Helping Kids to Infer
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com
There’s something in all of us that loves to follow clues and solve problems. Kids are no different, and it’s easy to capitalise on this when teaching them to make inferences. Inferring is vitally important in helping kids to make sense of what they read.
When we infer, we actually read what’s not there! We read between the lines and work out what’s implied in a text. For example, we might make connections with our own lives to infer what a character’s feelings or motives might be, or predict what will happen next in a story because we recognise certain features of a text type. When inferring, children draw on their own background knowledge, and use clues within a text.
Even quite young kids can learn to infer. Probably the most natural way to do this is to make it an integral part of shared family or class read-alouds. Look at the illustrations in books and ponder aloud: I wonder what the cat will do next? Before a page turn, say: Something tells me the hen shouldn’t go with the wolf. What do you think? Lift-the-flap and peep-hole books have a built-in moment when children are invited to infer what will happen next.
Another idea is to be aware of inferring opportunities in everyday life. When you notice a fallen branch on a windy day, wonder aloud how the branch came to be on the ground. If you notice a sign with a person fishing and a line through it, help your child work out what the symbol is meant to convey. Use words like: maybe…perhaps…it could be…I think…I wonder if…
Older kids might like to take on the role of a detective when learning to infer. Deerstalker hats and magnifying glasses probably aren’t necessary, just a reminder of how we need to focus our attention on all sorts of clues to make meaning from texts. Wordless picture books are great tools for developing inferential skills. Invite kids to develop a narration for the story, or create a collaborative text to go with the illustrations. Picture books with words, short stories, or excerpts from early chapter books will also have lots of opportunities for inferring and making predictions.
Kids of this age often need some scaffolding for their thinking. Wise parents and teachers model inferential language and structures, and help kids deconstruct text to discover meaning. I find the most natural way to do this is to think aloud, and let kids in on my own inferences.
Children in the last two years of primary school have had the opportunity to develop skills in analysing and evaluating literal and implied information in a text. We want them to delve deeply into a range of texts, thinking critically and looking to identify and explain structures and language features. As their reading comprehension strengthens, inferring becomes almost second nature. Don’t discount using picture books with kids this age! Picture books for older readers, poetry, video clips, book trailers, magazine and newspaper articles, even government forms require us to infer.
In conjunction with this post, I’m sharing an inferring activity, Whose Backpack, at my Fun with Learning Blog.
Some online tools to help develop inferring skills:
One resource you might like to explore with your kids is Mystery Net’s Kid Mysteries, where children can read a story and try to solve the mystery via clues.
Into the Book has a section on Inferring where kids can choose from five different texts (letters, a text message, a blog and an image) and use clues to make inferences.
The Detective Game has several scenarios suitable for around 7-10-year-olds to read where they can try to predict or infer.
Inference Riddles is a free game to play on the computer. Kids get lots of clues to help them solve riddles.
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