Why should we integrate Naturalistic Intelligence in teaching?

In addition to tapping students’ learning styles and interest, what kind of benefits does having Naturalistic Intelligence in teaching and learning bring?

1. It helps our students to be aware of the surroundings and of themselves
How many of us have been walking around the campus or our own neighborhood without noticing the beauty round us? Here is some pictures in our campus. But when showing them to the class, almost no one could recognize them. (Click the picture to check answers and find more info.)


     And almost no one knows that we have NYU Garden Shop. (Click the picture to more info.)


     We are too busy with our life and sometimes forget about the things around us.  It is the same with our students. Focusing on homework and exams everyday, they seem to have lost the joy of being with nature. And by getting in touch with nature, our students could also learn to better know themselves. When they sense, feel, touch, smell and see the nature, they are actually feeling themselves.

2. It is particularly meaningful to urban students
Students in suburban or rural areas usually are more aware of the nature as there are more recourse around them. National/State Parks, lakes and mountains, or even farms and animals are in their life. They grow in that environment. And even the school does not teach them about nature, they will learn by themselves or their families and communities will educate them about it. But students in urban areas are usually surrounded by buildings and vehicles. The resource around them is limited. And their families and communities are more concerned about work or economies rather than nature. Thus it is even more important that teachers bring the concepts of nature and ideas of getting close to nature into the classroom to the students.

3. Skills that Naturalistic Intelligence involves could also benefit students in other subject areas
Students with a strong naturalist intelligence:

  • Are intrinsically organized
  • Demonstrate an empathy with nature
  • Pick up on subtle differences in meaning
  • Like to make collections of materials
  • Enjoy sorting and organizing materials
  • Impose their own sense of order on new information
  • Respond to semantic mapping activities
  • Prefer charts, tables, diagrams and timelines

(Retrieved from http://surfaquarium.com/MI/profiles/naturalist.htm
You may also find more information at http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/mi/campbell.htm )
The skills and abilities mentioned above are very helpful to students in terms of skills and abilities. They could also be utilized when studying other subjects. For example, being organized is a very good learning habit and also very useful in sorting out concepts and knowledge. Charts, tables, diagrams and timelines could be used in Maths, Physics and even History. Students will benefit from these skills and abilities a lot once they understand how those could be used to help them. And it is the teachers’ job to encourage them to explore themselves and realize that.

In Foreign Language classrooms, it is particularly meaningful to integrate naturalistic intelligence. According to American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages standards, connection to additional knowledge should be provided in foreign language learning. Naturalistic topics therefore can be integrated in instructional process and curriculum as a connection. And our students are interested in these as well. Naturalistic intelligence does not only benefit the teachers’ teaching but also motivates our students.


The Power of Naturalistic Intelligence

The Power of Naturalistic Intelligence

How does naturalistic intelligence work? Do we have to bring biology or zoology in to our teaching in order to use naturalistic intelligence?

Students still share the same end goal but they achieve it through different ways. For example, if the goal is to improve writing paragraphs, students with linguistic intelligence might get to writing right away while students with visual-spatial intelligence might draw the things out first to help them organize.

Here we would like to share with you a story called Merengue Dream. It perfectly illustrates how naturalistic intelligence could be utilized as a bridge to the new knowledge. It is a story from the book Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph. It is also available in Bobst Library. (Click the picture above to see the book in amzon.com)

Due to the  document size, we are only able to upload the scan of the story as two separate files on google doc. Please use your nyu account info to sign in to view the story.
Merengue Dream Part I
Merengue Dream Part II


Hands-on Activities

Outside the Classroom Activities

There are many activities that teachers can use to help students learn about nature. The most direct way probably is field trip. When students go out of classroom and stay in the nature, they can see the trees, hear birds singing and smell the fresh air flowing in the forest. With these communications, students can know a lot about nature by themselves and learn much deeper.


However, filed trip has several limitations. It costs money, time and efforts a lot. Students don’t have many opportunities to go out. Usually, school only schedule one field trip in a semester. Then what can teachers do? Fortunately, along with the development of technology, we can do the activities that are hard to conduct in real life. For example, teachers can go online and use the virtual museum to let students enjoy the trip of different museums all over the world.

More than just knowing some knowledge about nature, students should also interact with it, be a member within and a friend of nature.  They can get involved in an environment protection program and volunteer in some environment protection events. Also, they can just protect the environment in their communities and some little actions in daily life can make a big change in the future.




Build a Birdhouse

Projects can help students apply what they know into practice and learn how to do. A very common project that develops naturalistic intelligence is building a bird house. This project helps students to have the empathy on animals and any other things in nature. Also, after finishing the bird house, students can observe birds’ behaviors if there are some birds living in.

3       But one important thing when students are building a birdhouse is that they should be under parents’ help because sometimes this can be very dangerous and some tools are difficult to use, especially for the younger kids.


Make a habitat diorama

Similar with the birdhouse, habitat diorama is also a way for students to learn about animals and their environments. Students can use a big box as the habitat and make some animal cards or 3-D models to put in the box, then decorate the environment with some pictures of grass, trees or water, depending on which habitat they want to show. After these easy steps, a habitat diorama is done. Students can hold an exhibit to show their wonderful works and learn the other habitats their peers create.




If you think your classroom does not have enough space for many habitat dioramas, another activity can meet your requirement. Students can make scrapbooks with the scrapbook 002natural materials, such as flowers, grasses, leaves, tree branch and feathers. The book could be a story like an adventure and students can decorate it with natural objects that are related to the story. On the other hand, it is not necessary to be a story. It could be just a dairy recording everything that students see, smell, hear, touch and taste in their everyday life and also use some natural materials they find to put in the book.


Grow a plant

One characteristic of students who have high naturalistic intelligence is the ability to IMG_1368take care of other living beings, for example, having a pet and growing a plant. In the classroom settings, the better way to develop this competency is growing a plant. Just as the picture shows, each student gets a little flowerpot and put a little seed in it. After a few days, a little bud comes out and if students can takes care of the plant very well, they would see the beautiful flower in the end.


Turn the classroom into a museum

Museum is an excellent place to train students’ naturalistic intelligence because it has many natural resources. Including going to a real museum and an online one, the third way to learn nature in a museum is actually turning the classroom into a museum. This is much difficult than just exploring. First, Students need to know very well about the topic they want to show; then they can use their hands to create a station.

5742245-0-4    5742244-1-4


Quick Activities

Animal Cards

In the 45 minutes of one class period, teachers could use some quick activities to teach nature. One popular activity is animal cards. The teacher gives students several animals cards and asks them to sort into two groups. The animal number of each group does not need to be even. And students are totally free to use their own way to group. For instance, the animal cards are shark, sheep, dog, snake, elephant and giraffe. Some students may put shark into Group 1 and the rest animals into Group 2 because the shark is the only marine animal here. Some other students may group elephant, snake and shark together because they are not fluffy. There are many other ways to complete this task as long as the classification is clear.

Another way to use animal cards is to create a food chain. It can be very simple: put some animal cards on a board, and then draw the arrows that show the relationships of the animals. It can also be creative, like using ropes instead of lines to indicate the eater-eaten interactions.

images (2)                dscn0602

For the purpose of doing on-class activity, the teacher can draw a food chain without giving the animals and asks students to put the correct animals in the boxes of the food chain. It is better that this activity is done as a group work and each student takes charge of one animal. This can help them to learn the social ability of cooperating with others.

food        Untitled


Students’ works

IMG_0875           IMG_0877


Nature sounds

The ability of enjoying and appreciating nature sounds is also an important characteristic of naturalistic intelligence. The teacher can ask students to create a story based on the sounds they hear. For example, the teacher gives students the sounds of ocean, people chatting. Then students may write a story about a group of people living near the ocean.

Here are two resources that teachers can find nature sounds. One is a website called “Sound Gallery”, which has many nature sounds on it. Another one is an iPhone/ iPad app called “Relax Melodies” and this app is also very convenient.


You can find a lot of activities about naturalistic intelligence online and some of the ideas are very creative and interesting. Here are some links may be useful for teachers:


Activity #1

Read Aloud in the ESL Classroom

It is not always easy to take students outside the classroom and allow them to experience nature during the class time. Using stories and poetry with vivid language that has a scope for incorporating all the 5 senses (touch, smell, taste, hear, see) through the use of lucid vocabulary is very helpful. Below is a book recommendation followed by an activity and some suggested variations that you can use in your classroom.

Title: Understanding and Experiencing Naturalistic Intelligence through poetry.

Goal: By the end of the session students write a color poem using the 5 senses to describe how they perceive a particular color in a particular season.

Objectives: To understand the use of descriptive writing through poetry. To understand personification.

Target students: ESL upper intermediate or adult learners

Prerequisite: The students have had a couple sessions on descriptive writing and understanding

personification. This can be a culmination session for the two.


Write down the name of the book in big letters on the class board. Do not show the students the cover of the book yet. After you have written the name of the book, as them the following questions:

  • What do you think the title of the book suggests?
  • Have you ever seen anything that is red and can sing on treetops?
  • Do you see different colors in different seasons? Where do you see these colors?