Reading Activities for Making Inferences

Boy digging a holeProficient readers understand that writers often tell more than they actually say with words. They give you hints or clues that allow you to draw conclusions from information that is implied. Using these clues to “read between the lines” and reach a deeper understanding of the message is called inferring.

Students need to learn how to infer so that they can go below the surface details to see what is actually implied (not stated) within the words of the story. Some meanings are meant to be implied – that is not stated clearly but they are hinted at. When meanings are implied, you have to infer them.

Students make inferences every day without even thinking about it. For example, you can ask children to imagine they are sitting at their desk doing their homework when they hear a loud booming sound and hear pattering against the window. They don’t actually see anything, but they can infer there is a thunderstorm outside. All students recognize the sounds of thunder. They know heavy rain makes a pattering sound. And they know that any time the two go together there is almost a thunderstorm going on.

Inferring with context clues

One way students can infer a word meaning is from context clues within the text. Students have to learn how to work out meanings from these clues. There’s several ways to do this.

They can simply make an educated guess using the hints given before the unknown word and the sentences that follow the word. Asking questions is one way to unravel these clues.

Guided reading questions

Here are a few questions teachers can ask during guided reading sessions to help students uncover the meaning of unknown words.

During the guided reading session, the teacher should have these question stems available when students find a word they don’t know the meaning of.   The teacher pauses the reading and chooses the appropriate question to ask.

“What do you think the word means considering (a certain action or event) has happened?
“How do you know that the word means (insert definition)?”
“What part of the text helps you make this inference?”
“Where can you find other clues to help you understand?”
“If you substitute what you think is a similar word, would the sentence still make sense?”

Inference activity sheets

Teachers can create activity sheets to give students practice with inferences.  Create a list of sentences and have students infer the meaning by choosing from a list of possible meanings.Then create a crossword puzzle using the statements and the inferred meanings as questions and answers.
Here are a few examples:

Let’s go swimming to cool off!
What season is it?
a.    Summer
b.    Winter

The moon sure looks bright.
What time is it?
a.    Morning
b.    Night

I’m starving!
What will I do?
a.    Drink something
b.    Eat something

In summary, making inferences is really about digging deep to find the important meaning of the message.  What is important to understanding the message of a story, why is it important, how can one meaning influence what will happen next.  Understanding the stated facts alone aren’t enough to fully experience the message.  Students have to understand how the facts influence characters…and ultimately what the facts will mean to the student as they construct there own lessons and understandings.