Teaching inferencing skill sets in special education is often tedious and overwhelming if you don’t have a systematic approach and understand where you should start with each student! I always try to pinpoint the simplest area of breakdown and target in a hierarchical manner.
How I Target Inferencing Skills
- infer action based on object
- infer by feature
- infer by association
- infer from picture
- infer from situational text and picture prompt(s)
- infer from highlighted words in a short text (picture prompts when necessary – fade quickly)
- infer from connected text (preferred topic)
- infer from connected text (nonpreferred topic)
What Does the Research Say?
Barrett’s Taxonomy of Reading Comprehension (1974) identifies the following eight subtasks that enable students to make inferences:
Inferring supporting details – guessing about additional facts the author could have included in the selection that would have made it more informative, interesting, or appealing
Inferring the main idea – providing the main idea, general significance, theme, or moral that is not explicitly stated in the selection
Inferring sequence – guessing what action or incident might have taken place between two explicitly stated actions or incidents or making hypotheses about what could happen next
Inferring comparisons – inferring likenesses and differences in characters, times, or places
Inferring cause-and-effect relationships – hypothesizing about the motives of characters and their interactions with others and with time and place
Inferring character traits – hypothesizing about the nature of characters on the basis of explicit clues presented in the selection
Predicting outcomes – guessing the outcome of a selection after reading an initial portion of it
Inferring about figurative language – inferring literal meanings from the author’s figurative use of language.
Keene and Zimmerman (1997) observed that when proficient readers infer, they:
- Draw conclusions from text
- Make reasonable predictions as they read, test and revise those predictions as they read further
- Create dynamic interpretations of text that are adapted as they continue to read
- Use the combination of background knowledge and explicitly stated information from the text to answer questions they have as they read
- Make connections between conclusions they draw and other beliefs or knowledge
- Make critical or analytical judgments about what they read
Types of Inferences
Coherence inferences These maintain textual integrity. For example, in the sentence Peter begged his mother to let him go to the party, the reader would have to realize that the pronouns ‘his’ and ‘him’ refer to Peter to fully understand the meaning.
Elaborative inferences These enrich the mental representation of the text, e.g: Katy dropped the vase. She ran for the dustpan and brush to sweep up the pieces. The reader would have to draw upon life experience and general knowledge to realize that the vase broke to supply the connection between these sentences.
Local inferences. These create a coherent representation at the local level of sentences and paragraphs. This class of inferences includes: 1. coherence inferences (described above). 2. “case structure role assignments”, e.g. Dan stood his bike against the tree. The reader needs to realize that the tree is assigned to a location role. 3. some “antecedent causal” inferences, e.g. He rushed off, leaving his bike unchained. The reader would need to infer that Dan was in a hurry and left his bicycle vulnerable to theft.
Global inferences. These create a coherent representation covering the whole text. The reader needs to infer overarching ideas about the theme, main point or moral of a text by drawing on local pieces of information.
On-line inferences: inferences drawn automatically during reading.
Off-line inferences: inferences drawn strategically after reading.
Strategies for Teaching Inferencing Skills
The KIS Strategy – KIS stands for: Key Words, Infer, Support. This mnemonic strategy helps students remember the three steps in making and supporting inferences. First, students need to underline key words and facts from the text. Next, the readers make inferences using the key words or facts to answer the question. Lastly, the readers list background knowledge used to support their answers.
It Says-I Say inferring strategy requires readers to combine information from the text with their prior knowledge. It Says-I Say is a visual for students to use to organize their thoughts. The reader needs to show what the text states, what schema they have in their mind and what conclusions they can make based on that information. Graphic organizers like this one help students focus on concepts. This strategy would be most beneficial after the students have an understanding of different types of questions
What in the WORLD is THAT? GAME – Introduce an unfamiliar object (an apple corer). Ask students to infer the object’s purpose. After several guesses, introduce a second object associated with the unfamiliar object (an apple). Continue to ask students to make inferences about the purpose of the first object. Finally, model how the unknown object is used (core the apple). Explain the relationship of using known information to understand unknowns.
That’s BANANAS! GAME – Provide sentences in which one word has been replaced by the word banana. Ask students to write or repeat the sentences, changing BANANA to a word that makes sense within the sentence structure. (Examples: I like to eat peanut BANANAS., Clean your BANANAS with a toothbrush., A dog has four BANANAS.)
Cloze Procedure (Adapted from Dewitz, Carr, & Patberg, 1989) When preparing cloze experiences, follow these two criteria for selecting words to delete: Delete words that are critical to understanding the text and, therefore, cause readers to focus on important concepts; Delete words whose position forces readers to search previous and ensuing text to infer answers that require them to call upon their background knowledge.
Beers, K. (2003). When kids can’t read: What teachers can do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
B. K., & Hughes, C. (1990). A word identification strategy for adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(3), 149-158.
Keene, E.O., & Zimmermann, S. (1997). Mosaic of thought: Teaching comprehension in a reader’s workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
McEwan, E. K. (2002). Teach them all to read: Catching the kids who fall through the cracks. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Colleague & Professional Resources
Rachel Lynette – Tips for Teaching Inference
Speech Time Fun – Tips and Tricks for Working on Inferencing in Speech Therapy
Allison Fors – How and Why to Teach Inferencing
Ashley Rossi – Pre-Reading Strategies for Comprehension Strategies for Reading Comprehension
ASHA Leader Article – Becoming Detectives to Better Understand Our World Through Inference