Teaching inference and deduction skills to low ability students is sometimes a minefield. The whole point of inferring is that you can make connections, often beyond a text, this is a tough challenge when the words on the page are hard to decipher.
I believe it is key to teach inference and deduction early and to teach it explicitly.
In lessons I equate the skill to an x-ray. Looking below the surface. Seeing beyond the skin. Understanding what is living in the bones of a text.
Task 1: Inference pictures
The pictures below allow students to make simple inferences within a limited scope. There are wrong answers to these questions, and although I do like to get carried away on unusual ideas, sometimes we need to start with the obvious and work from there.
- Using your observation skills, write down everything you can see.
(The items are……)
- Using your inference skills, what can you figure out about the owner of the items.
(I think the owner is…..)
- Write down (explain) how you figured out who the owner was.
(I know this because….)
In feeding back on this, students will refer to real life or other texts (film) and the connection is made.
Task 2: Text inferences
Read the example of inference below:
I wouldn’t eat after that two-year-old if I were you.
Inference: The two-year-old probably did something gross to the food you were about to eat or has a cold and you could catch it. Something bad will happen to you if you eat it!
This text allows students to explore different ideas but again there are some very clear wrong answers. The negative language means it cannot be a positive emotion being expressed.
The specific reference to an age means that there is a limit to what might have happened.
I often ask students to imagine what a photograph going with this phrase would look like. This generally describe something like this >>>
Now we could move onto other more flexible inferences:
- If she died, I wouldn’t go to her funeral.
- A woman walks into a hospital clutching her huge belly and cursing out her husband, who trails behind her carrying a large bag.
- You’re driving on the motorway, listening to the radio, and a police officer pulls you over.
The last one usually generates much debate on speeding and police officers’ favourite music artists. It’s also funny how often students miss the meaning of “huge belly” on no 2.
I find myself using these activities time again when teaching some texts from Boy in the Striped PJs to Hamlet.