ways and places in the brain. In that sense, by teaching through multiple brain locations and processes, we are also helping to create a deeper memory and richer understanding of the subject.

Multiple Intelligences is NOT to be confused with the "Learning Styles" theory, though it often is, and they two theories have some similarities. "L.S." has now largely been debunked because unlike M.I., Learning Styles theory suggests that teachers should concentrate their methods in only a few "styles" (visual, for example) to be successful, and that students do better in their "preferred" style.

M.I. says we learn best when we use ALL our learning faculties (intelligences) to understand a subject. 

An interesting thing about the Rotation Model is that we created the Model BEFORE ever learning about Multiple Intelligence or the Learning Style theory.

We were simply trying to "divide and conquer" a BIG problem we had in Sunday School. We had teachers using only a few methods (talk + craft, for example) and then subjecting a class for an entire year to that over-used activity, and ignoring all the other creative teaching methods we knew worked.  

To solve this problem in Sunday School, and several others, we knew we had to spend more than one week on a subject, and re-organize our classrooms so that one teacher didn't have to be the master of all techniques. We also knew that we needed more than one week per story if we wanted to teach the story deeply with a number of techniques. Our solution was to reorganize classrooms and lesson plans into "Workshops" -into which students rotated for four to five weeks per story, yet each workshop would have a different teacher and creative approach to the story.

Rotating the kids allows us to switch the teaching approach each week, and also allows the teacher to stay-put in the workshop they favor --teaching the same (and improving) lesson plan to a different group each week. This solved the "preparation" problem created when you switch the story every week, while allowing us to teach with many different methods.

Not so surprisingly, the theory of Multiple Intelligence fit quite nicely with the wide variety of teaching techniques Sunday School was ALREADY acquainted with, but simply had trouble implementing on a regular basis. Thus when it came time to create the "workshops" in the model, we drew upon time-honored creative techniques:

  • Art 
  • Bible Games (with an additional emphasis on Bible skills)
  • Drama or Puppets
  • Audio-Visuals, Videos
  • Cooking
  • Science (Demonstration, Object Lessons)
  • Computer
  • Music
  • Movement
  • Etc etc.

When you compare this list to Gardener's Multiple Intelligences, you can see the parallels.  


According to Gardner's Research, the brain has eight “intelligences.”

1) Verbal-linguistic intelligence: ability to analyze written and verbal information.

2) Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability to use and understand calculations, symbolism, and mathematics.

3) Visual-spatial intelligence: ability to use and understand maps, design, visual arts, and architecture.

4) Musical intelligence: ability to produce and compose different patterns of sound.

5) Naturalistic intelligence: ability to use and understand botanical, zoological, meteorological, geological features of the world.

6) Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: ability to develop complex athletic skills such as dance.

7) Interpersonal intelligence: ability to understand others’ desires, motives, and intentions.

8) Intrapersonal intelligence: ability to recognize and understand one's own desires, motives, and intentions.

Interestingly, Gardner and others have posited a 9th "spiritual" or "existential" intelligence.

It's wonderful that the brain research supports what creative teachers have always known! 

What the Rotation Model does is give leaders a STRUCTURE to IMPLEMENT these best practices, and expand the use of certain teaching techniques that are under-utilized.

<>< Neil MacQueen

 P.S.  I will sometimes call "multiple intelligences" learning "senses"  or "lenses." "Senses" doesn't just mean sight, taste, smell, etc., those these are important ways we can interact with information. Music is not just an auditory event, it can invoke our "soul" sense, feelings. And M.I. theory says that "musical intelligence" is not just about sound, it's about rhythm. In that "sense,"  keeping time is a sense too.


Gardner's 7 Intelligences, as interpreted by Don Griggs

with examples for Sunday School

Rev Don Griggs wrote the following summary of Gardener's 7 Intelligences for the Logos Program when he was their editor and published a copy of it at our site a number of years ago. Don is considered one of the Presbyterian Church's greatest Christian educators. After teaching creatively for many years, teaching CE in seminaries, and authoring numerous books and curriculums, he adopted the Rotation Model in his church and taught about it in numerous seminars. 

(an excerpt from Don's article)

The brain has different regions where learning occurs. Each region features a different way it processes information and memories. These unique aptitudes are sometimes described as "intelligence." Each region has its own unique approach and skill for acquiring, processing and expressing information. Each of these regions is interconnected with others, and all are connected to our senses (sight, sound, etc., consciousness, and gut (feelings).  Each of us has a preference or aptitude for using certain intelligence, though we all possess and use each one. 

And as you can quickly see, many Sunday School activities utilize many of our learning intelligences.

Word Smart (Gardener's "Linguistic" Intelligence)

Read about it, write about it, talk about it, listen to it

Through...verbal presentations, large-small group discussions, books, worksheets, writing activities, word games, research, student reports, storytelling, publishing newsletters, using computers, journal writing, choral reading, debates, scripts, poems, re-writing stories.

Number Smart (Gardener's Logical-Mathematical)

Quantify it, conceptualize it, think critically about it, solving.

Through...classifying or categorizing subject matter, logical puzzles or games, creating codes, scientific demonstrations, problem solving, Socratic questioning, etc.

Visual Smart (Gardener's Spatial)

See it, draw it, visualize it, color it, mind-map it, symbolize it, size it up.

Through...charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, photography, slides, visual puzzles, painting, drawing, collages, montage, art prints, illustrating, graphic symbols, video, etc.

Body Smart (Gardener's Bodily-Kinesthetic)

Act it out, dance it, build it, touch it.

Through drama, puppets, mime, creative movement, signing, crafts, role playing, competitive and cooperative games, hands-on activities of all kinds, building projects, physical expression, sculpting with clay, etc.

Music Smart (Gardener's Musical Intelligence)

Sing it, rap it, play it, listen to it, feel the vibrations

Through ...singing, humming, playing musical instruments, rhythms, creating songs, listening to recordings, background music, group singing, etc.

People Smart (Gardener's Interpersonal)

Teach it, discuss it, collaborate on it, interact with respect to it.

Through...cooperative group activity, board games, skits, simulations, group brainstorming, group planning, conversation, etc.

Self Smart (Gardener's Intrapersonal)

Think about it, connect it to one's personal life, make choices regarding it

Through...independent study, self-expression through art or music, self-paced instruction, individualized projects and games, journal keeping, self-esteem activities, personal goal setting and planning, application to personal life, etc.




The traditional "structure" of school, does not always allow for their stimulation or development. "Sit still and listen" for example, stunts the use of other learning faculties.

They also create boredom and distraction for students who need visual or movement, for example, and are fed a steady diet of linguistic or logical.

 Brain research has largely confirmed and expanded on the notion of these "learning intelligences." We are "wonderfully made." 


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