Teaching students how to make inferences is challenging. Am I right?
And as teachers, when something is challenging, we try to find simple ways to teach it.
I often see the formula Text Clues + Background Knowledge = My Inference
And while that is a great place to start when teaching students how to make an inference, that formula still isn’t a 100% guarantee your students will master the art of inferring.
In order to successfully make an inference while reading, students have to have substantial background knowledge about the topic of the text they are reading – which we can’t always control.
It also requires students to have mastered other comprehension skills so they know which text clues to focus their attention on. If students are going to be successful with making inferences while they read, they also need to be successful with determining importance, author’s purpose, making connections, making predictions… and so many more.
This means finding text clues isn’t always as easy as we make it seem.
So even with a simple formula like Text Clues + Background Knowledge = My Inference, teaching students how to make inferences is still challenging.
But there is a really simple routine you can incorporate into your reading block that will help students improve their ability to make inferences while they read.
And it’s also really fun for students and teachers.
If you aren’t already using pictures to teach inferences, it’s time to start incorporating a picture of the day routine in your classroom.
What is Picture of the Day?
Picture of the day is really as simple as the name sounds. You show your students a picture each day and you discuss it through the lens of your reading comprehension skills. This means that whatever questions you are asking about your reading aloud text or during small group instruction, you’ll ask those same questions during picture of the day.
But rather than looking for evidence in the text to answer the question, students will look for details in the picture to answer the question.
When I did it in my classroom, we would use Picture of the Day as our warm-up to our reading lesson. I would show students a picture. Ask them a comprehension question or two. Then we would spend 3-5 minutes answering the question in partners, groups, or as a whole class.
How does Picture of the Day help students make inferences?
Picture of the Day is one of my favorite ways to help students improve their inferential thinking.
When students make inferences while they read, they have to figure out what the author is trying to tell them without directly stating it. They have to fill in the gaps.
The same thing happens when they look at and study a picture.
When students look at a picture they are just seeing the moment in time that was captured. And when you ask them questions about what is happening in the photo and why it is happening, students have to use inferential thinking to answer your questions.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask during Picture of the Day.
- What is the person thinking? What makes you say that?
- What are they feeling? Why do you think that?
- What type of person do you think is shown in the photograph? What makes you say that?
- Why did the photographer take the photo? Why do you think that?
- What happened right before the photo was taken? What makes you say that?
- What happened right after the photo was taken? Why?
- Where do you think the people in the photograh are going? Why?
- What type of year do you think this photograph was taken? Why?
I could keep going, but hopefully you get the point.
In order for students to answer those questions, they have to use inferential thinking. And then when you follow up the question with a why question or a what makes you say that question, then students have an opportunity to explain the details in the photograph (kind of like text clues) and their background knowledge that led them to make the inference.
So this whole process of picture of the day is a really easy way to help students practice and become confident in the formula text clues + background knowledge = my inference.
How can I get started with Picture of the Day?
It’s so simple, you’ll be able to start tomorrow if you want. Not only will picture of the day help your students make inferences, but it will also help them with so many other reading comprehension skills.
Step 1: Find your picture.
First think about what reading skill you are focusing on. While picture of the day really supports inferential thinking, you can also use it to help teach other reading skills.
If you’re focusing on analyzing characters, then look for a picture that has people in it.
If you’re focusing on describing the setting, then look for a picture that shows a building or an outside space or a specific location.
If you’re focusing on cause and effect text structure, then look for a picture that shows an easily identifiable cause and effect relationship. Maybe an image that shows damage done by a storm, someone wearing a raincoat walking in the rain, or a plant that has died becuase it was under-watered.
The reality of it is, most pictures can be used to focus on multiple reading skills so don’t stress too much about finding the perfect picture.
Step 2: Show the picture to your class.
Once you find your picture, you can either print it off and show it to your students while they are all sitting in front of you before your read aloud, or you can copy and paste your picture into a PowerPoint presentation and display it on a smartboard for the whole class to see. Just make sure the picture is clear and the details can be seen by all students from where they are sitting.
Step 3: Discuss the picture.
The final step is to just discuss the picture. You can use the questions that I listed above, or come up with your own. If you have a set of question stems or thinking stems that you let your students use to discuss books, you can have them ask the same questions about the picture.
Remember with picture of the day, they are still focusing on comprehension, but instead of reading a text, they are looking at a picture.
Where does Picture of the Day fit in my reading block?
I liked to use picture of the day as a warm-up to our reading block. We often would start off the first 3-5 minutes of our reading lesson with picture of the day, but you can really squeeze it into your instructional day wherever you have time.
Here are some ideas on where to put picture of the day into your schedule:
- Make it part of your morning meeting routine.
- Do it right after you come back from lunch, recess, or specials.
- Make it as part of your literacy work stations.
- Use it as a way to end your day right before dismissal.
Since it’s such a quick and easy routine, you can also save it for when you have a few extra minutes and need a filler to keep your kids engaged before the next lesson begins.
Put it Into Practice…
Here’s the great news, you can start doing picture of the day tomorrow with your students. And it’ll take you just a few minutes to get ready. Before you leave this post I want you to do two things:
- I want you to decide what day and what time you are going to start doing picture of the day with your students. Even if it’s not until next week, put it in your lesson plans so you don’t forget to get started with this fun and effective reading strategy.
- Think about what type of picture you will need to do picture of the day. This will make it easy when you start your google image search. Do you need a picture with people to focus on the characters? Do you need an action shot to focus on plot? Do your students love football and you want to appeal to their interest. Just decide what type of image you’ll look for and only give yourself 2-3 minutes to actually search the internet for it.
If you decide that you don’t actually want to spend any of your time searching for images, but you still want to use picture of the day, no worries. I got you. We have a picture of the day resource for pretty much every reading skill. You get the pictures and the prompts all prepped for you. All you have to do is put it into practice.
I can’t wait to hear how your students love using picture of the day. Be sure to let me know in the comments if this is an idea you think you’ll try with your class.