Inferencing Activities that Help Students Make Better Inferences

Engaging inferencing activities are just what your students need! 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 challenge is to help kids learn how to do it with text.

Here are some suggestions for helping your students master this skill through effective inferencing activities.

Understanding Inference

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 (e.g., 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?”

Practical Inferencing Activities

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).

Use pictures:

Picture books are a wonderful source for pictures that can be used for inference. They make a terrific bridge from pictures to text. 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. You can also check out my Inference Pinterest Board for more ideas.

Ask questions:

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. Marzano suggests using the following four questions:

  1. What is my inference?
  2. What information did I use to make the inference?
  3. How good was my thinking?
  4. Do I need to change my thinking?

Make it a challenge:

Have students practice creating inferences as well as identifying them by issuing an Inference Challenge. This can be a terrific writing assignment. Some examples of Inference Challenges:

  • Create a character who is very smart without actually saying they are 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. Sobol. 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.

SVG Image Map Example

Easy to Implement Inferencing Activities

Inference in Pictures: For many children, using pictures is the easiest way to facilitate inference. Unlike text, pictures do not rely on language to get their messages across, and unlike real life, pictures are static, so there is time to observe and discuss. Here are some ways to use pictures:

  • Find interesting pictures on Pinterest that can be used for inference and create questions around the pictures.
  • Use picture books and ask questions such as:
    • How do you think the character in the picture feels? What makes you think so?
    • How does the picture make you feel? Why?
    • What do you see in the background of this picture? How is the background important?
    • Why do you think the illustrator used the color _______ for _________?
    • What do you think will happen next?
  • Choose a concept word, such as “love,” “anger,” or “friendship,” and have students use magazine pictures to create a collage depicting that concept. Give students an opportunity to share their collages, explaining why they selected each picture.
  • Ask each student to bring a picture of himself or herself from home and create one inference question about the picture. For example, if the picture is of the student and his brother playing in the yard, and there are orange and yellow leaves all over the grass, and the sky is gray, the question could be: In what time of year was this picture taken? Display the pictures and discuss.
  • Play a video with the sound off and ask your students to infer what the characters are feeling. Pause to discuss specific body language or facial expressions and then replay the scene with the sound to see how accurate the students’ inferences were.

Inference in Text:

Inference with text is an important reading strategy. It can lead to greater understanding and enjoyment of the reading material. After all, it is fun to make an inference, sometimes so vague it seems more like a hunch, and then have it confirmed later in the book. It makes you feel super smart.

  • Use the clue approach, motivating reluctant learners by having them act as inference detectives. When students make an inference from text, be sure to ask: What makes you think so? Require the student to show which words or phrases led to the inference.
  • When introducing inference, start with very short passages of just a sentence or two. As skills grow, so can the size of the reading material.
  • Create inference bookmarks for students to write down inferences they find in their independent reading. Require a certain number of bookmarks for each book they read.
  • When reading aloud, pause when you come to a section that contains inference clues and question the class about what they can infer from the passage.

Inference Worksheets and Anchor Charts:

Using inference worksheets can be a structured way to practice the skill. Worksheets often provide short passages followed by questions that ask students to make inferences based on the text. These can be useful for individual practice or homework assignments.

Anchor charts are a great visual aid for teaching inference. Create an anchor chart that includes definitions, examples, and steps for making inferences. You can refer to this chart during lessons to reinforce the concept and provide a visual reminder for students.

Inference Ladder:

An inference ladder is a visual tool that helps students understand the steps involved in making an inference. It starts with the text or observation at the bottom rung and moves up through the evidence or clues, logical reasoning, and finally, the inference or conclusion at the top. This can be a helpful guide for students to follow when learning to make inferences systematically.

Example of an Inference Ladder:

  1. Text or Observation (Bottom Rung):
    • “The sky is dark, and there are no stars visible.”
  2. Evidence or Clues:
    • “There are thick clouds covering the sky.”
    • “It’s very quiet outside, and the wind is starting to pick up.”
  3. Logical Reasoning:
    • “Thick clouds usually indicate that a storm might be approaching.”
    • “The quiet and the wind picking up are common signs of an impending storm.”
  4. Inference or Conclusion (Top Rung):
    • “I can infer that a storm is likely to happen soon.”

Inferencing Activities That Are a Little Work to Set Up, But A WHOLE LOT of FUN!

Interactive Activities:

  • Backpack Mystery: Bring a backpack from home filled with specific items. Tell your students that it is their job to learn as much as they can about the owner of the backpack by examining the contents. Pull out one item at a time to discuss. Group items that seem to go together to tell a story (e.g., colored pencils, an eraser, and a sketchbook). You could also do this in small groups by giving each group a different backpack.
  • Mystery Bags: Have students create Mystery Bags at home to share. A Mystery Bag is a brown paper bag with a mystery item inside. On the outside of the bag, the student writes clues about the mystery object inside. Number the bags and have students walk around the room with a clipboard and a numbered answer sheet to record their guesses for each bag. Leave time for students to reveal their mystery objects.
  • Mime: Consider using mime. Mimes rely heavily on inference; if the audience does not infer, the mime’s act makes no sense. Show a good mime video or see an actual performance, or have your students learn specific mime acts, such as pulling on a rope.

Inference Through Role-Playing:

  • Role-Playing Scenarios: Create role-playing scenarios where students must infer details about the character they are portraying. For example, one student could play a detective, another could be a witness, and others could be suspects. The detective must infer details about each suspect based on their behavior and statements.
  • Character Hot Seat: Place a student in the “hot seat” as a character from a book or story. The rest of the class asks questions, and the student answers based on inferences they’ve made about the character. This activity encourages deep thinking and helps students practice making inferences about character motivations and backgrounds.

Using Technology:

  • Inference Apps and Games: Utilize educational apps and games that focus on making inferences. Many interactive reading apps include inference questions and activities that can be both engaging and educational.
  • Digital Storytelling: Have students create digital stories or comics using tools like Storybird or Pixton. As they create their stories, encourage them to incorporate clues that lead readers to make inferences about the plot and characters.

Why is Inferencing Hard for Students?

You might be wondering, why is inferencing so tough for students? It’s a pretty complex skill, and there are several reasons why kids struggle with it. Let’s break it down:

1. Lack of Background Knowledge: To make good inferences, students need to connect what they’re reading to what they already know. If they don’t have much background knowledge about a topic, it can be hard for them to put the pieces together.

2. Understanding Implicit Information: Many students find it tricky to understand information that isn’t directly stated. Inferencing is all about reading between the lines, and this can be especially hard for kids who are literal thinkers or have trouble with language processing.

3. Limited Vocabulary: A strong vocabulary is key to making inferences because students need to grasp the nuances of words and phrases. If their vocabulary is limited, they might miss important clues in the text.

4. Analytical Thinking Skills: Inferencing requires analytical thinking. Students have to evaluate evidence, consider different possibilities, and draw logical conclusions. This level of thinking takes time to develop, and it’s not always easy for everyone.

5. Reading Comprehension: Students who struggle with reading comprehension often have a tough time with inferencing too. If they’re having trouble understanding the basic story, characters, or events, making deeper connections becomes even more challenging.

6. Overreliance on Personal Experience: While personal experiences can help with making inferences, relying too much on them can lead to biased or inaccurate conclusions. Students might draw from their own lives instead of the text, which can cause misunderstandings.

7. Identifying Relevant Clues: Students need to spot and interpret relevant clues to make inferences. This means they have to be careful observers and critical thinkers, which are skills they’re still developing.

8. Confusing Inference with Prediction: Inference and prediction are related but different. Students often mix them up. Prediction is about what will happen next, while inference is about understanding what’s happening now or why something happened.

Here’s How These Inferencing Activities Can Help Students Overcome These Challenges:

Activating Schema:

  • Backpack Mystery and Mystery Bags: These activities can be a great way to build background knowledge. By examining and discussing items, students connect new information with what they already know.

Explicit Teaching:

  • Role-Playing Scenarios and Character Hot Seat: Clearly explain the difference between inference and prediction. Role-playing helps students practice and understand these concepts in a fun way.

Vocabulary Development:

  • Inference Bookmarks and Digital Storytelling: These activities help expand students’ vocabulary as they look for clues and write about their findings. Creating digital stories also reinforces understanding of word nuances.

Scaffolded Practice:

  • Inference Ladder and Anchor Charts: Start with simple examples and gradually move to more complex texts using these visual tools to help students organize their thoughts and build confidence.

Modeling and Think-Alouds:

  • Using Picture Books and Videos: Demonstrate how to make inferences by thinking out loud during read-alouds or while watching videos. Show students how to identify and connect clues to prior knowledge.

Interactive Activities:

  • Inference Apps and Games: Make learning fun with apps and games that focus on inferencing skills. Activities like these keep students engaged and reinforce their learning in a supportive environment.

Frequent Feedback:

  • Two-Minute Mysteries and Inference Challenges: Use these activities to provide regular feedback. Encourage students to explain their thought process and guide them towards more accurate conclusions.

By incorporating these activities into your lessons, you can help your students overcome the challenges of making inferences. They’ll develop stronger reading comprehension and critical thinking skills while having fun!

By making your inference lessons fun and incorporating a variety of activities, your students are more likely to remember and apply the skills they have learned. And don’t forget task cards!

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