There are thousands of strategies that people might use to improve their reading skills. However, most educators and educational researchers agree that there are seven strategies that have the most impact on student learning. These strategies can be used in conjunction and often work best when they are. Students can combine activating prior knowledge and questioning as we do in other posts. They may also choose to use strategies such as making inferences and determining importance.
Inferring is a reading comprehension strategy that aims to help children and students find information that is not explicitly revealed in a text. The colloquialism would be to read between the lines. For example ”the color drained from her face” could be used to infer the character was scared or shocked. This skill teaches students to attach further meaning to the text and predict or infer author meaning.
Making inferences can be one of the most challenging strategies children will attempt. Young children are often very literal, and making inferences means that the answers are not right in front of them. One of the questioning strategies we have already covered asks children to think about what they cannot see on the page. For many children, this is difficult. However, it is possible to teach children to make inferences. We have resources and ideas here and in our Reading Strategies workbook to help you with this and other reading strategies.
Many of these strategies help students view things differently. They stop looking at what they can see and start exploring what they cannot. Teaching these strategies is not easy, though. When considering Bloom’s taxonomy, inferencing can help students develop their higher-order thinking skills. These skills are vital to many core subjects, not just language arts. They are skills we all use daily at work and at home. Starting to develop them in children is essential.
Students can learn to make inferences by making predictions. We first have to model making predictions. We should walk students through making those predictions. Young students will often tend to predict things that they want to happen. When teaching students to make predictions, we must have them tell us how they determined what they think. For instance, if they think the protagonist will steal something from the store, ask why they think that will happen. On the other hand, if they think the protagonist will choose not to steal, they should have some clues as well. These should be evidenced from the text to demonstrate to the student that the clues are there, we just have to actively search from them. This is SO important, it is how we change students from being the passive recipients of information and ”truth” to starting to think and form their own opinions based on their experiences and morals.
To model this, read a new story or passage to your child. Ask him or her what might happen next. When your child answers, tell them what you think will happen. Talk about how you made that decision. What context clues from the story helped you make the decision. Continue reading the story. Find out if you were right. Talk about whether or not you were surprised about the actions of the characters.
Put down the books. Wait, how will that help reading comprehension? You do not have to read to improve your inferencing strategies. While it is a good idea, children can watch others to determine what is happening or what they might do next. When standing in the grocery store, ask your child what they think the person aisle with you is making for dinner. Talk about what ingredients might go into that dish and if you see any of them in their cart.
If you do not want to get that “up close,” watch people walking in the park. Talk about what you think their relationship might be. A man and a woman could be a father and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister, cousins, or friends. Ask your child why he or she thinks that is their relationship. In addition, ask your child what he or she thinks they are doing in the park. Are they eating a picnic meal? Could they be on a date, celebrating something, or exercising?
All of these develop the skills needed to think beyond just the information we are presented with. It also asks children to activate their prior knowledge which is an equally important skills.
While learning to make inferences, children can begin to look at the pictures in the books they are reading. They can decide what the characters are doing, how they feel, and what they want to do. You can talk to your child about the clues that lead them to the inference. Practice looking at everything on the page in the book. What color is the sky? What kind of face is the character making? Is he or she holding anything? Where are the adults? Other questions may help children predict or make inferences. Asking about thoughts and feelings can help students learn to analyze expressions.
If you want to use pictures outside of a book, you can still have students determine what is happening. What are the people doing? Why are they doing it? You might even have students write a short story about the photograph. Why did they choose that story?, what happens next, how are they feeling, why do you think that. Use as many questioning techniques as possible and children will soon start to use these naturally with less, and then no prompting needed.
We have pictures and other tasks on the site and in the reading skills Workbook for you if you are needing further resources. Although they can be found almost anywhere. These can be used for both inferencing and predicting skill practice.
Board games like Cluedo (clue), Guess Who or mystery books and even the fighting fantasy books which i loved as a child! can help students analyze things that they don’t usually examine. These games and books can help children look at clues beyond what is on the page. Why did the character or player make the move that they made? What is missing from the scene? How do we know who is present?
Children can learn to look at what they see and fill in the blanks for what they do not see. They can use this to determine what might happen next or the motivation of the characters.
Ask your children to write a mystery. Help them determine what information can be left out, but the mystery still be solved. On the other hand, make sure that they know that some information will give away the ending. The mystery may even be like a dinner mystery or weekend mystery that adults sometimes do for fun.
Have them present the family with a mystery (stolen camera, phone, or trinket, for example) and provide clues to solve the mystery. When was the camera stolen? Who was home? Who were they with when the camera went missing? Where was it last seen? Children also have to examine alibies and behaviors.
Create inference cards that children can easily solve but that they need to make inferences to do so. It could be a “who am I?” game or another similar task. You will give the students enough information to solve the puzzle, but they will need to consider what is on the card and what is not.
Inference cards can be created to accompany a book or other reading material, or they can be self-contained. Students must think about why they are answering the cards in that manner. Guess Who is a great board game for this activity as well.
As mentioned Inferencing is a skill that is so cross curricular it almost defines the word. However it is skill a skill, so it needs to be taught and practiced as regularly as any other skill. Hopefully the ideas above have got you started.
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!