Learning to inference is an important skill to develop that will help students across the curriculum and in their lives. Inference is a “foundational skill” — a prerequisite for higher-order thinking and 21st century skills (Marzano, 2010), the good news is it can be explicitly taught. In this blog post, I will try to give you some ideas and how it can be taught along with a forever freebie that can be used with Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.

An inference is an educated guess. When we inference,  we use what we know or assume to be true during the process of reasoning. When we predict we are making a guess based on what we see in the text/illustrations but we are not tapping into our own personal background knowledge.

With inference, we…

  • Need to find clues to get some answers.
  • Need to add to what we already know or have read.
  • Need to understand that there could be more than one correct answer.
  • Need to be able to support our inferences with evidence.

Inference should be taught with visualization. Students should visualize what is in the text/illustrations to help them get in the place where inference comes to them. Have a bag ready, in the bag put a couple things such as a pacifier, bootie, thermometer and have your students infer who the items belong to and what is happening. They should make a guess that it is a baby and the baby is ill. You can have a couple of these “inference bags” ready and have your students fill out the Inference Bag sheet for each bag.

Next, hand out the “What Can We Infer?”  The students will use the picture clue to describe what they see in the picture and then infer why they have there ears covered. If you would like to show them the complete picture after the activity, just right click the image below to save the picture to your computer. Once showing them the complete picture you can also have them infer why they are in a field and why there is a girl with a megaphone… Who knows! I like using this picture because sometimes you can infer and infer and you still might be completely wrong!

Ultimately we want them to connect this skill with reading as well. In order to choose a book, choose a text that has some ambiguity and requires reading between the lines. Consider texts that encourage the reader to think about what they know and merge their knowledge with clues in the text.

I chose Diary of a Worm, because his experiences are humorous and relate well with elementary age children and also many skills can be taught with this one book.

Read the book through and remind students to take on the world from the point of view of the worm which will help them infer. Then complete one of the worksheets together, another with a partner and the others alone.

After giving each student their copy of the worksheets, read the text together and choose the keywords. Have them write a sentence that summarizes their thinking from the clues in the text. Then have them think about the gist of the text and put themselves in Worms place, think about their background knowledge and write that down. Next they will synthesize both of their ideas and come up with an inference.

The final activity is having them write a diary entry as Worm that helps the reader understand Worm’s entry for the 8th. You can have them illustrate their entry or have them create a worm from pipe cleaners or other materials to add some arts and crafts to this activity.

Marzano, R. (2010). Teaching inference. Educational Leadership, 67(7), 80-01. Available online at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr10/vol67/num07/Teaching-Inference.aspx.