Winnie-the-Pooh revisited: a case study on the application of multiple intelligences theory in teaching English to young learners

Written by: Zarina Markova, ass. prof., South-West University

Abstract: According to the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) every single child and person in general, can excel in a different area depending on their intelligence (linguistic, logico-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist). The implications for language teaching are that classroom activities should be organised in a way which stimulates our students’ various intelligences. As a result, they get more actively involved in the learning process.

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MI theory – a brief introduction

At the end of the 20th century, Howard Gardner gave teachers a new way to look at the learning process by claiming that intelligence and learning are multidimensional. Thanks to him, teachers confirmed something they have always felt: intelligence is not what you are born with and there is little you can do to change it. Gardner argued that human beings have evolved to have several distinct intelligences to solve any potential problem in their daily lives. In this way, Gardner identified the following intelligences: linguistic intelligence or the ability to communicate to each other; logical-mathematical intelligence or the ability to manipulate numbers or quantities; visual-spatial intelligence or the ability to present the spatial world visually in your mind; musical intelligence or the ability to hear music in our head; kinaesthetic intelligence or the ability to use the whole or parts of the body to solve a problem; naturalist intelligence or the ability to observe and notice changes in the environment; intrapersonal intelligence or the ability to know and understand ourselves; and interpersonal intelligence or the ability to understand other people (fig.1). Although each intelligence is relatively interdependent or semi-autonomous of the others, any significant achievement involves a blend of intelligences.

fig. 1

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MI Theory and TEFL

What are the implications of MI theory for foreign language teaching? As language teachers we traditionally focus most of our attention on the linguistic ability of our students. Students whose strong areas are elsewhere might be seen by us as inactive, stupid and demotivated and, as a result, neglected in the teaching process. If we cater for the various student intelligence profiles that exist in our learning environment we will activate more students and will increase their motivation to study English.

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Outline of the teaching situation

MI theory was implemented in the English language classroom during a 36-lesson language course which took place in a school in Blagoevgrad. 42 eight-year-old children in their second year of study took part in the project. During their first year they had an oral course in English (3 lessons per week); got acquainted with the Latin alphabet; learned to associate letters with English words but they did not read or write anything. During their second year they began to learn how to read and write in English. They had 4 lessons per week with two different teachers: one of them taught them 2 lessons per week following a course book (‘Blue Skies for Bulgaria’, Longman); the other – 2 lessons per week for which there was no prescriptive syllabus. The case study deals with the latter teaching situation.

After the Christmas holiday the children were asked to fill in a questionnaire about the school activities they like most (table 1).

I like I like I don’t know I don’t like
Reading
Writing
Maths
Drawing
Music
English
History and Geography
Doing things with my hands
Physical education
Learning about other people

table 1

Although I was aware of my pupils’ preferences, this questionnaire helped me to get a more detailed picture of their likes and dislikes (chart 1). All children appointed the activities associated with physical education as their favourite which confirmed the my expectations and made necessary the design of as many teaching activities catering forkinaesthetic learners as possible. Since the least appealingactivity was writing the challenge when designing the course was how to ‘disguise’ writing tasks as more attractive activities catering simultaneously for the linguistic and some of the other intelligences (table 3).

After the analysis of the children’s preferences a course was devised, based on A. Milne’s book ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, providing a variety of activities addressing learners’ multiple intelligences.

chart 1

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Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents

Subject: English
Level: 2nd class
Age: 7-8 years
Aims:

Language:

By the end of the course pupils will have:

  • talkedabout food, presents, birthday parties, nature;
  • used “There is / are”, “Have / haven’t got”, “I can see; hear; smell;feel…;
  • asked for permission “Can I give it too?”;
  • commented on suggestions “This is / isn’t a very good idea”;
  • made difference between nouns, verbs and adjectives;
  • used opposite adjectives: good / bad, happy / sad, empty / full, hungry / full;
  • read sentences from the story;
  • recognized familiar words in unfamiliar texts;
  • rearranged mixed letters in familiar words;
  • rearranged mixed words in familiar sentences;
  • acted out conversations and situated them in corresponding places.

Others:

Pupils will have developed their:

  • eye-hand co-ordination;
  • singing skills;
  • drawing skills;
  • co-operation with mates

Time: 18 weeks, 36 lessons

Description:

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Step 1 (1 lesson)

The teacher tells the story of Eeyore’s birthday using toys, lots of gestures, mimes and animal sounds (translation may also help at certain points. Some of the pupils are familiar with the story, though). The teacher reinforces the learners’ previous knowledge of vocabulary connected with animals and food. The pupils get the feel for the story and a general picture of what it is about. Then she teaches the names of the characters in the story: Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl.

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Step 2 ( 5 lessons at 5 different stages of the course)

The pupils are given papers with texts from the story. They underline the words they can recognize. Variations of this activity is repeated throughout the course: the pupils colour the familiar words with their favourite colours; or they associate the familiar words with the corresponding animal and colour them in the appropriate colour; or they colour the words they find easy orange and the ones they find difficult blue. At the end of the course the pupils colour the familiar words according to the following scheme: nouns – red; verbs – blue; adjectives – yellow.

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Step 3

The whole story about Eeyore’s birthday is divided into parts:

  1. Winnie-the-Pooh meets Eeyore and understands about his birthday.
  2. Winnie-the-Pooh meets Piglet and tells him about Eeyore’s birthday. They discuss the presents.
  3. Winnie-the-Pooh starts for Eerore’s place but gets hungry and eats the honey.
  4. Winnie-the-Pooh meets Owl and they write ‘Happy birthday’ on the empty pot.
  5. Piglet bursts the balloon.
  6. Eeyore receives his presents.
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Step 4 ( 6 lessons at 6 different stages of the course)

The teacher tells the first part of the story again, this time using flashcards with what the characters say. Helped by the teacher, the pupils read the sentences on the flashcards. They practise the dialogue chorally, then sing it as a chant and finally act it in pairs. This procedure is followed when introducing the other parts of the story (see step 3).

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Step 5 ( 6 lessons at 6 different stages of the course)

The pupils practise reading by playing a board game in groups of 3-4. (fig. 1). They throw a dice and move a counter along the track. When they step on a picture, they have to name it. When they step on a sentence, they have to read it. If they cannot do that, they are helped by their partners but they miss a turn. When the pupils finish the game, they write the words or sentences they stepped on. This activity with different contents is repeated throughout the course for practicing the latest part of the story.

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Step 6 ( 5 lessons at 5 different stages of the course)

To practise the pupils’ spelling the teacher provides them with activities in which they have to rearrange mixed letters and form familiar words or rearrange mixed words and form familiar sentences. In other activities the pupils have to decipher coded words and messages using a code given by the teacher. At a later stage they themselves cipher sentences from the story and their friends have to guess them.

To reinforce the familiar vocabulary the class, divided in 2 teams, play the game ‘noughts and crosses”. The numbers of letters in the words are given together with their first and last letters. When a team guess the word and spell it correctly, they put their sign (a nought or cross) in the corresponding square ( Since the pupils got over-excited during this game, they played it at the end of the lessons).

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Step 7 (2 lessons)

Maps of the woods where the animals live are distributed among the pupils who have to find each animal’s house (this map is taken from the original book containing ‘Winnie-the Pooh’ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’). When the pupils find all the houses, they colour them. They may colour the rest of the map as well. Then they write (the less advanced learners copy them from the board) different sentences from the story on different pieces of paper and put them on those places on the map where the corresponding conversations take place. More and more sentences are given until the pupils construct the complete dialogues and situate them in their appropriate places.

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Step 8 (2 lessons)

The pupils make figures of the animals from the story using plasticine. They decorate the maps with different natural materials. This decoration is preceded by a discussion of what you can see in a wood; what you can smell, hear, feel. Some new useful vocabulary is presented.

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Step 9 (1 lesson)

Using their plasticine figures as toy animals and the map as woods, the pupils act out the dialogues from the story.Most of them have learned the dialoguesby heart so far. Those who have not find support reading the sentences they have written on the pieces of paper.

Below is a table of the teaching activities used throughout the course and the intelligences they cater for.

Activity Intelligences addressed
Scan the text and find(colour) familiar words linguistic
Read the dialogue and sing it as a chant linguistic, musical
Classify the words/sentences in 2 groups: Easy / Difficult linguistic, intrapersonal
Play a board game and read sentences / pronounce words linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal
Decipher / cipher coded messages logical, linguistic
Noughts and crosses linguistic, logical, spatial
Find and colour each animal’s house on the map spatial, linguistic
Write sentences and situate them on the map linguistic, spatial
Decorate the maps natural, bodily-kinaesthetic, linguistic
Make plasticine figures bodily-kinaesthetic
Act out the dialogues linguistic, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal

table 3

Notes

Throughout the course the pupils were asked to consider what words or sentences they find easy and what – difficult; what activities they find entertaining; boring; easy or difficult. They were not made to take part in activities they felt anxious about. However, when they saw that the others were having a good time and were advancing, they joined in.

All the pupils were thrilled when the maps were presented to them. They enjoyed colouring and decorating the maps and making animals of plasticine.

The pupils particularly liked the board games. In fact, one of the classes wanted to play each lesson, which, of course, was impossible.

Although some of the pupils had already heard the story, all of them enjoyed listening to it in English and prompting the teacher what to say. They were fascinated by the book, wanted to hold it, turn its pages, look at the illustrations. They felt extremely proud that they were able to recognize words and even read some sentences in a real English book. As the course was advancing, more and more students were coming with different editions of A. Milne’s book translated in Bulgarian. They were reading them at home, looking for Bulgarian equivalents of the sentences they had already learned, comparing the illustrations. I found this interest of theirs, togetherwith the language they acquired, extremely stimulating and rewarding.

At the end of the first term the children were asked to fill in another questionnaire about the course activities they liked most (table 2).

I like I like I don’t know I don’t like
Underlining words
Reading sentences from flashcards
Arranging mixed sentences in a dialogue
Reading sentences aloud with the class
Playing boardgames
Arranging mixed letters in words
Arranging mixed words in sentences
Playing noughts and crosses
Colouring the houses in the map
Colouring the map
Decorating the map
Making plasticine figures
Writing and sticking sentences
Reading and playing with figures
Looking through the book
Singing in English

table 2

Their preferences are shown in chart 2. As a whole, more than 50 % of the students enjoyed all the activities, with the board games and colouring and decorating the map their most favourite and arranging mixed words and letters and writing sentences on the maps their least favourite. Yet, the percentage of the pupils who did not like the writing activities from the course is lower than that of the pupils who stated they disliked writing in the first questionnaire, which proved my efforts worthwhile.

chart 2

It was interesting to see whether the application of MI theory resulted in better language performance. Therefore,after the summer holiday the children were tested in: reading aloud sentences from the story; arranging mixed sentences in dialogues; finishing incomplete sentences; arranging mixed words in sentences and mixed letters in words; matching words to corresponding pictures. The results of their tests were compared to the results of the tests of a control group. The control group consisted of 22 children at the same age from the same school. They had the same number of lessons during the past two years and used the same course book. There was no special course for them, the teacher simply did more exercises on the language from the course book. Their test consisted of the same tasks with different vocabulary. The results of the tests are shown in chart 3. The children from the project group were definitely better at reading aloud. The results of the other tasks are not so categorical. Still, they show that the children who participated in the project were slightly better at the test as a whole. Was their performance more successfulbecause of the MI-informed activities I used? There is not enough evidence to draw a definite conclusion but a further research into this field could be considered.

chart 3

In conclusion, I would like to say that the implementation of MI theory in English classes might seem a little complicated. Nevertheless, I think it is worth a try. The positive feedback we will get from our students will make for it.

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Bibliography

Gardner, H. (1999).Intelligence reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st century. New York: .Basic Books
Brumfit, C.J., J. Mood and R. Ton (eds.) 1991 Teaching English to children: From practice to principle. London: Harper and Collins

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