Inference can be a tricky reading strategy to teach, which is a bit ironic since most of us are constantly inferring things about the world around us and have been since a fairly young age. The trick is to help kids learn how to do it with text. Here are some suggestions for helping your students to learn this skill.
Be sure your students know what inference is (and what it isn’t)
Inference is using facts, observations, and logic or reasoning to come to an assumption or conclusion. It is not stating the obvious (stating the obvious: that girl is wearing a fancy dress and carrying a bouquet of flowers. inference: that girl is a flower girl in a wedding). It is not prediction, though the two are definitely related. Remind your students that inference asks, “What conclusions can you draw about what is happening now?” Prediction asks, “What will happen next?”
Let them know they are already experts
Find ways to show how they infer things all the time. Here are some fun suggestions for demonstrating this idea:
- Come to school in a T-shirt from an event such as a charity run, concert, or theater performance. Ask the students what they can infer from your clothing choice.
- Ask the principal or another administrator to come into your classroom at a time that looks unexpected to your students. Have a short, whispered conversation off to the side, during which you point at the fire alarm in your room and then look at your watch (or any other scenario that makes sense). After the administrator leaves, ask the students what they think the two of you discussed.
- Have a student stand in front of the class and ask what the rest of the students could tell about him if they did not already know him, just by looking. For example, his eyesight is not very good (he is wearing glasses). He likes the Seahawks (he is wearing a Seahawks T-shirt). He walked in some mud on his way to school (there is some mud caked on his shoes).
Picture books are, of course, a wonderful source for pictures that can be used for inference. They make a terrific bridge from pictures to text. Here is a list of Inference Picture Books from Amazon. Before you read the text, ask the students what they can learn from the pictures. Comics are another great source for inference pictures. Cut or block out the captions and speech bubbles, and have your students discuss what they see. If you are looking for a great inference warm-up, you might want to check out my Inference Pinterest Board.
Ask inference questions while reading aloud from both literature and nonfiction selections across the curriculum. Teach students to use inference questions when reading independently. Robert J. Marzono in his excellent article in Educational Leadership suggests using the following four questions:
- What is my inference?
- What information did I use to make the inference?
- How good was my thinking?
- Do I need to change my thinking?
Make it a challenge
- Create a character who is very smart without actually saying he or she is smart.
- Write about a very cold afternoon without saying that it is cold.
- Write about an old car without saying that it is old.
- Write about somewhere that is scary without saying that it is a scary place.
Make it fun
Coming up with inferences is a bit like solving a puzzle or a mystery. Older students will enjoy Two-Minute Mysteries by Donald J. Sobel. Try reading one to the class as a warm-up or when you have a few extra minutes. For younger children, check out this set of 101 Online Inference Riddles from Phil Tulga. These would be great for independent learning at a computer station. And of course, you can also check out my inference offering: Two sets of Task Cards, one for grades 3-6 and one for grades 1-2.