By definition, inferencing is “a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning”(Google). It is the skill of being able to think analytically and learn to understand ‘implicit’ messages in all kinds of texts (print, digital, advertising, graphic, etc.).
Unlike decoding and re-telling, which are low level literacy skills, inferencing (also known as ‘reading between the lines’) is a higher end literacy skill many students struggle with.
We begin to teach students to inference as soon as they begin interactions with text. In the ELK classroom, this could be asking students to explain the meaning of an image in a story book without understanding the words beneath it. By the time students reach secondary school, they are expected to be able to read challenging texts and use inferencing skills to interpret meaning that isn’t obvious, such as being able to explain a main idea, confusing graphic or dominant literary theme.
However, somewhere between ELK and secondary school, we veer away from inferencing, as so many of our students are struggling with basic, low level literacy skills. How can we teach them to inference if they don’t even understand the basic concepts of what they are reading?
The answer is to expand our understanding of how to teach inferencing and to explore a variety of different types of texts to introduce the concept of the skill, then transfer it to more challenging literature or informational texts.
5 easy ways to teach ‘inferencing’
- Show students an interesting picture/piece of art and ask them to explain the 5 W’s of the text and to defend their choices by pointing to clues in the image. This activity can also include deeper questions such as asking for inferences that point to: meaning, purpose, time period, artist’s expression, etc.
- Ask students the meaning of physical and digital signs with little to no text and how they can understand/interpret meaning without words i.e. driving signs (arrows); poison signs (skull); emojis (moods).
- Share and ask students to explain examples of ‘figures of speech’ , such as: “I’m so cold I could freeze to death” , “Stop yelling like a hyena!”, “The wind is howling”, “If I had a million dollars for every time I heard that excuse…”, etc.
- Have students look outside, then ask them to explain to explain the ‘mood’ of the weather that day, using clues from the physical environment.
- Examine your school crest/symbol/team name – have students brainstorm what it ‘says’ about students at your school.
Inferencing is much more than a reading skill; essentially, it is the process of training the brain to think metaphorically rather than literally. Many students have already acquired this skill as it has been modelled at home in the context of both reading materials and experiences, but for many of our students it is something completely foreign to them that needs to be explicitly taught.
Once students understand the process of ‘inferencing’ in simple situations, transferring the skill to actual reading is much easier since they will have a pre-existing skill set.
How do you teach inferencing in your classroom? Share your strategies in the comments section below!