The International TEYL Journal
FREE Materials for Teachers   |   CertTEYL Certificate Course  |   FREE Monthly Newsletter
Return to journal index and home page.

Naturally Curious: Bringing New "Intelligence" to TEYL

By Gregory Quinlivan, ESL/TEYL teacher working in Taiwan

Urban-dwelling children today spend much of their holidays in air-conditioned malls or playing organised sports or computer games, and have little chance to become acquainted with nature (Hoerr, 1997). Therefore it is important to develop their "naturalist intelligence" (NI) and help them to make sense of the world of plants and animals. Those who teach English to children should be acutely aware of this and consider modifying their current pedagogical practices to incorporate this "eighth intelligence".

Howard Gardner's theory of "multiple intelligences" (MI) has been influential in changing the way teaching and learning is delivered in schools. In the classroom MI helps students recognise their strengths and preferences, it gives teachers a better understanding of learners, it provides a guide to more ways of learning and demonstrating that learning, and it addresses all learners' needs in lesson planning (Christison & Kennedy, 2003). Because Gardner has stated that most people can develop all eight intelligences to a reasonable level, there is value in nurturing them through learning activities.

Much has been written about the first seven intelligences which were announced in 1983, but not the eighth, or "naturalist intelligence", which Gardner (1999) added in 1996. Despite little empirical work since, NI is a useful educational resource so clearly demonstrated in the curiosity of very young children exploring their environment through playing with "bugs" and getting their hands dirty in the back yard.

While Gardner's MI theory affirms that we all have these intelligences in differing proportions, as others have noted, the intelligences work "in consort with one another" (Ramos-Ford & Gardner, 1991). This means designing lessons which draw on a number of the intelligences to encourage their balanced growth. By helping children to develop NI, teachers will also help in developing the other intelligences, including their linguistic intelligence.

It is important to distinguish "multiple intelligences" from "learning styles". In fact, each learning style may be used as a way of advancing the intelligences. So development of the "naturalist intelligence" should be achieved through each learner's preferred visual, auditory or kinaesthetic style.

Howard Gardner has consistently stated that intelligence is concerned with solving problems and fashioning products. Campbell (1996) adds that NI is the ability to recognise and classify elements (animals, plants and minerals) in an individual's environment, as well as sensitivity to other natural phenomena, such as clouds and geographic formations, and differences among non-living forms, such as cultural artefacts. This ability also permits pattern recognition in urban environments, like sorting and organising sports playing cards and athletic shoes. Naturalists listen, watch birds, observe patterns, classify, hike, climb, fish, dig, plant and photograph living things, the sky, mountains, lakes and rivers (Fogarty, 1997). In the EFL/ESL classroom such skills may be used to solve language problems, such as gap fills and jigsaws, to recognise and classify grammatical structures, to write poems or songs using adjectives from the outdoors, and to listen with greater sensitivity to the sounds of the language.

In validating each intelligence, Gardner has considered eight essential factors which confirm their general applicability. In the case of the NI, the results are listed below.

Figure 1. Theoretical Basis for the "Naturalist Intelligence" (Armstrong, 1994).
Core Components Expertise in distinguishing among members of a species; recognising the existence of other neighbouring species; and charting out the relations, formally or informally, among several species.
Symbol Systems Species classification systems (e.g. Linnaeus); habitat maps.
High-End States Naturalist, biologist, animal activist (e.g. Charles Darwin, E. O. Wilson, Jane Goodall).
Neurological Systems (Primary) Areas of the left parietal lobe important for discriminating "living" from "non-living" things.
Ways that Cultures Value Folk taxonomies, herbal lore, hunting rituals, animal spirit mythologies.
Evolutionary Origins Early hunting tools reveal understanding of other species.
Presence in Other Species Hunting instinct in innumerable species to discriminate between prey and non-prey.
Historical Factors Was more important during agrarian period; then fell out of favour during industrial expansion; now "earth-smarts" are more important than ever to preserve endangered ecosystems.

There are many reasons why using NI activities with young learners will assist them to build their "linguistic intelligence". It permits a theme- or task-based emphasis within an integrated linguistic approach. A NI approach teaches topics, situations and functions from a new perspective. Hands-on learning maximally stimulates the five senses through lived, real-world experiences, and encourages students to engage in authentic, meaningful communication as they discover nature. Since the suggested tasks (in Appendix D) are motivational, students are more likely to participate in a "free voluntary reading" (FVR) program, which is part of Stephen Krashen's theory of ESL reading, and teachers may also explore texts about the outdoors. Some of the recommended Internet-based activities (in Appendix E) can build confidence and motivation in reading and writing, while involvement with the local community may build listening and speaking skills.

When considering the inclusion of NI in classroom activities, teachers need to explore many aspects, including what kinds of category charts and diagrams would be most useful, how to encourage students to describe or observe the environment, and how to relate NI to the learning of English (Yücel, 2005). An additional aspect for review is appropriate assessment instruments. In general, alternative assessment, such as portfolios, displays and oral presentations, rather than summative assessment, would be most suitable.

Topics which will nurture the "naturalist intelligence" in primary grade students and provide a learning focus are shown in Appendix A. Teachers of young learners may support this development by using a number of strategies to explore these topics (see Appendix B). Although excursions to natural settings are the most desirable option, this may not be practical, particularly in urban classrooms, due to cost, distance and potential risk of injury. Nevertheless many strategies listed can be safely undertaken indoors with or without modification. Teachers may also consider using a variety of technologies (see Appendix C) to stimulate this intelligence.

The number of activities available to develop NI is considerable. This paper briefly outlines selected items and two lesson ideas. Interested readers should explore these and others further through the resource sites listed below. Teachers of young learners should also consider the language level and physical requirements of activities when developing lessons and units of work using the activities suggested in Appendix D.

The reader may consult the organisations and links shown in Appendix E to access more details about some of the strategies mentioned and other resources suited to teaching young learners. Examples here include fact sheets, instructions on starting a butterfly house, virtual field trips and dissection, games, and computer-based projects, all of which may be used in the classroom.

Two recent books with a focus on ELT and MI in the classroom by Berman (1998, 2001) are also valuable to teachers of young learners.

One simple classroom activity requires the use of atlases and computers to determine the biodiversity level of all countries around the world. Students access the site at, and analyse the colours, from blue (with the least biodiversity) to red (with the most). The atlases provide the country names, which can also be learned as a vocabulary exercise. Students simply complete a table with columns for each colour. Discussion could include the reasons for these results, any surprises, and what can be done to increase biodiversity.

Another activity involves growing alfalfa sprouts. It only requires some seeds, a glass jar and a stocking. After soaking the seeds overnight, the water is drained, and the seeds are rinsed daily with clean water. After about five days they start sprouting. The next step is to spread them in the light briefly and then they may be eaten. Students can run the experiment in groups, note each day's changes and growth, eat each group's products and vote on the tastiest. More advanced students can suggest how to get the best results. Full details and photos may be found at

Teachers currently incorporating a "multiple intelligences" approach and those looking for fresh ideas should carefully examine the NI since most schools do not currently include it in their language curricula. Activities that promote the NI provide a great motivational force for young language learners, and many of the skills developed support their growing linguistic intelligence. NI also stimulates a different part of students' brains while learning a new language.


Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Berman, M. (1998). A multiple intelligence road to an ELT classroom. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.

Berman, M. (2001). English language teaching through multiple intelligences. London: NetLearn Publishers.

Campbell, B. (1997). The naturalist intelligence. Retrieved March 5, 2006, from

Campbell, L., Campbell, B., & Dickinson, D. (1996). Teaching and learning through multiple intelligences. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Christison, M.A., & Kennedy, D. (2003). Multiple intelligences: Theory and practice in adult ESL. Retrieved March 4, 2006, from Eric Digests at

Education Department of South Australia (1993). Teaching and learning strategies for ESL learners R-12. Adelaide: Author.

Fogarty, R. (1997). Problem-based learning and other curriculum models for the multiple intelligences classroom. Melbourne: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Hoerr, T. (1997). The Naturalist Intelligence. Retrieved March 4, 2006, from

Hoerr, T. (2004). How multiple intelligence informs teaching at New City School. Teachers College Record, 106 (1), 40-48.

McKenzie, W. (2006). Intelligence profile: Naturalist. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from

Meyer, M. (1998). Learning and teaching through the naturalist intelligence. Retrieved March 4, 2006, from

Ramos-Ford, V. & Gardner, H. (1991). Giftedness from a multiple intelligences perspective. In N. Colangelo & G.A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (pp. 55-64). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Yücel, B.A., (2005). 8 Smarts in ELT materials. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from

Appendix A

Topics to Nurture the "Naturalist Intelligence":

  • animals (e.g. their behaviour)
  • birds (e.g. colours, feather patterns)
  • butterflies (e.g. size, colours, life cycle)
  • conservation (e.g. "save the whale", recycling)
  • ecosystems (e.g. deserts, rainforests)
  • environmental issues (e.g. pollution, alternate energies)
  • fish (e.g. habitats, varieties)
  • flowers (e.g. growing, life cycle)
  • gardening (e.g. planting vegetables, fruit, plants, flowers, mulching)
  • geology (e.g. landforms, mountains, lakes, rivers, continents, oceans)
  • insects (e.g. variety, function, place in evolutionary hierarchy)
  • plants (e.g. seasons, root systems, poisonous ones)
  • rocks (e.g. types, origins, minerals, uses)
  • seeds (e.g. growing sprouts)
  • shells (e.g. collecting, shapes, patterns, associated creatures)
  • stars (e.g. place in the night sky, constellations, star signs)
  • trees (e.g. hardwoods, softwoods, plantation, rainforest)
  • weather (e.g. regular patterns, extreme) (Campbell, 1997).

Appendix B

Strategies to Support the Development of a "Naturalist Intelligence":

  • selecting naturalist topics
  • sensory observation: feeling, smelling, listening
  • data collection from observations
  • using graphic organisers, semantic mapping and brainstorming categories (McKenzie, 2006)
  • using classifying, sorting and attribute grouping tasks
  • building portfolios of student work
  • making regular connections to the natural world
  • using appropriate technologies
  • creating an eco-club within the school
  • using appropriate activities both indoors and outdoors
  • linking with external organisations (e.g. Audubon Society, Scouts, Guides, Outward Bound, orienteering)
  • constructing student-friendly outdoor facilities within the school grounds
  • setting up "learning centres/stations" within classrooms.

Appendix C

Technologies for Use with Naturalist Activities:

  • magnifying glasses
  • microscopes
  • binoculars
  • telescopes
  • bug boxes
  • plastic containers
  • computer databases
  • tape recorders
  • scrap books
  • compass and maps
  • filing equipment

Appendix D

Suggested Activities for Young Naturalists:

  • bird watching, including watching nests, together with recording observations
  • clean-up day and recycling items found classroom-friendly

  • nature walks/nature hunts e.g. find certain insects, leaves, rocks, flowers etc.
  • visiting zoos, botanical gardens and museums of natural history

  • talking or writing about your pet's behaviour classroom-friendly

  • show-and-tell collected items classroom-friendly

  • planting flowers, vegetables, fruit and other trees

  • forecasting the weather

  • recording height of students over time on a growth chart classroom-friendly

  • catching butterflies and collecting shells

  • learning the names of different types of animals classroom-friendly

  • watching National Geographic and Discovery Channel programs

  • performing a virtual dissection (e.g. frog) classroom-friendly

  • studying pond life and noting findings

  • tape recording the sounds of nature

  • designing their own experiments

  • constructing a garden, like New City Elementary School, with a dry creek bed, planting boxes, trees, plants, grasses, rocks, etc where students can dig, observe, explore, sketch, read, pretend (Hoerr, 2004)

  • setting up a learning centre with all required supplies and materials for individual or small group tasks. e.g. a science/experiment centre could include magazines and field guides, tools, magnifying glass, microscope, measuring devices, bug jars, specimen containers and a computer classroom-friendly

  • holding a display of student portfolios, charts, posters, etc for local community. classroom-friendly

  • classroom-friendly Indicates classroom-friendly activities.

Other, more language-focussed tasks for in-class use could include:

  • identifying objects as similar or different
  • information gap activities, such as a jigsaw on the life cycle of a butterfly
  • crossword puzzles using suitable vocabulary, such as fruit and vegetables
  • completing a matrix on the characteristics of different birds
  • classifying activities, such as matching examples (e.g. pine) to categories (e.g. trees)
  • brainstorming, for example, words relating to a topic
  • cloze activities based on a process
  • sorting sequential pictures, such as the germination of bean sprouts
  • drawing and labelling a diagram based on a written description
  • retrieval charts e.g. putting weather reports for three different locations into a chart
  • using a note-taking proforma, such as placing information about chimpanzees under various headings e.g. appearance, movement, behaviour, feeding habits (Education Dept of S.A., 1993)
  • following a recipe
  • writing poems or songs using experiences of the outdoors (Meyer, 1998)
  • reading aloud stories about the outdoors, space, natural phenomena, animals or plants
  • learning about famous naturalists such as Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, George Washington Carver, etc
  • performing role plays of natural cycles, animal behaviour, and plant growth

NOTE: many of the instructions for these activities may be found at sites listed below in Appendix E.

Appendix E

Annotated List of Resources and Links:

Animal Club provides activity ideas, animal fact sheets and educational resources to "inspire and encourage students to develop and foster the values, knowledge, understanding and skills needed to protect animals". It is found at

The following site contains a review of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle, for primary language learners, and includes advice on starting a butterfly garden and building a butterfly house:

Jim Conrad, a naturalist, has built the site He explores plants, animals, fungi, ecology, geology, gardening, and tools in your backyard, naming and classifying living things, seasonal projects, quotations, being a naturalist, and he issues regular newsletters.

A free K-12 educator's resource at provides virtual science field trips, mainly based on nature, as well as teacher materials.

The site describes a nature hunt activity suited to young learners.

The Audubon Society from the USA can be found at This organisation aims to conserve and restore natural ecosystems through a network of centres and chapters, programs and advocacy.

Free software is available at to print out pictures of farm buildings, to plan animal levels and crops, and to learn how farms operate.

For the teacher, Walter McKenzie has developed a website based on his own lengthy experience as an educator. It offers links to theory, technology and instruction, and also includes a MI blog and discussion group. It is found at

The Ched Toys website contains a few basic puzzles suitable for very young learners which show various animals and common habitats. It also has materials for the other intelligences.

For more advanced ESL/EFL students (Grades 3-12) there is an interactive earth science project called "Sands of the World" which can be accessed at

The site is designed to link MI concepts to the classroom. In particular, this link sets out a three-part lesson for Grades 3-6 on exploring a salt marsh.

For those with a strong stomach, students can participate in an interactive frog dissection at

To make connections with the wider world, Elementary students can collect samples from local ponds and participate on-line with students from many other countries to answer the question "Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world?" It is available at

For an extensive bibliography on MI for EFL/ESL learners the reader is referred to from the Education Faculty of the University of Sagrado Corazon.

Comments and questions? Please contact us.

The International TEYL Journal is owned, published, and copyrighted 2006 - 2012 Advanced Teacher Training.
All rights reserved. Online ISSN 1705-6276 Print ISSN 1705-6268 CD-ROM ISSN 1705-6284