The Importance of Inferring

Whether we know it or not, all of us make assumptions or come to conclusions as we read.  When we read that a character left the house holding an umbrella, we assume that it is raining.  When a character has to stretch to reach a top shelf, we come to the conclusion that the character is short.  These assumptions and conclusions are called inferences. And while it may be second nature for us, inferring is not always that easy for children.

What is Inferring?

Inferring is the process of combining evidence from the text with knowledge you already have to come to a new conclusion. Text evidence + prior knowledge = an inference.  In the cases above, you know that people usually use umbrellas when it is raining out and that people who are short would not be able to easily reach a top shelf.  We used that information to draw a conclusion about the setting or the character of the story.

Introducing Inferring

A fun way to introduce inferences with your children is by phrasing it as a riddle or a game.  Start simple using animals or places.  Here are some examples of simple inferences you can do with your children:

  • I bought a bag of apples and a gallon of milk.  What kind of store was I at? (grocery store)
  • I saw an animal with a bushy tail. What animal did I see? (squirrel)
  • The girl sat on a large orange piece of plastic to move down a snowy hill. What was she sitting on? (sled)

As your child gets better at guessing the riddle, make your clues more and more difficult.  Also you may want to start using the words “inference” and “inferring” as you talk about this with your child so they understand what they are doing.

Practicing Inferring in Stories

Start asking your child questions about the stories they read.  After you ask a question, have them tell you how they know what the answer was.  Just make sure the question you ask is not directly stated in the text. For example, you can ask them things like what time of day it is, where the character is, or whether the character likes or dislikes something.  Then ask them how they know that.  This forces your child to think about what they are reading and relate it to knowledge they already have which then leads to an inference about the story.

Inferring is a skill that many children have a hard time with.  Even if they can make an inference from a story, they may not be able to tell you how they came to their conclusion.  Talking about the questions and how they came up with the answers allows your child to see and understand the process of inferring.  What other strategies do you use to teach inferring to your children?

Photo by: Rosmarie Voegtli

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