Making inferences is simultaneously one of the toughest things to teach and one of the most natural things we do as a reader. Making inferences is a critical part of reading comprehension. It is also one of the most commonly skipped reading strategies when it comes to teaching reading. But I’m guessing that’s not you because here you are! In this post, I want to share with you some of my favorite teaching strategies for teaching students how to make inferences.
What is an inference?
First, let’s start with defining what an inference is. An inference is a reasonable guess you’ve figured out based on what you already know and the details of what you see or read. We also use the skill of inferring to figure out the meaning of unknown words (also known as context clues).
Why is it an important skill for students?
As with many skills in reading, making inferences is a life skill. The better students are able to do this in reading, the more they will be able to apply this skill to real-life situations. In regards to reading comprehension, it is a foundational skill that students need to have to move from learning to read to reading to learn.
Making inferences is also cross-curricular. We use it in science, social studies, and even math. It can also be a very difficult skill. It requires students to move from the concrete to the abstract. And this is why it requires explicit instruction.
Teaching Strategies for Making Inferences
Model, Model, Model! Start by showing students what it looks like to infer.
- Think aloud → your natural thought process as you are reading (This is why your read-aloud is so important!!!!)
- Model → Asking Questions, Self-Monitoring
- Explicitly show your thought process
Because inferring is an abstract concept, I’ve stepped out of the order in which you might have students practice inferring. Or how you might teach it. They are in an order that builds upon one another. Maybe you have already taught your students explicitly how to infer, but they still seem to struggle. This is where you can back it up a notch. Also, the first few strategies would be great starting points for students with special needs or a language barrier. With these tricky concepts, scaffold your instruction.
1. Act it Out: Show students how you might express emotions in real life. For example, stand up from your chair and put your hands across your chest. Stomp across the room. Ask students to infer how you are probably feeling. Act out other examples of inferring character feelings from books you are reading/have read (perhaps your read-aloud).
2. Video: Using video to teach your students how to make inferences lets children practice the skill of inferring, but without having to decode and understand a text. This is a great way to introduce or get students engaged in making inferences. I included links to some examples of videos (and books mentioned below) inside the Making Inferences Reading Mini Unit. Students can infer the plot of the video, including how the characters feel, the setting, etc. This is a lot of practice in a more accessible way, especially for your students with special needs or a language barrier, or any students that struggle.
3. Wordless Picture Books: Wordless picture books are special because the author doesn’t explicitly explain what is happening in the book. Students have to use illustrations to tell the story. Many books, especially those by David Weisner have very detailed illustrations. So students will have to explain their inferences from the evidence (illustration) in the text.
4. Picture Books: Picture books are a great way to teach students how to use illustrations to connect words. Students can use the words and pictures as evidence/clues to make an inference. Looking for book recommendations? Check out this post for some of my favorite picture books for making inferences.
5. Pictureless/Chapter Books: This goes back to your read-aloud. You can consistently model how to make inferences throughout the entire year with your read-aloud. The way you read the book, your tone of voice, your expressions, your reaction, etc. all play a vital role in helping your students understand how readers begin to infer naturally. You can consistently check in with your students’ ability to infer during conferences or small groups.
As you read these books, you can use questions and sentence starters to help students infer.
Questions for Making Inferences:
- What kind of person is the character in your book?
- How does the character feel?
- What clues from the text make you think that?
- What clues helped you understand the meaning of this word?
Sentence Starters for Making Inferences:
- The text says ______. This makes me think…
- I can infer that…
- When I read ______ it made me realize…
- I can tell ______ is _____because…
🔍 Try this Free Download!
I’ve got a free download for you to get started with making inferences. This free pdf includes graphic organizers, recommended books, and videos that you can use when it comes to teaching students how to make inferences
If you are looking for more resources to help your students practice making inferences, check these out!
These resources are also available inside the TLL Membership.
What other tips do you have for teaching your students how to make inferences?