Teaching Strategy | Learning to Infer
Picture this: You’ve just entered a mall. You look around and notice that there isn’t too much crowd around. You check your watch and realize that the mall has just opened, and you are one of the few early customers to walk in. As you walk around the place, you hear a banging and buzzing sound. The sound appears to come from the top floor. After a few steps, the sound becomes louder. You look up to check, just then you hear a sharp snap. You cautiously take two steps back, while keeping your eyes up. A large crack appears on the top panel of the ceiling and down comes a light shower of dust and cement bits. You breathe a sigh of relief, and thank your stars!
You were able to save yourself from coming under the rubble, because you made the correct inference of the scene around you. You concluded that some type of construction work was being carried out on the top floor. When the sound grew louder, you looked up, because you realized that you were probably standing right below the work spot. The sharp snap was an indication that something broke, so you took a few steps back, and saved yourself.
In our daily lives, we make inferences all the time and act on them. We may see a partially filled movie theater, and infer that the movie is a flop or we see the gloomy look on our colleague’s face and infer that he/she has had a bad day. At times our inference can be right, and at times we may be wrong. A good inference is one that is based on sound facts and knowledge – thus, while making an inference may sound like an intuitive process, it is not. In fact, it is a skill that is honed and developed over time .
Now, the question is – why is it important to teach students how to make inferences.
Making inferences is a higher-order thinking skill and is required for various subjects.
- Science – Based on your knowledge of habitats, which animals will you find in tropical rain forests?
- Math – You’ve learnt the definition and properties of irrational numbers. Now, can you come up with the definition and properties for rational numbers?
- Social Studies: Look at these soil samples, where do you think they come from?
- Language: How did Sherlock know that the killer was a native Indian?
In this article, we look at some strategies and activities that can be used to help students learn how to make inferences.
Picture Talk: Show students a picture and ask them to answer specific questions, while giving reasons for their answers. – Where are these people sitting? How is the girl feeling? Who is the person behind her? Who is the person in front of her? What is happening in the picture?
Encourage students to look for all the details (character’s facial expression, body language, clothes, objects around) in the pictures to gather information about emotions, locations, and arrive at their inferences.
Object Talk: Bring an object to class (an old coin, a handbag/suitcase with items, a tape recorder), ask students to analyze the object and talk about it. Who does it belong to? What is it used for? etc.
Text Talk: Present a passage to students, and then ask them higher-order thinking questions, that require them to combine their existing knowledge with what they read, in order to arrive at an inference.
You could also read one half of a story, and ask students to predict what will happen next. Discuss reasons for their prediction.
Here are some anchor charts that you can use to help and guide students, as the learn to make inferences.
Finally, we leave you with some inspiring videos to give you more ideas on how you can help students develop thinking skills and make learning fun for them. Click the image to view the video.