Showing posts with label inference-making. Show all posts
Showing posts with label inference-making. Show all posts

Monday, 14 May 2018

Teaching Reading Comprehension: Modelling and Practice (Example Lessons)

I’ve been thinking, reading and writing a lot lately about how we teach reading strategies and skills in primary schools. I won’t bore you with all the details but thought I’d simply share some lessons that I’ve prepared for some year 3 teachers at the schools I work in. If you want to find out more about what I’ve been discovering, and the thinking behind the lessons I’ve planned, I’ve provided some links at the end of this blog post.

These lessons, although not fully-formed (I didn’t want to dictate everything), are a good representation of how I think teachers should model the use of reading strategies and skills in a lesson and how children can be given practice of using the same strategies and skills that their teachers have modelled. The lessons involve both opportunities for oral and written comprehension activities; the written activity can just as well be worked on orally, although it is designed so that children can work on it independently by giving written answers.

Some of the lessons you will see here were based on versions of Aesop's Fables written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Orchard Books. Although the book hadn't been chosen with inference-making in mind, it was serendipitous that there were plenty of opportunities to focus a few lessons on that particular skill. Hopefully these examples will show that, even whilst having a focus on a particular strategy or skill, other strategies and skills might be used in support whilst developing the skill which is the focus of the lesson (in this case inference-making).

For each lesson I outlined the L.O. (based on the National Curriculum POS for year 3/4 in this instance) and some introductory questions and items for discussion:



I then suggested some exemplar questions for the teacher to model which focus on the lesson's L.O.:

All of the above could be done as a whole class reading lesson, or as a guided group. The point of all of the above is to have discussions about the text and to orally develop strategies such as clarifying (what do the words mean?) and inferencing (why do the characters do what they do?). The intention is that children will then be better prepared to have a go at some similar questions themselves without the teacher having already answered them by way of demonstration.

In this particular example the questions are focused around multiple choice answers with the hope that children will consider each option in order to decide whether or not it is good evidence for the character's motives. Notice that not all the questions are inference questions; other questions are asked which might support the child's understanding so that they are able to make the more difficult inferences (see my blog posts on scaffolding for more information on this idea).




For more information on the symbols/colours use in this example, please read the following: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html

This part of the lesson could be done as an independent written activity or as part of a guided group. The multiple choice questions should spark some good discussion about why the correct one is correct and about the reasons children have for selecting their answers. If this was being completed as an independent written task there is the potential for a follow-up written task asking children to give their reasons for their selection.

Following this, and in order to practice another strategy, I suggested the following:

The following lesson follows a similar structure:




You can download these resources on TES - they are editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/aesop-s-fables-reading-comprehension-teacher-notes-and-pupil-activities-11900274

These two lessons represent the first two in a potential sequence where children might move beyond being given multiple choice options. In another sequence of lessons based on David Almond's 'My Dad's A Birdman' children moved onto giving spoken and written answers to inference questions (which throughout the sequence all focused on characters' actions only). To begin with they answered questions with a structure that had been provided and modelled to them, as exemplified in the teacher notes:


They then answered their own questions. Again, this could be done independently, collaboratively or as part of a guided group with a teacher:

The children spent two lessons practising this before being shown how to further add to their answer, as demonstrated in the teacher notes:


The children then practised using this addition to the answer structure (although they only practised one as this was a chance for teachers to assess children's attempts at what is quite an advanced skill for year 3 children):

In the sequence of lessons on My Dad's a Birdman children spent 5 sessions focusing just on making inferences about character's actions followed by another 5 sessions focusing on making inferences about characters' feelings. For more on why there was such a sustained focus please read my blog post entitled 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making'. Along the way the children also exercised other reading comprehension strategies and skills in order to support their inference making and general understanding of the text. They also spent time just reading the book and enjoying - teachers and children alike kept telling me how much they loved the book. The fact that they had spent time completing such activities as outlined above enabled them to enjoy the book, rather than spoiling their enjoyment of it.
See my blog post entitled 'Giving the Gift of Reading: Activities That Promote Reading for Pleasure' for more on this.

You can download these resources on TES - they are also editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/inference-questions-for-my-dad-s-a-birdman-by-david-almond-chapters-1-to-10-inc-teacher-notes-11842172

Further reading from my blog on teaching reading in primary schools:

Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach
Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable
Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies (not exemplified in this blog post)
Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making
Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

Monday, 5 February 2018

How To Use Questioning When Teaching Inference-Making


How To Use Questioning When Teaching Inference-Making
In my last blog post on inference-making (Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making) I provided lots of questions which might support inference-making, along with some suggested answer structures for teachers and children to use when answering inference questions. In this blog post we will look at how these questions can be used wisely in lessons so that children's inference-making skills are developed.

Anne Kispal, in her literature review entitled 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading', writes: "Underpinning the research reviewed is the assumption that pupils must be explicitly taught the skills they need for comprehension. They cannot be left to pick them up through simple exposure to texts, or through the natural process of maturation." (page 24) It is clear that we should teach children the strategies they need in order to be able to understand what they read - the strategy we are concerned with explicitly teaching here is inference-making.

The questions I shared previously should be used carefully - they are not solely for use in a written comprehension activity which children complete independently. They should also be modelled, discussed, answered orally and asked about aurally-presented texts as well as read texts.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the why, I propose a sequence (flexible, of course) to help use inference questions in the most effective way:
  1. Teacher reads aloud a part of the text
  2. Teacher allows children to read the same part of the text
  3. Teacher provides a summary of the text
  4. Teacher models inference-making (which might include clarifying word meanings, locating specific information and discussing necessary prior/background knowledge)
  5. Teacher provides a second summary of the text which takes what has been inferred into consideration
  6. Teacher reads aloud next part of the text
  7. Children read next part of the text themselves
  8. Children summarise text
  9. Children answer inference questions (and any supporting vocabulary, retrieval and background knowledge questions, this could be a written task, or an oral one)
  10. Children summarise text a second time taking into consideration what has been inferred
  11. Teacher models answers and, if written, children edit their work to improve their answers
Now let's see a break down of why it might be a good idea to roughly follow this sequence when using the inference questions:

1. Teacher reads aloud a part of the text

On the Reading Rockets website (a great and accessible online resource) Judith Gold and Akimi Gibson provide an excellent summary of the research on reading aloud:

"Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. It is the single most important activity for reading success (Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000). It provides children with a demonstration of phrased, fluent reading (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). It reveals the rewards of reading, and develops the listener's interest in books and desire to be a reader (Mooney, 1990)."

Whether or not you have the children reading along with you is another matter; David Didau, in his blog post 'The Problem With 'Reading Along'', proposes that we don't because the act of listening and reading at the same time can overload the working memory and hinder comprehension of the text. If that is true, then the next step is an important replacement for children reading along.

Note: during this read-through it is best not to stop reading to ask too many questions. Although Kispal summarises that teachers should "practise inferential questions on aurally presented texts" she also provides these cautionary notes on questioning:
  • not to interrupt pupils by asking questions during reading time
  • not to launch into questioning too soon afterwards. The teacher must allow time for consolidation of what has been read as a mental representation
  • practise inferential questions on aurally presented texts

With the first bullet point above in mind Kispal also reports that "the only condition that was found [by Hannon and Daneman (1998)] to significantly encourage inferencing was that of integrating questions into the text combined with allowing longer reading time" (this was in a study of university students rather than young children).

2. Teacher allows children to read the same part of the text

An end goal of reading instruction is to ensure that children can independently decode and understand something. Once the reading has been modelled it is a good idea for children then to have a go themselves in preparation for times when they won't have an adult to read for them. Typically we might ask children to do this in silence, but this isn't the only way. Re-reading aloud to a partner or to themselves has added benefits.

The Key Stage 2 Literacy Guidance Report from the EEF mentions that one way to improve fluency is for children to read aloud the same text that they have just had read to them. It also summarises research that shows that "fluent reading style supports comprehension because pupils’ limited cognitive resources are freed from focusing on word recognition and can be redirected towards comprehending the text." (page 11)

If re-reading a text develops fluency and fluency supports comprehension of the text then that is definitely something we should be building in to our reading lessons. This time spent re-reading also allows children to consolidate what they have heard and read (see Kispal's cautionary notes above).

3. Teacher provides a summary of the text

In his book 'Reading Comprehension: Assisting Children with Learning Difficulties' Gary Wooley outlines how mental models, or representations, are created by the reader:

"While reading, skilled readers normally develop a text-based model, which is a mental representation of the actual text discourse. The text-based model incorporates propositions extracted from the reading of successive sentences that are sometimes supplemented by inferences that are necessary to make the text more coherent."

I suggest that before a teacher models the inference-making that will lead to the creation of a more complex situation model (more on this in step 5) they should model a summary of the text to help children who have not developed a sufficient enough text-based model from which to begin to draw inferences. Providing summaries of the text for children is known to be a useful strategy to help EAL learners and so might they be for others learning reading comprehension strategies.

4. Teacher models inference-making

Kispal writes that "teacher modelling is regarded as the first step in training children to ask and answer questions of this type of themselves... Teachers should attempt to find texts rich in inferencing possibilities and to have in mind which inferences they will elicit in discussion."
(page 30)

The literature review then goes on to suggest that to show inference-making in use teachers should "model inferencing by asking relevant questions aloud and answering them" and that they should "think thoughts aloud to show how teacher arrives at an inference." 
(page 51)

Inference-making relies on the reader having done other things with the text such as clarifying word meanings, locating specific information and discussing necessary prior/background knowledge so these processes may need to be modelled also. When considering the activation of prior knowledge Kispal's review of research makes the following suggestions to take into consideration when discussing questions:
  • pupils generate initial associations 
  • they discuss and clarify their collective knowledge 
  • they reformulate knowledge, clarifying what they now know as a result of discussion

According to Kispal's review of literature, whilst modelling and discussing inference-making teachers should ask "questions about relationships between characters, goals and motivations" and ask "questions that foster comprehension monitoring, such as Is there information that doesn’t agree with what I already know? Are there any ideas that don’t fit together (because of contradictions, ambiguous referents, misleading topic shifts)? Is there any information missing or not clearly explained?" Teachers should always be asking "‘How do you know?’ whenever an inference is generated in discussion of a text." Teachers can also "show examples of how all types of questions can be derived from a text" using the question words (i.e. who, ‘when, why).
(page 38)

Questions that can be used to support systematic and structured teaching of the wide variety of inferences can be downloaded here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/questions-to-support-inference-making-11825987

5. Teacher provides a second summary of the text which takes what has been inferred into consideration

In point 3 we looked at how teachers might share a summary of the text for the purpose of aiding the development of a text-based model. Once a text-based model has been created, and further inferences have been made, a situation model can then be developed.

In his book 'Reading Comprehension: Assisting Children with Learning Difficulties' Gary Wooley outlines how situation models (a kind of mental model or representation) are created by the reader:

"In contrast [to text-based models], situation models include elaborative inferences that integrate prior knowledge with text-based information.teacher modelling is regarded as the first step in training children to ask and answer questions of this type of themselves.

"Thus, the construction of a situation model is a dynamic constructive process that is determined by the interaction of the reader, the text structures, and the semantic content. 

"In constructing a situation model the reader is required to search for coherence at the local and global levels and to infer meanings that are often implied by drawing from their existing background knowledge. While doing this, the reader actively constructs the situation model by using information within the text and also information from stored prior knowledge. Thus, the main difference between text-based and the situation model is assumed to be one of inference making, the text-based model is inferentially light while the situation model is inferentially dense." 

It seems important to reassess the mental models that are created after making new inferences from the text.

6. Teacher reads aloud next part of the text

See point 1

7. Children read next part of the text themselves

See point 2

8. Children summarise text

See point 3. Children, having had this modelled to them, have a chance to practise their own summary to aid their text-based mental model before they answer any inference questions. This could be done in writing or verbally.

9. Children answer inference questions

This could be with support, without support, in pairs, independently, as a group, as a written task or as an oral task. Children may also need to understand the vocabulary used in the text, retrieve information from the text and link their background knowledge to the text - this could be done through discussion or by a structured sequence of questions (see my idea of scaffolding inference).

Kispal summarises that paired or group work allows pupils share the thought processes that led them to make inferences and that the younger the children, the more aural work they should undertake.
Kispal also writes that research on inference-making suggests that we should "train pupils to acquire the habit of asking themselves why-questions occasionally while they are reading, as these are most supportive of understanding". Another suggested strategy is to ask "pupils [to] generate questions using these question words [who, when, why etc] from a text and group members answer."
(page 38)

10. Children summarise text a second time taking into consideration what has been inferred

See point 5. Children, having had this modelled to them, have a chance to practise their own summary to aid their mental situation model once they have answered the inference questions. This could be done in writing or verbally.

Summary

Whilst structures like the one I've suggested can be useful, it is only there as a suggestion and will need to be adapted according to need. Having said that, this sequence takes into account many research-based practices which aid in the teaching of inference-making and therefore should be a good solid starting point for reading lessons that focus on inference-making (and probably other reading comprehension strategies). Use with discretion not because I said so!

For an example of how this might work with a real class novel, please see my planning for the first 10 chapters of 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond. 5 whole lessons are focused on making inferences about characters' motives and a further 5 lessons focus on making inferences about characters' feelings. In the teachers notes I have not included information about the text summaries but every other part of the sequence is detailed.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

The EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance document states that "reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies that they can apply both to monitor and overcome barriers to comprehension". It goes on to say "strategies should be modelled and practised to ensure they become embedded and fluent". It concludes that "The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be hard to achieve, since pupils are required to take greater responsibility for their own learning. This requires them to learn three things: what the strategy is, how the strategy is used, and why and when to use the strategy. Developing each of the strategies requires explicit instruction and extensive practice".

In order for children to make inferences independently the EEF's gradual release of responsibility model is useful. It describes how greater responsibility for using these strategies can be transferred to the pupil:

1. an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used;
2. modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/or pupils;
3. collaborative use of the strategy in action;
4. guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and
5. independent use of the strategy.

In my last blog post 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making' I concluded that children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.

With this in mind, here are some inference question focuses that might help teachers to structure their lessons and questioning more carefully in a way that allows them to model particular skills which the children can then practise:

Making inferences about actions

Ask questions about:
  • how a character feels
  • why a character feels a particular way
  • why a character acts/behaves in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character says certain things (motives)
  • why a character says things in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character does things in a certain way (motives)
  • what a character thinks
  • why a character thinks/believes/expects (etc) certain things
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children. I suggest this sequence of questions takes place over a series of lessons, rather than in just one lesson, especially where written answers are required:

<quote from text> This tells is that x feels... <multiple choice answers> 

Provide a quote from the text that children can infer information from, provide a description of what is felt/said/done and then give a choice of possible inferences for children to choose from. Questions like this might be used more often with younger children. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below:


Character feels x. How do you know? 

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows the character feels x because _______________________.

Give a description of what is felt and ask for children to locate information that supports this theory. Children will probably benefit from being asked several questions with the exact same question and answer structure in order to practise based on what the teacher has modelled, as exemplified here:



This type of question is also exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the cat is the character and the lack of enjoyment is the feeling and the request for three ways in which the cat shows this is in place of the How do you know? question:


How does x feel? What does x think? Explain your reasons. 

Possible answer structure: X feels ________________. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows the character thinks x because _______________________.

This is more difficult than the previous questions as the child has to do more: they have to find their own word to describe what is felt/thought etc and they have to support it with evidence from the text. Ensure that children are presented with several opportunities within a lesson to answer questions at this difficulty level - keep the lesson focused on this one question type. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the question asks about thoughts of expectation:


Making inferences about events

Ask questions about:
  • what happened (where details are not given explicitly and retrieval skills can't be used)
  • why something happened
  • where something happened
  • when something happened
  • how something happened
  • why something happened in a certain way
  • what was unusual or different about what happened
  • how something has come to be
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what happened:

<quote from text> What do you think happened? <multiple choice answers> 

What evidence is there that x happened?

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because _______________________.

In the paragraph beginning... what do you think happened? Find two pieces of evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: I think that _____________________ happened. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because ______________________.

Questions about why something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its cause. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the causes for each event>

<quote from text> Why did x happen? <multiple choice answers> 

x happened. Why did this happen? Give evidence from the passage.

Possible answer structure: I think x happened because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Questions about where something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its location. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the locations of each event>

Where did x take place? <multiple choice answers> 

Where was a when x happened? Explain how you know using evidence from the text.

Possible answer structure: I think a was _________________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Making inferences about state

Ask questions about:
  • what something is
  • what a place or object is like
  • why a place or object is as it is
  • what we know about someone's character (what a person is like)
  • where something is (different to where something happened)
  • why something is where it is 
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what something is:

Tick two pieces of evidence from the text that tell us that the object is x. <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for the state of x>

The object is x. Find three pieces of evidence from the text that support this theory.

<provide an excerpt from the text> What does this suggest that x is? Give your reasons.


Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What is x? How do you know?

Possible answer structure: x is _______________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________.

Questions about what a place is like:

The place is x. Which of the options below could be used as evidence? <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for x>

The place is like x. Find supporting evidence in the text.

Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What feeling does the character get of place x? What evidence is there in the text?

Possible answer structure: The character thinks the place is ______________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

Questions about what a person is like:

<quote from text> The character is made to seem...: <multiple choice answers> 

<quote from text> How is the character made to seem x? Explain two ways, giving evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the character is the whale and the characteristic (mysterious) is given:

<provide an excerpt from the text> What impression does this give us of the character? Give your reasons.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________. It also says that __________________________ which makes the character seem ______________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the characteristic is not given and information to support the answer has to be found:

Read the whole text. Which aspects of the character's personality change? Use examples from the text.

Possible answer structure: At the beginning the character is _______________ but by the end they are ________________________. I know this because at the start the text says ________________________ and at the end it says __________________________.

This is an example of making a global inference based on understanding of the whole text. This can be more difficult than making local inferences about small parts of the text (as in the previous question examples).

A note on answer structures: the examples given are all full sentence answers - you may want to teach ways of being more concise in order to save time, particularly with timed-tests in mind. Bullet-pointing and more note-like answers are often good for this.

These questions and more can be downloaded as a simplified word document at TES resources.

I have by no means covered all the possible kinds of inferences in this blog post, nor have I exemplified them all. Hopefully what I have managed to convey is:
  • Inference-making can be modelled by the teacher and practised by the children
  • Teachers can ask specific kinds of questions to provide practise of inference-making
  • Children can practise specific kinds of inference-making
  • Children can be provided with structures to help them answer questions
  • There are a levels of question difficulty within each kind of inference questions
  • Children can be given multiple opportunities to practise each kind of question, especially where there is a written answer
For an example of how this might work with a real class novel, please see my planning for the first 10 chapters of 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond. 5 whole lessons are focused on making inferences about characters' motives and a further 5 lessons focus on making inferences about characters' feelings. The first lessons in each section feature multiple choice questions, moving onto questions which require increasingly more writing using an answer structure.

This blog post is the fourth in a series of four:


See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.
How To Write Good Comprehension Questions - this blog post goes into more detail on what else to take into consideration when it comes to writing your own comprehension questions.

Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making


Following on from my blog post entitled 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' this blog post provides practical advice about how inference-making might be taught in a structured and simple way. If you are interested in the research base for what I put forward in this blog post then do read 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' first. 

Based on my reading of research, and on my analysis of my own experience of teaching inference-making, I put forward that when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so. To break that down I also suggest that:

  • Inference-making can revolve around actions such as what is (or is not) said, done, thought, felt, believed, perceived and so on. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these actions take place. These action-based inferences might pertain to actions in the past or the present, or to intended actions.
  • Inference-making might also involve events (or happenings, or occurrences) such as what happens or does not happen. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these occurrences take place. There are obvious crossovers here with how the actions of a story's characters, or a text's subject, influence events. Making inferences about events might focus more on things that happen with or without human influence e.g. as a result of natural processes or a sequence of other events.
  • Thirdly, inference-making might be about the state of things. These inferences might refer more to inert, insentient things such as places, buildings and objects and could focus on why things are as they are, what they are, how they came to be and where they are. In a way, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun (see my previous blog post) is actually an example of this. Using the same example, and posing is as a question that a reader might ask themselves: What is breakfast? It is bacon and eggs. In the same way Class 1: Referential is an example of making an inference about a thing's state: What is it? It is a fork.

If at least the majority of inferences that we make whilst reading revolve around a verb, including forms of the verb 'to be', then we have a sensible starting point to teaching inference-making. There may be disagreement about whether or not inference can be learned, but what is certain is that it can be modelled by teachers and practised by children in simple comprehension lessons where questions are posed and answered. Since much of reading instruction follows this process it would make sense to be a little more deliberate about teaching inference-making, especially as it is not always easy to do - the very nature of it means that information is not always explicit and takes more finding.

Reading lessons involving comprehension questions, I'd be willing to bet, often follow one of the two patterns:
  • a sequence of questions that naturally arise from the text, usually a mixture of different reading skills
  • a more deliberate set of questions that aim to allow children to practise a specific set of reading skills
These are fine if your aim is for children to have a complete understanding of a piece of text, or if you are giving children the chance to practise a range of skills after they've had specific skills teaching. What I suggest, at least for lessons where you intend to teach reading skills, is that individual skills are modelled by the teacher and practised by the children. If, for example, you wanted children to get better at making inferences you would model inference-making and then make provision for children to practise inference-making.

But, even this presents a problem: not all inferences are the same. A teacher might model an inference about why something happened and then give children practise questions about how someone feels. This won't allow a child to practise particular skills; only children who are already very skilled in making inferences will be able to answer them and in this case the child would need some more challenging work.

Children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.


This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 1: Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.

Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?

In her literature review 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading' (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED501868.pdf) Anne Kispal asks are there different skills within inference? and goes on to define and exemplify the most frequently cited inference types:

Coherence inferences maintain textual integrity. For example, in the sentence 'Peter begged his mother to let him go to the party', the reader would have to realise that the pronouns ‘his’ and ‘him’ refer to Peter to fully understand the meaning.

Elaborative inferences enrich the mental representation of the text, e.g: 'Katy dropped the vase. She ran for the dustpan and brush to sweep up the pieces'. The reader would have to draw upon life experience and general knowledge to realise that the vase broke to supply the connection between these sentences.

Local inferences create a coherent representation at the local level of sentences and paragraphs. This class of inferences includes:

  1. coherence inferences (described above).
  2. “case structure role assignments”, e.g. Dan stood his bike against the tree. The reader needs to realise that the tree is assigned to a location role.
  3. some “antecedent causal” inferences, e.g. He rushed off, leaving his bike unchained. The reader would need to infer that Dan was in a hurry and left his bicycle vulnerable to theft.

Global inferences create a coherent representation covering the whole text. The reader needs to infer overarching ideas about the theme, main point or moral of a text by drawing on local pieces of information (thus supporting my theory that one must be able to make inferences before trying to summarise a piece of text).

In 'Constructing Inferences During Narrative Text Comprehension' Graesser, Singer and Trabasso identify 13 classes of inference:

In all but two (or three) of the inferences in the right-hand column it is interesting to note that each class of inference contains a verb, and therefore is concerned with something being so. We might assume that most inferences are about action, state or occurrence.

The two (or three) classes of inference which appear not be concerned with something being so (or are not about action, state or occurrence) is Class 1: Referential, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun Category and potentially Class 5: Thematic.

These thirteen classes can be linked to Kispal's summary of the most frequently cited inference types:

"The order in which the inference classes are listed in Table 1 is not altogether arbitrary. Inference classes 1, 2, and 3 are needed to establish local coherence, whereas inference classes 3 and 4 are critical for establishing explanations. Classes 4,5, and 6 are important for establishing global coherence. Classes 7 through 11 are elaborative inferences that are not needed for establishing coherent explanatory meaning representations. Classes 12 and 13 address the pragmatic communicative exchange between reader and author." (Graesser, Singer and Trabasso, 1994)

Whilst the authors state that "these classes do not exhaust all of the potential inferences during comprehension" they provide a very good starting point to thinking about teaching inference-making at a primary level.

So, by and large, when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so.

This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 2: Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.