Are you looking for lesson on inferring that will help your child be a more thoughtful reader? Read on!
It’s time for another reading comprehension strategy in our fun, information-packed strategy series! So far, This Reading Mama and I have shared lessons for these strategies:
Today we’re going to tackle inferring.
What is inferring?
Inferring is… well, it’s… I mean, everybody knows that inferring is…
The fact is, inferring is one of those strategies that’s hard to define. But let’s give it a shot.
Inferring. A reading strategy in which readers use background knowledge and clues in the book to come up with an idea that the author doesn’t clearly state.
Well, that makes sense. But how is inferring different than predicting? Don’t you use background knowledge and clues when you’re predicting what happens next?
The difference between inferring and making predictions
Predictions can be confirmed or verified using the text. Often, the conclusion is explicitly stated.
For example, “I think that Eva’s family is going to have trouble on their way to America.” If there is sickness or other hardship on the passage to America, this prediction is confirmed.
Inferences are more concerned with what is stated implicity.
For example, “Jack doesn’t fight back when people insult and attack him because he has a lot of self control.” The book never states that Jack has this character trait, but the reader can infer it based on what she knows about how hard it is when people hurt you, and because of other things the book says about Jack.
Introducing the strategy
When I introduced this lesson to my second grader, I did it this way.
“When you’re coming down for breakfast and you see Daddy dressed up in all his warm clothes, his face mask, and his tennis shoes, what do you think just happened?”
“He was running.”
“How do you know? He didn’t tell you.”
“Those are his running clothes. And he goes running in the morning before I come downstairs.”
“That’s right! Even though he didn’t tell you he was running, you inferred it by using what you know and what you saw. You know that when Daddy runs in the winter, he wears warm clothes. And you know that he does it in the morning. Here’s another example. When we drive to pick you up from school, and Daddy and I are both in the van, what do you infer?”
“We’re going someplace special! Because you’re the only one who picks me up if we’re just going home.”
Using clues to infer the meaning of unknown words
We can teach inferring for a variety of purposes. Children can infer how a character feels. They can make inferences about why a character behaves a certain way. They can even infer the theme of a book.
In this lesson we’re going to focus on inferring the meanings of unfamiliar words.
I chose the book Mary Geddy’s Day, a picture book about a colonial girl’s life. I love this little gem of historical fiction because it uses real people dressed up as the characters to tell the story. Plus, it’s written from the child’s perspective.
I knew this book would work for the lesson because
- My daughter has some background knowledge about colonial times.
- The book is one she can read independently.
- The book has a fair number of new vocabulary words.
I told my daughter that we would use clues in the book to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words. I asked her to read aloud and stop when she came to an unfamiliar word. She began.
“‘This is an important day in my town. Visitors from all parts crowd the streets and taverns.’ I don’t know what taverns means.”
“Okay, let’s write that down in the first column. What do you think it could mean?”
“Well, it says streets and taverns. A street is a kind of place, right?”
“So a tavern is a place too.”
“Why don’t you read on and see if it helps you figure out more?”
“‘Today the delegates to the Fifth Virginia Convention will either vote to remain a colony of Great Britain – or they will vote for independence.”
“Did that help?”
“So we don’t really have any more clues, do we? Plus, the picture doesn’t help. Sometimes we can get more clues later in the book. Why don’t you just put what you know in this column for now. Then let’s write a sentence using the word to show you understand it.”
We did this for quite a few other words in the text. Here’s another example.
“‘Today the delegates to the Fifth Virginia Convention will either vote to remain a colony of Great Britain – or they will vote for independence.’ I don’t know what delegates are.”
“Yeah, that’s a tough one. What do you think?”
“I think they’re important people.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because they vote.”
“Great job using that clue! I have a feeling this word might be in the glossary. Let’s take a peek. It says, ‘men elected by landowners to represent their county or town.'”
(Insert blank look from my daughter!)
“Did that help you?”
“Okay, why don’t you just write what you know?”
I’ll share just one more example.
“Papa sells his silver work in the shop next to our house. Two of my uncles have a foundry in the backyard.”
“Do you know what a foundry is?”
“I think it’s a store.”
“Hmmm… they have a foundry in the backyard. Do people usually have a store in the backyard?”
“Try reading on.”
“There they repair all sorts of metal goods and make splendid new ones, too.’ So it’s a table where they make things.”
“It could include a table. What kind of thing do they make?”
Her definition wasn’t entirely accurate. A foundry is more of a workshop than the table itself. But she was close enough.
Adapting the lesson for younger learners
For younger children, you could use the chart as a reference at the front of the room or on your lap as you read together. You could fill it out as you read a book to your child or do a whole class read aloud.
Another option is to keep the ideas from the chart in mind as you read together. Stop when you get to a puzzling word to find the meaning together.
The next time your child is reading on her own and asks you what an unfamiliar word means, encourage her to read on, use the picture, or use what she knows.
I hope you give it a try!
Looking for even more strategy lessons?
This lesson was adapted from one in the book Strategies at Work, by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. If you want to improve your teaching of reading strategies, this book is one to own!