Repetition is essential to helping students master inference-making, so create fun and engaging lessons that promote critical and complex thinking. Your students will make inferences in all subjects and in many areas of life outside the classroom throughout their lives. Active participation in your inference lessons will help your students grasp the concept.
Real World Examples
Provide your students with real world examples of observations and inferences. For example, say, “I brought an umbrella to school today. This is an observation. Why do you think I did that? You could infer that it is raining outside.” Another idea is to have a whispered conversation with another adult in which you point to the clock and perhaps to the fire alarm if you are at school. Then ask students what they think you discussed and why they think that.
Picture Books and Comics
Turn the pages of a picture book so students can see the illustrations, and ask them what they think is happening and why. Point out that they are providing evidence to support their inferences. Another idea is to white out the speech bubbles in child-friendly comic strips and ask them to infer what is happening in it. Take it a step further, and have them fill in the bubbles with their own writing and describe why they thought the characters should say what they do in their own versions.
It Says, I Say, and So
Kylene Beers developed a teaching tool called “It Says, I Say, and So” that helps students grasp inference. Download the inference graphic organizer from the Reading Rockets website. The first column is entitled “Question.” Here, students write the question they have about the text. The second column is “It Says,” and students write the quote from the text that pertains to their question. The third column, “I Say,” is where students write down what they already know about the question. The final “So” column allows students to write down their inferences about their original question by putting what the text says and what they already know together.
After reading a short text about a scientist who had to change her inferences after gathering data and identifying the evidence and inferences, have students participate in a science experiment with you -- chemistry or physics would work well -- in which they record observations and make inferences. Have them evaluate whether their inferences were correct and revise them if necessary.
Oral or Writing Challenge
Ask students to tell or write about a character that is smart. The catch is that students cannot say this directly; the story should imply it. Another option is to have students write about a scary place but not say it is a scary place. Students then share their writing with a partner or with the class, and those listening should make inferences about the text and say what evidence supports their thinking. In addition, Rebecca Binks of the Day of Reading website suggests filling up a bag full of related items -- baby bottle, pacifier, and a baby blanket, for example -- and show the children. Ask them to tell or write about who they think owns the bag and why they think so.
Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.