We have finally reached our final small step toward the Science of Reading! Today, we are focusing on giving students a framework for making (and reflecting on!) inferences. This blog post will explore why making inferences is so important for students and how to integrate it into your teaching practices seamlessly.
In this blog series, we’ve addressed the most common questions and concerns when embracing the Science of Reading. We’ve covered everything from understanding the core principles to practical application in the upper elementary classroom. We want to make this transition smooth and enjoyable for you by breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps.
In addition to this blog post, you will find an accompanying podcast episode to listen to!
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the previous blog posts in this series:
- Small Step #1: Build & Activate Background Knowledge
- Small Step #2: The Art of Sentence Deconstruction
- Small Step #3: Explicitly Teaching Prefixes & Suffixes
- Small Step #4: Using Semantic Maps
- Small Step #5: Incorporating Phonological Awareness
- Small Step #6: Syllabication
How does this align to SOR?
The end goal of having SOR-aligned instruction is to help our students become skilled readers, and we can do that by focusing our literacy instruction on two main areas:
- Word Recognition
- Language Comprehension
Students need to have strong skills in both of those areas if they want to become skilled readers. But, of course, each of those larger categories has smaller sub-skills underneath it.
- If we want students to grow in word recognition, we will focus on things like phonological awareness, phonics, and sight word recognition.
- If we want our students to grow in language comprehension, we will focus on background knowledge, vocabulary, syntax, literacy knowledge, and verbal reasoning.
Verbal reasoning includes the ability to make inferences. It refers to a student’s ability to make sense of spoken and written language – inferential thinking is part of that. We know that inferencing is essential if we want our students to have a deep understanding of the text.
What is inferential thinking?
Inferencing is identifying meaningful relationships and connections between parts of the text. An example is:
- Katy got a new toy for her birthday.
- She loves playing with her baby doll.
A reader would use inferential thinking to make the connection that Katy is the she in the second sentence. The reader is making connections and identifying relationships between parts of a text. This type of inferencing is essential for students to understand the text at a fundamental level.
Inferencing also identifies relationships and connections between the text and a reader’s background knowledge. This is usually what we think of when we hear the word inferencing.
Here is a common formula to help you remember inference in this way:
text clues + background knowledge = inference
Students use this type of inferential thinking when they:
- Understand a character’s motivation for acting a certain way.d
- Understand the theme or universal message in a story
- Understand the author’s purpose and intended message
How can we help our students with making inferences?
First, I think it’s important to note that inferential thinking is in many of our state standards and is heavily tested on standardized tests. However, it is something we want to teach in collaboration. As I mentioned earlier, inferential thinking is necessary for our students to understand and apply to many other standards.
Inferential thinking is necessary for:
- Understanding a character’s motivation for acting a certain way.
- Understanding the theme or universal message in a story.
- Understanding the author’s purpose and intended message.
With this in mind, we want to teach something other than 2-3 lessons on making inferences and then move on to another standard. Instead, we want to focus on inferential thinking anytime we are reading! It should be something we embed into most of our reading experiences with our students.
Here are some things you can focus on to encourage students to make inferences:
- Questioning with a strong emphasis on the why questions.
- Use of graphic organizers! These tools help students visually see and represent the ideas and connections in the text and how to bring in their knowledge to connect to the text.
- Think-alouds are great for modeling to students how to apply inferential thinking to the text.
The great thing about the strategies above – you can incorporate them in ANY lesson or with ANY text!
Because we know these instructional strategies help students with making inferences – we embed them into almost every lesson inside The Stellar Literacy Collective! We always include both teacher and student questions that focus on the WHY! We always include a graphic organizer to support students. We also point out opportunities where teachers can model a think-aloud… we want to push students to make inferences about the texts!
Teachers often ask me: “Do you have any resources for making inferences?” and I think my answer sometimes disappoints them. I usually respond by saying – YES – all of them! Because the reality is that inferential thinking is a natural part of reading and the way we structure our questions, graphic organizers, and lesson format naturally prompts students to make inferences.
BUT even though we want inferencing to be a natural part of the reading process AND we want students to do it every time they read, it is also ok to do some very specific and focused lessons on making inferences.
How can I give my students specific support with making inferences?
To directly support our student’s inferential thinking, it can be beneficial to give your students a framework for how to make an inference.
Anytime we give students a framework or a structure for doing something, it is meant to be a support system to help them get started.
Here is an easy framework for making inferences:
- The text says… (text evidence)
- I know… (background knowledge)
- Therefore, I think… (inference)
And this framework is similar to the common formula text clues + background knowledge = inference. However, the problem with that formula is students need to learn what text clues to focus on or what background knowledge is relevant. When we give them sentences to prompt and guide their thinking, it’s easier for them to make relevant inferences!
I love that this framework is so easy to implement with any text, question, or prompt. Here are some ways you might use the framework:
- Model during a read-aloud
- Have students apply during small group discussions on a specific why question
- Encourage students to practice with this framework during independent reading
If you want to take it one step further, you can have students regularly reflect on their inferences. Including reflections is an excellent way for students to monitor their understanding of the text.
You can give students a set of questions to help them guide their inferential thinking.
- What is the inference that I made?
- What information did I use to make the inference?
- How strong was my thinking?
- Do I need to change my thinking in any way?
These questions will help students pause and reflect on their thinking – a habit we want students to work on!
Sometimes, we RUSH through our instruction and are so focused on the QUANTITY of what our students do that we forget that the QUALITY of their thinking and response is just as important.
So, once a week during your whole group read-aloud, take the time to have students answer an inferential thinking question using the framework from above and then give them time to reflect.
Wow! I can’t believe it – this is our final small step toward aligning reading instruction to the Science of Reading. I hope you have found these small steps helpful, and that each step has given you confidence that your lessons are Science of Reading aligned! And what your students need to be skilled readers.
And remember: you know a lot more about the Science of Reading than you think you do! I hope you’ll embed these small steps into what you already do with your students, and I feel confident you will see your students grow as readers!
Think about your next Science of Reading steps…
- If you feel inspired by this post, check out Episode 149: Give Students a Framework for Making Inferences to learn more about supporting your students with developing a deeper understanding of making inferences!
- Challenge: Use the sentence stems during one of your read-alouds or mini lessons this week!
- Join us inside The Stellar Literacy Collective, where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources that you can use and feel confident that you are taking steps to align your instruction to the Science of Reading.