Knowledge of Students' Characteristics: Definition and Checklist


Dunn and Dunn (1992), among those who conceptualized students’ learning styles, define learning styles as the way "each learner begins to concentrate on, process and remember new and difficult information" (p. 2).  Only by examining each individual’s multidimensional characteristics, can we identify that person’s learning style ( Dunn, Dunn, &  Price, 1989).  According to Gremli (1996), “an individual’s learning style is the way that person begins to process, internalize and concentrate on new material” (p. 24).  Each person learns in a unique way. There are similarities, of course, but “every person has a learning style – it is as individual as a finger-print” (p. 24).  Howard Gardner's (1993) theory regarding the nature of intelligence stresses the importance of not viewing intelligence as a uni-dimensional construct, like the "general-factor," but rather as a series of independent intelligences: (a) verbal/linguistic, (b) logical/mathematical, (c) visual/spatial intelligence, (d) bodily/kinesthetic, (e) musical/rhythmic, (f) interpersonal, (g) intrapersonal, and (h) naturalistic.

Checklist of Observable Behaviors
Characteristics of student learning the teacher needs to take into account

___ 1. Verbal /Linguistic Intelligence:

  • Asks lots of questions

  • Enjoys talking

  • Has a good vocabulary

  • Can pick up new language easily

  • Enjoys playing with words (e.g., word games, puns, rhymes)

  • Enjoys reading

  • Likes to write

  • Understanding the functions of language

  • Can talk about language skills

  • Is good at memorizing names, places, dates, and trivia

___ 2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence:

  • Enjoys solving puzzles

  • Plays with numbers (counting)

  • Wants to know how things work

  • Is oriented toward rule-based activities

  • Is interested in "if...then" logic

  • Likes to collect and classify things

  • Is analytical in approach to problems

  • Does well at math, reasoning, logic, and problem solving

___ 3. Visual /Spatial Intelligence:

  • Likes to draw

  • Likes to take things apart

  • Likes to build things

  • Enjoys puzzles

  • Likes to doodle

  • Has a keen eye for detail

  • Has a good sense of parts to the whole

  • Is mechanically adept

  • Remembers places by descriptions or images

  • Can interpret maps

  • Enjoys orienteering

  • Is good at imagining things, sensing changes, mazes/puzzles, reading maps and charts

___ 4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence:

  • Has a good sense of balance

  • Has a good sense of rhythm

  • Is graceful in movement

  • "Reads" body language

  • Has good hand-to-eye coordination

  • Can solve problems through doing

  • Can communicate ideas through gesture

  • Has early ease in manipulating objects (e.g., ball, needle)

  • Is good at physical activities (e.g., sports, dance, acting) and crafts

___ 5. Musical/ Rhythmic Intelligence:

  • Is sensitive to sound patterns

  • Hums tunes

  • Taps or sways in rhythm

  • Discriminates among sounds

  • Has a good sense of pitch

  • Moves rhythmically

  • Captures the essence of a beat and adjusts movement patterns according to changes

  • Remembers tunes and sound patterns

  • Seeks and enjoys musical experiences

  • Plays with sounds

  • Is good at picking up sounds, remembering melodies, noticing pitch/rhythms, and keeping time

___ 6. Interpersonal Intelligence:

  • Demonstrates empathy toward others

  • Is admired by peers

  • Relates well to peers and adults alike

  • Displays skills of leadership

  • Works cooperatively with others

  • Is sensitive to the feelings of others

  • Acts as a mediator or counselor to others

  • Is good at understanding people

  • Is good at organizing communicating, and sometimes manipulating people

___ 7. Intrapersonal Intelligence:

  • Can express strong like or dislike of particular activities

  • Can communicate feelings

  • Is aware of strengths and weaknesses

  • Is confident of own abilities

  • Sets appropriate goals

  • Works toward ambition

  • Is good at understanding self and focusing inward on feelings and dreams

  • Is good at following own instincts

  • Is good at pursuing own interests and goals

  • Likes being original

___ 8. Naturalistic Intelligence:

___ 9.  Immediate Environment: effect of sound, light, temperature,
            and furniture/setting design

___ 10. Emotionality: student’s own motivation, persistence, and

___ 11. Sociological Preferences: effect of learning alone or in
             different-sized groups

___ 12. Physiological Characteristics: effect of when and
             how students learn--time of day, food and drink,
             energy levels, and mobility while learning

___ 13. Processing Inclinations: global, analytical, right/left,


            Dunn,  R., & Dunn, K. (1992).  Teaching secondary students through their individual learning styles:  Practical approaches for grades 7-12.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

            Dunn R., Dunn K., &  Price, G.  E.  (1989).  Learning style inventory. Lawrence, KS: Price Systems.

            Dunn,  R.,  & Griggs,  S.  A.   (1995).  Learning styles: Quiet revolution in American secondary schools.  Westport, CT: Praeger.

            Gardner,  H.  (1993).  Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences /10th Anniversary Edition.  New York: Basic Books.

            Gremli, J.  (1996).  Tuned in to learning styles. Music Educators Journal, 83, 24-27.


1. Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence:   Grades 5-8

 To accommodate students' verbal/linguistic intelligence, a teacher initiates a “Vocabulary Bank” to connect new concepts with prior knowledge.   Using a unit of study in which previous vocabulary words form a foundation for the next lesson, the teacher writes on the overhead or board four to seven key vocabulary words that students learned in previous units.  The class reviews the definitions and discusses the importance of these words in the upcoming lesson or unit.  Students are then invited to start a vocabulary section in their journals or notebooks.  After reviewing the first set of words, the class identifies four to seven new key words and definitions to be studied in the lesson or unit.  Students are encouraged to use their own words (and drawings if appropriate) to record meanings (Bellanca, 1997, p. 2).

2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence:  Grades 4-7

In this activity called "Math Jigsaw," students complete a variety of math practice problems presented in a lesson.   This can be done before independent practice with students who benefit from sequential, step-by-step instruction or from working in a mixed-ability group.  After providing direct instruction on a math topic, the teacher divides the class into pairs or trios and assigns practice problems to each group.  The teacher coaches each group, insisting that all group members know how to explain their problem-solving methods, step by step.  Concepts that need more clarification are retaught, highlighting the correct procedure (Bellanca, 1997,  p. 62).

3. Visual/Spatial Intelligence: Grades 5-8

"Web Check" is designed to help 11- to 14-year-old students build on prior knowledge by learning more about a topic or concept.  It can be used at the beginning of a new lesson, topic, unit, or semester.  From materials the teacher assembles, cooperative groups of three to five students are asked to select four to six resources to reflect different aspects of the topic.  Students review the materials and make two lists: what they know and what they want to know about the topic.  Each group then uses its list to create a newspaper or magazine ad, “selling” the study of the topic.   The teacher posts the ads and discusses their content (Bellanca, 1997, p. 116).

4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: Grades 4-6

An activity named "Back to the Future" will help students review prior knowledge and connect it to a new topic by constructing a time-travel machine. This activity can be used at the beginning of a course or major unit.  Materials needed are construction paper and art materials (crayons, scissors, glue), toothpicks, clothesline, and clothes pins.  Working in cooperative groups of four to six, the students are provided with low-cost materials for constructing a time-travel machine.  Each group chooses a year from the past or future.  Using their textbooks and other resource materials, students explain in a one-page description how the information they learned relates to their selected year and how it could help others. The teacher can string a clothesline across the front of the room and attach each group’s description where it belongs along the time line (Bellanca, 1997, p. 162).

5. Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence: Grades 3-4

The teacher can address musical/rhythmic intelligence using an activity called "Recall Rap" to help students  understand how musical instruments produce sound and how the sound becomes music.  A guest musician is invited to the class to demonstrate and discuss his or her instrument.  After the demonstration, the teacher and students create a list about the instrument and how it works. Using this list to develop criteria for student-created instruments, the teacher invites students to bring in materials and work in groups to make instruments similar to the demonstrated one.  After creating an instrument, each group shows its instrument and explains its features in relation to the criteria and the original instrument (Bellanca, 1997, p. 214).             

6. Interpersonal Intelligence: Grades 4-6

The "Teamwork Collage" activity helps students learn the individual behaviors that contribute to teamwork and the values of teamwork. Supplies include magazines, posterboards, scissors, and glue. The teacher forms heterogeneous groups of three students each and gives each group a set of magazines, scissors, glue, and two sheets of posterboard.   Each group is to use the materials to make two collages: one showing teamwork and one showing individual performance. After the groups are done, the teacher posts the collages and ask volunteers from each group to explain their choices (Bellanca, 1997, p. 264).

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: Grades 6-7

In this “Autobiography” activity, students examine the characteristics of and write an autobiography. Students can use the activity throughout a lesson or unit to expand their writing abilities. They first study an appropriate sample autobiography, identifying its characteristics, such as personal story, interesting pace, connected incidents, and influence of background.  They use a sequence chart or time line to model an arrangement of important life events. The teacher can also invite students to write and sequence their life histories, explaining sequencing events by using a chart or time-line event (Bellanca, 1997, p. 360).

8. Naturalistic Intelligence: Grades 2-3

The “Gardening Project" lets students create and care for a garden, using a botany unit integrated with mathematics and language arts. Materials/supplies needed are open land or garden plots, seeds or seedlings, gardening tools, string, and fertilizer. The class uses a prior knowledge identifier to determine what students know about gardens, to introduce the project, to create a class garden, and to brainstorm what they might learn from the whole experience.  Working in groups of three, students preview the group tasks, which include measuring the plot, laying out the plot for four items (by rows or quarters);  selecting what they will plant and how; and identifying appropriate roles or tasks for each group member.  The teacher provides students with a selection of seeds or transplants (four types per group) and gives them planting and watering instructions.  Students prepare the soil and design the plots. The teacher encourages students to record information about their gardening activities in a gardening journal.  Students have to make weekly visits to the plots to thin plants, tend the soil, weed, water, and fertilize. They also have to harvest the crops and send samples home. They revisit the goals of the project and make a class list of what was learned (Bellanca, 1997, p. 372).

9. Immediate Environment: Grades 3-7

For a personal communication class, a teacher chooses a circle or semi-circle arrangement to give each student contact with every other student in class (Forte & Schurr, 1994).

Lighting in a classroom is also important. A teacher can redesign conventional classrooms with cardboard boxes and other usable items placed perpendicular to the walls to create quiet, well-lit areas and, simultaneously, sections for controlled interaction and soft lighting.  The teacher might try turning off the lights and reading in natural daylight with underachievers or whenever the class becomes restless (Forte & Schurr, 1994).

Furniture design is another important element. For instance, a teacher can permit students who want to do so to work in chairs, on carpeting, sitting in bean bags or on cushions, or seated against the walls as long as they pay attention and perform as well as or better than they had previously (Forte & Schurr, 1994).

10. Emotionality: Grade 6

Liz is a highly motivated and persistent student.  She does not require external structure and sometimes prefers to provide her own structure.  For instance, for history class students are assigned to make a PowerPoint presentation about an important European city.  However, Liz has her own ideas about how to do the presentation. In this case, the teacher needs to determine how to work with a student who imposes her own structure and doesn’t want to conform to class guidelines for the project. 

The teacher decides to speak to Liz collegially and not address her in an authoritative or directive tone.  He says, “Liz, it is important to me that you make this presentation.  Before doing this, please search the Internet for information about that town.  I know you can progress faster than most students, and I do not want you to become bored.  However, if you do not find the material interesting, speak with the librarian, who may be able to help you find multimedia on this topic.  Or, you could see if our local museum has information that we don’t have in our school library. Also, if you prefer, you can translate the material into a videotape and that might make the topic very interesting. Which of these alternatives makes sense to you?”

The teacher gives the student choices in order to get the project done.  This seems to work for this student, who is responsible but nonconformist. 

11. Sociological Preferences: Grades 3-4

A teacher can construct a chart to show what students think team members are like when they go through each of the following stages:  forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.  It has been said that a successful team in science or any other subject must go through these five developmental stages to function and complete the assigned task. Each of these stages has its own set of behaviors or characteristics (Forte & Schurr, 1994). 

12. Physiological Characteristics: Grades 4-6

To assure mobility while learning (as one example of a psychological characteristic), one science teacher requires that each student hold the name of an element in one hand. When she calls out a compound, the two who hold its component parts are required to come forward and place their signs together on the blackboard to signify that a combination of the chemicals forms that compound.  For example, hydrogen (H) + chloride (CL) = hydrogen chloride (HCL).

For children who need food or drink while they concentrate, a teacher could permit them to bring raw vegetables to school.  However, students need to understand firm rules: They must not make loud noises while eating, and they must throw away any food or drink leftovers so no food items remain in the classroom (Tingley-Michaelis, as cited in R. Dunn & K. Dunn, 1992). 

13. Processing Inclinations: Grades 4-7

Students could design an experiment to demonstrate which freezes first--hot or cold water.  Students can find clues to this mystery in library books that describe air as an insulator, heat gradient, volumes of cold and hot water in equal containers, and the evaporation of hot liquids. Students  also could visit or call a company that manufactures ice cubes commercially to find out why their ice cubes are clear whereas most people's refrigerators produce ones that are cloudy (Dunn & Dunn, 1992). 


            Bellanca,  J.  (1997).   Active learning handbook for the multiple intelligences classroom.  Arlington Heights, IL: IRI/Sky Light Training and Publishing.

            Dunn,   R., & Dunn, K.  (1992).  Teaching secondary students through their individual learning styles: Practical approaches for grades 7-12.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

            Forte,  I.,  &  Schurr,  S.  (1994).  Interdisciplinary units and projects for thematic instruction. Nashville, TN: Incentive Publications.