Making inferences is a higher order thinking skill that involves linking prior knowledge to new information to make meaning.
Inferring meaning from texts (oral, written and visual) involves bringing together prior knowledge and the information contained within the text to draw conclusions. The conclusions a reader draws from a text needs to be substantiated by evidence from the text and should be supported by the readers’ prior knowledge, learning or personal experiences and/or other familiar texts.
The development of inferential understanding of texts requires explicit teaching. Modelling the ‘think aloud’ strategy whilst working with texts enables the students to ‘hear’ the thinking process an accomplished reader undertakes when reading or viewing material. Students’ require multiple opportunities to work with diverse texts to be able to develop and apply inferential understanding and generalise the skill to other learning experiences.
Making inferences enables the students to:
- provide explanations for ideas that are presented in the text that are not explicitly stated
- offer details or reasons for events that have occurred throughout the text
- recognise the author's point of view or bias
- interpret the language choices (technical and figurative) and how they shape the meaning of the text
- consider and evaluate content that is presented as visuals within the text (where applicable)
- offer conclusions from facts presented in the text
- connect content and meaning of the text to prior knowledge and/or similar texts
- support inferences with evidence from the text.
Activity 1: charting the text
Pair or group students to record their inferences from a selected text using the most appropriate template for the specific lesson focus. Provide students with a large sheet of paper or cardboard and markers to record their responses.
The students’ inferences and responses are discussed and compared and contrasted using evidence from the text. A consensus of the author’s key message and the meaning of the text can be reached through the discussion process.
All students should have a copy of the text or be able to view the text. This activity can be used for fiction, nonfiction texts and visual texts.
Charting the text using the 'think aloud' strategy
The students record their observations and details in the left-hand column of a table. On the right-hand side students record inferences based on these observations and details from the text using their background knowledge and personal experiences (including learning experiences) to make meaning.
Model the process using the ‘think aloud’ strategy.
Students should be given opportunities to contribute, clarify and discuss the items selected for inclusion on the chart.
Prior to the activity ensure all students understand the following definitions:
- Observations (in the text) – the details, quotes, information and visuals found within the text.
- Inferences (in the text connected to personal knowledge and experiences) – conclusions made from the details, quotes, information and visuals from the text based on the reader's careful thought and personal knowledge of the world. Inference is directly connected to information found in the text and uses a process of reasoning to draw logical conclusions regarding 'hidden' meaning or themes.
Activity 2: what did the author mean?
Looking at the author’s intent can be supported by looking carefully at a section of text and connecting this to the overall meaning or message of the text. This involves considering the language choices and structure of the text and how this enables the reader to understand. Inferring the author’s meaning from contextual clues and discussing the conclusions drawn supports deeper understanding of the text. Setting questions about the author’s purpose and methods of conveying meaning gives students the opportunity to look at the text on a more in-depth level. All responses need to be linked to the text with supporting evidence discussed in reference to the text and author’s intentions.
This activity should initially be undertaken as a whole class demonstration giving students the opportunity to discuss and clarify aspects of the text. Students can then be paired or grouped to work with the selected text. More complex and longer texts can be segmented with pairs or groups working on different parts of the text. It is important that students hear, view or read the text as a whole unit of meaning, for example, for a novel the title and blurb may be discussed and a chapter read by all students with students then allocated a segment of the chapter to work with.
Concluding the activity with a discussion gives the students an opportunity to share their responses and findings and check their understanding of the text.
Activity 3: response wall
Create a space within the classroom for students working with a selected text to write key information, questions (for clarification), opinions and responses. This gives the teacher and students an open forum to check understanding and offer support when working with a text.
Australian curriculum reference – ACELY1713: Interpreting, analysing, evaluating: Use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse information and ideas, comparing content from a variety of textual sources including media and digital texts.
NSW syllabus reference – EN3-3A: use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse information and ideas, comparing content from a variety of textual sources including media and digital texts.
NSW literacy continuum reference – Comprehension, Cluster 11, Marker 1: Analyses and evaluates the ways that inference is used in a text to build understanding. Comprehension, Cluster 12, Marker 1: Interprets and critically analyses texts by responding to inferred meaning within a text and justifying interpretations using evidence.