Teaching Students to Make Inferences

By Keren Perles

Unsure about how to teach inference in the classroom? Teaching inference doesn’t have to be difficult. Instead, you can show students how they make inferences every day and encourage them to do the same as they read.

Introducing the Concept

To students, the phrase “making inferences" often means little or nothing. When teaching inference, it is important to explain to them why making inferences can be so important in the process of understanding what you’ve read.

To do this, tell students a story about a boy who comes in to the classroom and says “I just saw [your name], and s/he dyed his/her hair purple." In response, a girl shouts out “No way!" (Use appropriate body language and intonation to express sarcasm.)

Ask students whether the girl actually believes the boy, and why. After all, she did say the words “no way," which literally would mean that she doesn’t believe him. When students say “It was obvious that she didn’t mean it," emphasize that they need specific proof to back up their pinion, such as the tone of voice or body language. Then explain that this is an inference they would make without even thinking about it.

Graphic Organizer for Making Inferences

Introduce them to a graphic organizer for making inferences. A simple graphic organizer might be a three-column chart with the headings “Proof From the Story," “What I Know," and “Inference." Show students how to fill in the graphic organizer by using the example in the previous section (“The girl flicked her hand and said ‘No way’ in a sarcastic voice," “The words ‘No way’ can also mean ‘Wow, really?’" and “The girl was being sarcastic and saying that she was surprised at what the boy said.")

How to Teach Inference Using Picture Books

Split the class into groups and give each group a wordless picture book. Instruct each group to decide what is happening on each page and how they figured that out. Then have them share their thoughts with the class. This will help them learn how to make inferences in a visual medium without having to deal with words…yet.

Real Life Practice With Making Inferences

Teaching inference techniques to use on non-print sources is only half the battle. The next and most crucial step is to have students make inferences about a story or nonfiction text they have read. To make it easier for students, consider having them make inferences about a text that you’ve already discussed in class. You’ve likely already made inferences on the text, even if you haven’t explained that specifically to students. Have them fill out the graphic organizers for at least several inferences they can make while reading the text.

Continue to refer to this lesson when discussing future texts with the class. Teaching inference in the classroom will help them better understand what they are reading.