Tips for Helping Readers Make Inferences

Have you ever watched a television commercial with your child that required you to read between the lines in order to understand it? Doing so meant that you were able to make inferences.

What does it mean to make inferences?

Oxford dictionary defines infer as a verb meaning to “deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements.”

making inferences builds comprehension

Basically, being able to infer and make inferences refers to one’s ability to “read between the lines.” It is being able to take information that is implied and compare it to our own experiences to make an educated guess or informed conclusion. The ability to make inferences really helps individuals develop strong reading comprehension skills.

When individuals are able to make inferences, a deeper connection to the text is developed. Reading becomes more memorable and personal. This seems to come naturally for some individuals. Others will need to be taught how to make inferences and the importance for making them directly!

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So how can we teach individuals to make inferences when reading?

My favorite way to introduce making inferences and the importance of doing so is through the use of television commercials. I personally find this is a more fun and easy way to get the point across. Of course the commercials I use depend on the age of the individual I am working with.

One commercial I have used with students is the one in the video below:

There are a lot of inferences to be made using this video. We rely on our background knowledge that dogs don’t like cats. Although I know of many successful dog-cat relationships, dogs chasing cats is still something that we learn somewhere along the way! We infer that the dog buried the cat. The clue of showing the missing cat wearing the same collar that we see being buried is an important one as well. We also infer that the man loves Doritos. Otherwise he wouldn’t be bribed by them or lie about where the missing cat is.

There are many questions that can be asked to help with making inferences from the above video. A few are as follows:

  • What happened to the cat?
  • How do we know?
  • What was the cat’s name?
  • How can we tell the man loves Doritos?
  • What secret is the man keeping from his wife? (I guess I made the inference that it is his wife… it may not be! I made the inference from the voice sounding like a woman and referring to him as “honey” and the cat as “our cat.”)
  • Why is he keeping this secret from his wife?
  • How do you think the man feels? 
  • What about the lady who is asking about her cat? How do you think she feels? 
  • How would you feel if you were the man or the woman?
  • What do we know about the dog?
  • What other questions can be asked and answered from the video? 

Building on Information to Make it More Relevant to the Individual

From here, we can extend questioning by asking questions such as:

  • Does the commercial remind you of something that has happened in your life? If so, what?
  • Have you ever felt the need to lie about something because you thought it would benefit you?

Big lies and little lies could be talked about. The possibilities are pretty much endless, but it all can start with first focusing on making inferences.

extending knowledge when making inferences

Just as we had to make inferences to make sense of the video above, we also need to make inferences when reading. This is where an individual’s background knowledge will also play a huge role.

Think of how long the commercial would have been if each and every part of what we came to know had to be played out piece by piece! The same goes for books! Books would be sooooo long and boring if all information had to be provided in order for the story to be understood!

The Importance of Background Information

I remember reading with a couple of students who had immigrated from another country a few years ago. The story mentioned Santa and some of the things that Santa does as per the traditional beliefs here. Even though these students spoke English and had celebrated Christmas in their previous country, they had never heard of Santa or followed that tradition at all. The story made ZERO sense to them, which was a big lesson for me!

The lesson was to ensure that individuals I work with either already have some background knowledge on the topic or that I introduce some background knowledge before reading. Once I understood this, we were able to talk about traditions they participated in for that specific holiday.

background knowledge helps with making inferences

Let’s face it… Unless it is a story teaching factual specifics about a person, place or thing, authors rely on us having some background knowledge. A book in which characters go to a county fair as part of the setting will have much more meaning for the child if he/she has been to a county fair or something similar to one. If there is no background information, it will be important to introduce some.

Background knowledge often comes up when reading some older books. Think of how telephones have changed over the years as well as how they are used. One example is being asked, “Why didn’t they just call for help?” Well, it may have been impossible to do this in certain situations prior to cell phones being near us at all times! Having some background knowledge about how technology has evolved and the impact it has helps build the ability to make inferences. 

What next?

The skill of making inferences will transfer with practice. If your child knows to look for these clues while reading, the skill will develop over time. This is especially true when it is practiced in other life situations. Once the basics of making inferences is understood, you can implement the questions and discussions while watching movies, watching television and while reading books. 

Things to Ensure When Working on Making Inferences with Your Child

Please have discussions with your child as you work through reading. Discuss how you put the pieces together within the story. Which pieces did your child put together? Honoring that each individual thinks differently will allow you to gain insight into how your child thinks.

Making inferences comes much more naturally to some than it does to others. Having discussions helps your child put important pieces together to fully comprehend the story. It also helps to realize that not every detail will be described within a story.

putting pieces together helps with making inferences

Making inferences about how characters would feel in different parts of the story can also be helpful. Often how a character feels impacts actions made. Each discussion you have models the reading process for your child and makes it more meaningful!

Inferences May Vary

This is not about being right. It is about valuing how each individual thinks. Interpretations may vary, but it is important to make the interpretation and make the inferences! My best example of this is to think about poetry and the many inferences people will make about one single poem. Sometimes conclusions will vary and that’s okay!

Favorite Tools for Teaching Reading Strategies and Making Inferences

If you are looking for some good books to work on inferencing together with your child, you may find the Encyclopedia Brown series helpful. These stories have a mystery in each chapter to be solved. Inferencing is required to solve those mysteries. Encyclopedia Brown’s dad is a chief of police, so most of the cases have to do with that solving crimes. Each chapter ends with a question that requires information to be put together to solve the case. The answers and how Encyclopedia Brown comes to figure them out for each chapter are in the back of the books, so your child has the opportunity to check his/her inferences.

The Encyclopedia Brown series started in the 1960s. There are a few things that may come up such as prices for things as compared to today, but they really are timeless and definitely keep the reader engaged. Who doesn’t love to solve a good whodunnit???

My absolute favorite go-to resource for teaching reading strategies is The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. Each strategy is covered in one page that is easy to find depending on what reading skill you are looking to work on. This book has been an absolute lifesaver for me both in the classroom and at home! I have used it when working with individuals of all ages. It truly has yet to fail me!

Helping Readers Make Inferences Pin

Need More Support?

If you are working regularly with your child and notice that reading is still an area of difficulty, you may wish to check out a video I created. This video highlights various factors that may be at the root of an individual’s struggle with reading. How each of the factors may impact your loved one is also discussed.

If you are simply in need of more ideas for teaching reading comprehension, I invite you to check out my article entitled The Best Reading Comprehension Strategies.

How about you?

Do you have any strategies for helping your child with making inferences? If so, please feel free to share in the comments below! 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Tips for Helping Readers Make Inferences”

  1. LOVE this post!! I am working on reading with my 6 year old who is high functioning but, on the Spectrum and finding these extra little tools to help are HUGE! Thanks fo sharing this!!

    1. Thank you so much for reading it! I wish you all the best with your little guy. I believe it is so important to have as many tools in our toolbox as we can when it comes to reading! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Introducing Tone and Mood to Young Readers - Sherry M Lee

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