41. Reading Skills on Inference. How to teach inference? (Activities)

Like all high level critical thinking skills, inference requires broad knowledge and an extensive vocabulary for students to be able to compare, contrast, apply, synthesize, deduce or infer, conclude, reason, presume, conjecture and hypothesize. Thus, BEFORE a teacher can teach inference, there has to be broad vocabulary development that is applied to comparing and contrasting ideas, to synthesize principles, and to arrive at conclusions or infer other ideas. And the vocabulary MUST be posted, organized into MEANING CATEGORIES, and the ideas compared and contrasted need to be posted, too.

How can we teach inference? THROUGH QUESTIONS. The teacher needs to understand the role (h)is/er questions play in promoting the development of high level critical thinking skills, like inference.

ALL QUESTIONS a teacher may ask can be rephrased differently to help students formulate their answers. In teaching high order thinking skills many times students do not know HOW TO EXPRESS THEIR THOUGHTS. Through questions, teachers can help. Here is how.

Let’s say the teacher wants students to think about why the main character in a famous play or novel (or film) acts as (s)he does at a certain point in the literary work. Or a History teacher would like (h)is/er students to think about why a historical figure makes a specific decision. Let’s say students have read or seen "Gone with the Wind" and the teacher asks: "Why would Scarlett O’Hara want to return home to Tara at the end of the film?" Or in a History lesson, the teacher may ask: "What motivated the United States government to support or accept Latin American dictators in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s?"

These are very high level critical thinking skills questions. To help students answer these types of questions teachers can do two things:

(1) BEFORE the question is asked, during prior lessons, the teacher needs to introduce, develop and POST the vocabulary needed to answer the question.

(2) AFTER asking the question, the teacher must REPHRASE the question to help students successfully answer it.

ALL questions can be rephrased as is indicated in the following example:

Sample Question—Question #1: Why do you like blue?

(Student cannot answer)

Rephrased Question—Question #2: You do like blue because it is the color of your favorite fruit, right?

(Student may agree or disagree. If student disagrees . . .)

Rephrased Question—Question #3: Do you like blue because it is a color in nature like the color of the skies, the oceans, one of the rainbow colors, or because it is a color in the United States flag?

(Student may agree or disagree. If student disagrees . . .)

Rephrased Question—Question #4: Do you like blue because you like blue eyes, or because blue is associated with many holidays like Christmas and the 4th of July?

(Student may agree or disagree. If student disagrees, the teacher needs to continually rephrase the question until the student successfully answers it.)

As the teacher continues to provide possible choices to the student trying to answer the question, (s)he can ask other students to participate if they agree with the choices given. The choices can then be written on the board and POSTED. It is important to note that the choices themselves correspond to MEANING CATEGORIES (‘foods,’ ‘holidays,’ ‘parts of the body,’ ‘symbols,’ etc.) which can be used to answer other high level critical thinking skills questions ("Why do you like red?").

I visited a high school History class where the teacher was constantly working on inference. As I entered the room I noticed the following question posted in big letters at the very top of one of the classroom side walls: "Who was the most outstanding President of the US in the XIX Century?" At the far left, under the question, the XIX Century US Presidents’ names were listed in a column. Under the entire length of the question there were many MEANING CATEGORIES listed on a horizontal line: Economic Policy, War and Peace, Leadership Style, Personality Traits, Education Policy, Race Relations, Domestic Policies, Territorial Expansion, Relations with Native Americans, etc. The teacher explained that the question was the FINAL EXAM for the semester. The different MEANING CATEGORIES had been suggested by students as key ideas that define "outstanding." As students studied the different Presidents during the 1800’s, the teacher would POST information about each president under the corresponding categories. Students would also contribute information to fill in the chart and would compare and contrast the different Presidents as the information was posted. Here is a lesson where students could constantly think and re-think their choice for the most outstanding President of the US in the XIX Century.




For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

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5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
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Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
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