Making inferences is one of the most important reading skills. It’s crucial not only because it helps kids comprehend text, but it is a key aspect of many other reading strategies, like determining character traits, cause and effect, using context clues, and more.
So, what can teachers do to strengthen this skill? I’ll be sharing 8 foundational activities I like to use, to help kids build their inference skills.
1. Class Discussion: How We Use Inferences Every Day
One of the first things I like to do when introducing (or reviewing) inferences, is to have a class discussion with my students to let them know that making inferences is a skill they already use in real life.
I bring up lots of different scenarios and ask them to tell me what kind of inference they would make in that situation. For example, if we wake up and see tree branches on the ground and lawn chairs turned upside down, we might infer that it was windy last night.
If a friend comes to school on crutches, we infer that he/she had some kind of accident and was injured. If we have a pizza party at school and at recess someone has a big greasy stain on the front of his/her shirt, we infer that probably that person dropped his/her pizza. If we see gray clouds in the sky, we infer that it’s going to rain…
Starting with the idea that we already know how to use this skill in real life and now we just need to apply it to reading, helps kids feel more confident about the lessons to come.
2. Make an Anchor Chart
I pretty much like to use anchor charts (with Mr. Sketch Scented Markers) for any new concept in reading. They help document and preserve our lessons visually and are a great reference tool for learners who need a bit more support.
As part of an inference mini-lesson, I explain to the class how writers don’t always completely explain things to us and that we have to piece things together like detectives, to figure out what’s going on.
We talk about how we take all of our background knowledge and our experiences, called our schema (they already know the word schema from a mini-lesson from the beginning of the year) and combine this with clues from the text (what the author does tell us).
These two things together, the text plus our schema, helps us make an inference, which allows us to more fully understand the meaning of the text.
3. Use the New York Times What’s Going On in This Picture Feature
Before diving into text, I really like to have kids work with pictures. If there is no text to complicate matters, students can gain some strong inference skills with pictures.
One way to do this is by using The New York Times website! Believe it or not, The New York Times uploads a new inference picture every Monday for elementary to high school students.
They actually have a LIVE component at certain times on Monday, where classes are able to explain their inferences and interact with New York Times journalists about the pictures. I haven’t tried the LIVE part yet, but it sounds interesting. Regardless, the pictures are amazing and lead to great inference discussions!
4. Watch Pixar Short Films
If there’s a way to watch Pixar short films in class, I will find it! No really…they are extremely educational for so many reading lessons.
You can find lots of titles on YouTube (and some on TeacherTube) but you’ll want to make sure to preview these ahead of time, so besides knowing the plot of the story, you’ll be able to figure out when you might want to pause the film to have your students make some inferences.
Here are some of my favorite Pixar Short Films for inferences: For the Birds, The Blue Umbrella, La Luna, Presto, Lifted, and Geri’s Game.
I like to use two different kinds of task cards for inference practice. I like to use the picture task cards for centers or for a whole class scavenger hunt.
I also like to use What is it? task cards, which have pictures of objects from days gone by, like an old radio or a washing machine. Kids are given a clue and then asked to infer what the object is.
These are really fun to do in pairs and then to correct together. I love to see how amazed my students are for so many of the objects!
6. Teach With Wordless Books
I have to admit that for a long time in my teaching career, I pretty much ignored wordless books as a teaching tool. I just didn’t get exactly how you could use them. Since that time, I have come to see what a treasure they can be for certain reading strategies, like inferences!
Having only illustrations and no text, forces kids to carefully observe what is going on and to notice small details in order to understand the story’s meaning.
One thing I like to do with wordless books is to model how to “read” them. Every now and then, I’ll stop and do a think aloud, to model for students the thinking processes which are involved in making inferences.
For example, I might say… On this page, the baby is crawling out of the crib and climbing on the dog’s back. I know that… babies cry when they’re scared and this baby looks happy, so…that makes me infer that the baby knows the dog very well, likes the dog, and is comfortable with him (Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day).
Once kids understand the thinking process behind making inferences (book + background = inference and meaning) they will be able to make inferences using wordless books, whether that is simply by discussion, on a sticky note, or on a record sheet of some sort.
Here are some of my favorite wordless books: Flotsamby David Wiesner, Tuesday by David Wiesner, Journey by Aaron Becker, Chalkby Bill Thomson, Time Fliesby Eric Rohmann, andUnspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroadby Henry Cole.
7. Making Multiple Inferences from the Same Picture
With lots of practice under their belt, students are now becoming inference experts! For this activity though, we are asking them to not only make a single inference about a picture, but to make several from the same picture.
An easy way to do this is to use interesting pictures from old National Geographics, Weekly Readers, or to do a search on Pixabay (a public domain picture website) to find interesting pictures. You’ll want to find pictures with lots going on, rather than something too simple for this activity.
Once I find a good picture, I make copies of it and then glue it (or have a parent helper or a student helper glue it) to the middle of a large piece of construction paper to make an inference chart.
Once the inference charts are ready and I’ve explained the activity, I put the kids into small groups and give them the inference picture (everyone can have the same one or each group could have a different one).
Students use their schemas to discuss what they think is happening in the photo and then using PaperMate Flair Pens (because they make everything prettier) and a ruler, to take turns drawing a line away from the picture, where they write their inference.
8. Thought Bubbles With Text
As we move into text, one of my favorite inference activities, is having kids infer what a character is thinking in the story, and then adding a thought bubble to explain it. You can do this using multiple copies of a book (from literature circles or novel studies), stories from a basal reader, or books that are self-selected by students.
The idea for this activity is that as kids are reading, they stop at least once during that reading time, to make a thought bubble for one of the characters in the story on a small piece of paper or a sticky note. Kids can write not only what they infer the character is thinking, but why.
I let them use Ultra Fine Point Sharpie pens, because they look so crisp, with the understanding that they won’t write anywhere near the book! We use scratch paper underneath our sticky notes as we write.
At the end of the reading time. I like to have everyone put the books on their desks and we do a gallery walk to share. Of course, you could do pair shares, small group shares, or whole class quick shares as an alternative.
Once we’ve completed a number of foundational inference activities, like those listed here, it’s time to move into the text a bit more. We start with short pieces of text (task cards, or short passages) before tackling short stories or more complex passages.
If you’re looking for some time-saving inference materials, I do have a number of resources you might like:
Want to go digital? These paperless inference activities can be completed using Google Slides or PowerPoint:
Please let me know if you’ve tried any of the activities here or have favorites of your own.
Thanks too, to Go teach! for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.
Thanks for stopping by!