The teacher stomps into the classroom, slams the door shut, and glares at the students. Undoubtedly every student in that room will make the same inference: the teacher is angry and upset.
If you asked the students how they figured this out, they will tell you that they didn’t need to be directly told. Instead they “read” the situation, put together the information available to them, and made an assumption. Like all of us, children are able to make inferences.
But making inferences from written texts can be frustrating to students. Many of them are adept at answering literal level questions which ask them to locate key details and important information. Inferring involves a much more complicated task.
To make an inference, a reader must combine a number of pieces of information from a text. They must “read between the lines” and think about what may be only suggested or hinted at in a selection. Sometimes the most important “take” from a piece of text is on an inferential level.
When readers infer, they are able to reach a deeper meaning and appreciation of writing. As they read, they began to accumulate clues that are examined and evaluated in terms of their background knowledge, which allows them to draw conclusions about a writer’s message. When we talk about a writer’s intentions or the theme of the novel, we are employing the strategy of inferring.
Another type of inference is prediction. Proficient readers are constantly bouncing ahead in their minds as to what may happen next. They make predictions about meaning, about outcomes, about actions of characters, about events of a plot, about resolution of problems or confusions. Then they read on, to confirm or revise their predictions. In addition, they use other text features, such as headings or illustrations, to predict meaning.
Many of the questions that students generate themselves will call for inferences. When a child asks about a character -“Why did he do that?”- the child is raising a question that may call for an inference. And frequently, questions that require inferences may be open-ended. Two people might legitimately disagree about which inference is best supported by a passage. Hence, inferential thinking could lead to much discussion and perhaps unresolved issues.
The following teaching/learning activities can help children learn the reading strategy of inferring:
- Tour Guide
- Questioning the Author
- Question/Answer Relationships
- Story Impressions
- Author Voice