A Simple Way to Teach Students to Make Meaningful Inferences

inference activity for upper elementary

When it comes to reading strategies, making inferences is one that students must master in order to dive deep into other reading units such as understanding characters, questioning, and themesInferring is the groundwork for developing readers. It propels them forward as readers, giving them the skills that they need to dive deeper into texts and understand more challenging concepts such as symbolism and foreshadowing.

So what is an inference? An inference is a conclusion made by the reader using text evidence and background knowledge to understand the author’s intended meaning. 

Making inferences is no easy task. It requires careful reading work from the reader including collecting important text support and evidence. So how can we make sure that students are inferring, and inferring successfully, too? By taking a step by step approach, using concrete examples, teaching student monitoring and self-reflection strategies, and providing ample opportunities to practice inferring students will not only understand how to successfully infer, but will become more engaged readers, inferring on each and every page as they read.

When it is time to begin our inference unit, I always begin with this easy to implement lesson that always gets my students hooked on making inferences! All of your students, including struggling readers, will be engaged and understand the concept of inferring immediately! Follow these steps and your students will become experts in making inferences, in no time. (Grab resources for this lesson for FREE at the bottom of this post.)


Setting the Stage to Infer

I love to kick off inferring in my classroom with an introduction activity that provides a concrete visual of how to make an inference. This inferring activity is based on the book, The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg. Before a read aloud of this book, I go over two important concepts I want the students to remember, first is what I call the making an inference secret equation and second is the 3 steps of inferring that I teach my students to use as readers to help them to make an inference.

Making an Inference Secret Equation

When it comes to making an inference, I tell my students that they cannot
infer without using the secret equation. This secret equation is a visual reminder of how to infer. Using the yellow + blue = green concept, students are able to remember that in order to infer, they need to use story evidence (yellow) and background knowledge (blue) to make an inference (green).


making inferences activity for upper elementary kids

3 Steps of Inferring  

After we go over this secret formula, we go over the following simple steps that readers do when making inferences:

Ask What You Already Know: Ask yourself what you already know about what you are reading that can help you to make an inference.
     Ask "Thick" Why Questions: Ask thick questions as you read to make inferences about what is happening in the text. Ask “why” questions to help you infer. Avoid asking questions with one-word answers.
Answer The Questions You Asked: Collect story evidence to answer the questions you asked as a reader. Now infer.

A Simple Way to Teach Students to Make Meaningful Inferences

Note: This lesson is taught after I teach questioning so students are fully aware of the differences between thick and thin questioning.

Time to Get Students Hooked

Once I have gone over the secret formula and the three steps, I engage the students to infer even more before our read aloud. Here is how:

  • I take out three empty cups, a jar of water, and food coloring. 
  • I enlist the help of students to pour water into two of the cups and add a few drops of yellow dye into one cup of water to represent the story evidence we will be collecting during our read aloud. 
  • Another student will add a few drops of blue dye in the second cup of water to represent the background knowledge that will help make an inference.

One of the three cups is left empty. This cup is empty because we have not yet made our inference. By the close of the read aloud, we will combine all of the story evidence yellow water and what we already know blue water and form an inference we will have a cup of green water, and voila…an inference is made!


A Simple Way to Teach Students to Make Meaningful Inferences

Time to hook the readers with a read-aloud of the Wretched Stone

If you have not 
read the book, The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg, it is centered around a large rock that is found on a mysterious island and negatively changes the ship’s crew that brought it aboard. Spoiler alert, the stone is a TV. During the read-aloud of The Wretched Stone, we stop periodically to ask thick questions and record story clues and evidence, along with our background knowledge on a T-Chart to help us infer what the wretched stone could be.

making inferences activity for kids

The students are usually stumped about what the wretched stone could be
throughout 
the reading. Following the reading, we review all of our clues and all of our background knowledge from the chart and it becomes clear what the stone really is. I emphasize to the students that the more clues and background knowledge that we have, the easier it will be for us to infer. 

At this point, the student who correctly infers that the stone is a TV, comes up 
and combines the yellow and blue water into the empty cup, and we have a cup of green water representing the inference made by using story clues and background knowledge. 


making inferences graphic organizer

A Simple Way to Teach Students to Make Meaningful Inferences


This lesson is a great concrete visual for the students to remember what an inference is and how to make an inference, too. It also shows how making an inference truly helps you to understand the author’s theme and message. This inferring lesson is one that students never forget, making it perfect to refer back to as students continue to practice inferring throughout the year! (grab resources for this lesson for FREE at the bottom of this post.)


A Simple Way to Teach Students to Make Meaningful Inferences


Teach Students to Self Monitor

Making inferences is a tricky concept and requires many lessons and activities. Students must learn how to reflect and self monitor the inferences that they are making. As students read longer and more complex texts, students’ inferences will need to be adjusted as they collect more story clues and evidence. Using a continuum style self-monitoring chart, students can see how they are growing as readers on the path to making powerful inferences to help them understand the stories they read more deeply. I have a chart size poster of this continuum in class and students keep a copy in their reading notebooks so that it can be easily referred to all year long! This is a great tool to refer to during your reading workshop one on one student conference to help guide your discussion. 

Practice, Practice, Practice!

making inferences quotes for teachers marzanoWhen it comes to making
inferences, continual practice is a must! In my classroom, we practice making inferences in isolation with short text and inaction while independently reading. Using task cards, short texts, and picture books, students can work together to practice making inferences. Once students are able to successfully make inferences in isolation, we transition to making inferences before, during, and after we read. Graphic organizers, note sheets and sticky organizers are all ways that students can record text evidence that helped them to make inferences.

Making inferences is hard, but rewarding work. It is a skill that must be 
explicitly taught and practiced continuously.  

Being able to successfully make inferences while reading is a foundational skill that students need in order to go beyond the basic comprehension of a book.
It allows them to understand the author’s meaning, compare themes, and fully grasp complex character development. By inferring as they read, students become active readers and begin to fill in the blanks, really searching for the author’s message and information that was not directly given to them in written words.




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making inferences activities and strategies for kids


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2 comments

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  2. Thank You!! I was not familiar with The Wretched Stone. I look forward to using the book with my students!!

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