Teaching about Circles of Sexuality Using Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Author: J. Sarah Kleintop

Picture 1 for Kleintop blogHoward Gardner (1991) theorized that intelligence was not something that could simply be measured with an IQ test. Rather, he believed that every individual is equipped with a unique set of abilities, or modalities that impact the way an individual can “learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways.” He identified seven different learning styles, or intelligences: (1) visual/spatial; (2) bodily-kinesthetic; (3) musical-rhythmic; (4) interpersonal; (5) intrapersonal; (6) verbal-linguistic; and (7) logical-mathematical.

One of the ways that educators can be more effective is by identifying the needs of the learner: How do students learn best? Are they verbal-linguistic learners? Musical-rhythmic? Logical-mathematical? This information can help teachers cultivate a lesson plan consisting of teaching methods and activities that cater to individuals’ unique learning styles.

So, how might an educator use Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to teach the Circles of Sexuality? What types of learning activities or teaching methods can educators use to accommodate various learning styles?

Picture 2 for Kleintop blogI would first like to preface this by saying this post is by no means comprehensive, rather, my intention is to illustrate how the theory of multiple intelligences can be used by educators as a guide for teaching a sexuality related topic:

Visual-spatial learners think by imagining and envisioning concepts and ideas. Visual aids, like charts, photographs, or videos can be helpful for visual-spatial learners.

For example, teaching visual-spatial learners about intimacy might involve showing a film excerpt of an individual and their partner sharing their feelings or concerns about a situation they had just encountered together. This activity fuels the visual-spatial learner’s need to see in order to learn.

Bodily-kinesthetic learners use their bodies as an extension of their intellect; to engage the bodily-kinesthetic learner, a hands-on component, or activities that require using the body as a way to communicate are key.

An example of teaching sensuality to a bodily-kinesthetic learner might be to provide them with a variety of textures (i.e., feathers, silk, felt, bristles, foil, etc.), to touch, explore, and interact with. For the bodily-kinesthetic learner, knowing how they react to different sensations and textures can help them identify what they may or may not be comfortable with. This activity supports their need to use their body as a tool for learning.

Musical-rhythmic learners think in sounds, beats, and tones. Turning information into a song, rap, or a jingle helps musical-rhythmic learners memorize what they’ve learned, and to be able to recall it later.

In learning about sexualization, for example, the musical-rhythmic learner might benefit from an activity where they are asked to write a song and use an instrument—perhaps the piano or their own voice—to share an experience where they or someone they know experienced a form of sexualization. This activity zeros in on the musical-rhythmic learners need to use music and rhythm as a instrument for learning.

Interpersonal learners are sensitive and keenly aware of the moods, feelings, motivations, and temperaments of others. Interpersonal learners learn primarily through interacting with others, so debates, or group work might be something that would appeal to the needs of the interpersonal learner.

For the interpersonal learner, inviting an individual who has faced some form of sexualization to come in and speak with the class could be a helpful way to learn about sexualization. The opportunity to empathize, to converse with, and to ask questions acknowledges the interpersonal learner’s need to learn through interaction.

Intrapersonal learners are self-reflective, introspective, and show remarkable awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. Knowledgeable, intuitive, confident, and ambitious, intrapersonal learners tend to spend time reflecting and meditating alone. Intrapersonal learners are independent learners and can learn most effectively with books, journals, and alone time.

In teaching about intimacy, for example, an activity where an intrapersonal learner can reflect on their feelings about intimacy through journaling provides then with a chance to be alone and to explore their own thoughts. For the intrapersonal learner, this activity can promote a deeper awareness of intimacy by addressing their need to learn through self-reflection and independence.

The verbal-linguistic learner is easily able to use words to think, communicate, and to articulate their feelings. They enjoy storytelling, vocabulary, poems, listening to lectures, and books, and often learn best by listening, writing, or reading.

When teaching about sensuality, verbal-linguistic learners might benefit from an activity where they are given a poem written about an individual’s experience of exploring and discovering what it means to be sensual. This activity can attend to the verbal-linguistic learner’s need to learn through words and language.

Easily able to recognize patterns and relationships between items, logical-mathematical learners tend to think in abstract ways and enjoy solving problems. Logical-mathematical learners learn best when topics and activities are structured, rational, and are able to be traced from point a to point b.

When teaching about sexual health and reproduction, a timeline illustrating, for example, the stages of sexual arousal, can provide a way for logical-mathematical learners to trace the path of point a to point b. This activity is targeted toward the logical-mathematical learners need to learn through a logical process and lineal order.

The naturalist learner craves the outdoors, finding it easy to interact with nature, animals, and wildlife. Often they are excellent gardeners and landscapers who learn through exploring the elements.

In teaching about sexual identity, an activity that might help a naturalist learner to understand sexual identity would be visit a zoo. In observing the ways that animals relate with one another, assume gender roles, and negotiate differences in their biological sex, naturalistic learners can form a deeper understanding of sexual identity. This activity is concentrated on the naturalistic learner’s need to interact with the environment and to recognize patterns in nature.

Bottom Line
Understanding how learning styles impact teaching methods and activities is important for educators to consider when teaching about topics in sexuality. The theory of multiple intelligences is an important, practical, and useful tool for educators to employ in order to more effectively meet the needs of a population. The theory of multiple intelligences provides the backbone and rationale behind what teaching methods and activities to use and why, in order to address the ultimate goal of creating an environment that facilitates learning.



Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think & how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Circles of Sexuality Leaders Resource (n.d.). In Advocates for Youth. Retrieved September 28 2014, from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/circles.pdf

9 responses to “Teaching about Circles of Sexuality Using Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

  1. Sarah great blog. I never thought of teaching using multiple intelligence . You have given me something to think about and this is has me thinking outside the box. I agree with you that teachers should learn what their students learning styles are so that the learning experience for the child could be a beneficial experience. I am definitely re-evaluating my lesson plans and how I approach teaching students. Thank You

  2. As I was reading this, I was thinking about my own schooling and how the lessons were usually geared toward visual, logical, and verbal learning. Then I wondered if there were statistics out there on how many people are each type of learner, because this would really help me as an educator in creating lessons. In a book called Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Armstrong and Thomas, here’s further information I found: (a) “Each person possesses all eight intelligences,” (b) “Most people can develop each intelligence to an adequate level of
    competency,” (c) “Intelligences usually work together in complex ways,” and (d) “There are many ways to be intelligent within each category.”

  3. This was a very informative post. After taking theories of development I pondered how to incorporate Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences in teaching but never considered combining it with the Circles of Sexuality. I was thinking of surveying students about their intelligences early in the course so that I could have an idea of which intelligences I have in the room; there may be a few or all within a group of students. Thank you again for sharing.

  4. Sarah,

    I thought this was an important post|discussion as well. I think as educators it is easy to fall in the trap of teaching the way we ourselves learn. This article reminds me to use alternate ways of learning as leverage. It has been demonstrated in our class that we don’t receive information in one particular scope of learning. Sometimes students don’t even know they learn in different ways because schools are so conditioned to think in a singular approach. At the very least new audiences will see that you have an authentic approach and teaching style to surrendering information. These multiple approaches can also lower defenses and bias against traditional sex education forums they may have experienced in the past. It’s important to remember we have a responsibility to be fresh, unconventional and willing to expand beyond our own comforts, keeping these intelligences in mind will help us accomplish this.

  5. I agree that considering our students’ possible learning intelligences is important. It occurred to me when we did our own MI self-tests in our first weekend of class that administering that test to my students at the beginning of the semester would provide me with valuable data I could use to construct a curriculum. Of course, since I interact with my students for 3 hours a week for 15 weeks, I can engage in the process of “pre-testing” them, gathering data, changing my own strategies, etc.

    In a sexuality educational context, this is often more difficult because we might only interact with our learners in an hour-long session. In addition, we might be teaching a very specific population whose learning styles and intelligences may actually be fairly similar. I like the ideas you propose here, but what also I’m curious about is how we can develop strategies to ascertain students’ MIs before we create our lesson plans. Obviously this could be part of the needs assessment and/or rationale-building process, but is that often actually done? Based on the examples we saw in class, I’d say it is not.

    These are interesting concepts to pair. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  6. While reading this post it made me really think about the diversity of people I will be teaching. It can be overwhelming to think of how to accommodate for the various learning types in a setting. The way you wrote the post and gave examples of the multiple intelligence’s made it seem less complex. This made me reflect on my own education and realize the activities we did were limited to certain intelligence’s, thus explaining maybe why I did not pay attention a lot of the time. This makes me question if educators have been introduced to Gardner’s theory or just ignoring it and teaching to their type of intelligence (what they feel comfortable with)? I will try my hardest to keep these in mind to incorporate them while educating, I think this is important to keep our audience attention.

  7. I love learning intelligences and you just identified some fantastic ways to teach the circles of sexuality in a classroom. Not only that, but this information is useful for teaching any sexuality curriculum. I think it is so important to recognize that one activity is not going to account for all the learning intelligences in the room. Activities, discussion, journaling, and even homework or take home activities are all great ways to attract learners coming from very different intelligences.
    I think Alex (above) makes a really important point about not having information about the learners in our classrooms when we only interact with them for short periods of time. This idea brings to mind one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far as I creep my way into the teaching community- and that is that curricula should not be a set in stone plan, but instead a guideline that has potential to change. Coming into a classroom, lecture hall, auditorium, etc. and having only one plan for one type of student is not going to fly. We need to enter into every educational endeavor aware that we may need to change the plan we came in with in order to reach the learners in our room. Being well versed in Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and activities/interventions we can use to access different intelligences is essential to recognizing we need to adjust. For example, if we have a restless Bodily-Kinesthetic learner in the room and we are about to explain a scenario we can ask them to come to the front of the room and act it out with us. This both accomplishes our educational goal, and allows this learner to interact in a way that melds with their learning style.

  8. Learning styles is really important, but I think another thing to keep in mind is, as educators, we’re supposed to help people expand the ways that they learn as well. Just because someone might be a weak logical learner does not mean that they can not learn how to be better at learning math. In fact, visualizers are some of the better mathematicians out there. (Einstein was a visualizer, but he could translate what was in his head to equations.)

    I think for the short time we’ll have people in classrooms, it is vital that we incorporate as many intelligences as we can, but we do lose sight of the fact that, with patience, we can also learn each intelligence.

  9. Pingback: The Educator’s Back Pocket | Teaching Sex Ed·

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