I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I used to love teaching students to make inferences. Learning to analyze an author’s purpose is a key skill for middle and high school English students, but many of them see it as a mysterious process that’s hard to do. That’s why I loved teaching it because it was fun watching them realize that it’s not as hard as they think. So what did I do? Here are three ways to teach students to make inferences with activities that students found engaging.
Use visuals to teach students to make inferences
We make inferences constantly, every day. Whenever you see a scene in your home, on the street, in your classroom, your mind immediately makes assumptions – and inferences.
Point this out to students with pictures. I like to find some photos where they can make some quick inferences, like the one below. The woman in the photo might be sick, based on what we see, but she could also be sad, or have allergies. There is a clue on the coffee table if you look closely enough, and students enjoy looking at and discussing these clues. Start with a few easy ones, then move on to some that are more challenging.
After we look at several photos as a class, I send my students to stations where they get a handout that contains a series of pictures that they use to make inferences. For example, in the one pictured above, they need to make inferences about who might own all of the objects. After they are done, I show them pictures of different people and they “make a case” for why that person might own the objects.
At other stations, students make inferences about what is happening in a picture or series of pictures. There’s enough variety at the stations to give them practice – and confidence – with using what they know, along with their experiences, to make conclusions.
Once they see how easy it is to make inferences with visuals, they are much more willing to try the process while reading because they feel like they do have the skills.
Use “visuals” in your instruction too
I like to use a lot of color and images in the slides I use for lessons. Both help the students see what they need to do when they follow any process, and in this case, making inferences.
Modelling your own process is super important and the more you can do that when students are learning, the quicker they will learn the skill.
Teach students to infer with scenes that have the stage directions removed
This is a really fun and effective inferencing activity. Find a scene from a play that has stage directions, copy a page or two, and white out the stage directions. Put your students in groups and have them write in what they think the stage directions should be, based on the inferences they make from what is left on the copy.
After each group has finished, have them share what they came up with and see which group was the closest to the original.
What I like about this activity is that students get to see that we make inferences based on what people say and do. But it’s not always the full picture and, sometimes, when we get more information, we can come to a greater understanding. This connects to reading because in books, we have to continually look at all of the clues the writer is leaving us, and put them all together.
If you’d like some original scenes, all ready to use for this activity, you can find it in the resource linked below:
Let students teach each other to make inferences
This is another engaging way to teach students to make inferences.
After you’ve tried some of the activities above, let them take the reins and give their classmates some practice with this writing activity. Give students (in pairs or groups) a strip with a “telling” statement like the one pictured here:
They will spend time brainstorming and then creating a short, descriptive paragraph that shows readers what is written on the strip, without telling them. Encourage them to try to avoid as many of the words on the strip as they possibly can (the ones that identify what is going on, not ones like your, a, is, etc).
Students will write their paragraph clearly on a piece of paper and adhere it to the wall. Then, follow this up with a gallery walk where they need to infer what was written on each group’s strip.
So, those are three ways to teach students to make inferences. Each one is an engaging activity that shows them that they already have the skills they need to infer while they are reading the texts for your class. Give them a try!
If you want inferencing activities all ready to go, you can check out my Making Inferences resource here:
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