Are you having trouble helping your students or child with making inferences? Children with language delays often struggle with non-literal language so reading in between the lines to make inferences can be very difficult.
That’s why I’ve compiled this simple process for you to follow when you’re teaching a child how to make inferences. But first, let’s talk about what inferences really are.
What is an Inference?
So how does one make an inference? Here’s the formula for an inference:
Clues from Text or Pictures + Background Knowledge = Assumption of what has happened or what is happening
Let me give you an example. You walk up to the bathroom and see this:
From this text, you gather the clue that someone has placed an “out of order” sign on the bathroom door. You combine this with your background knowledge that “out of order” means something typically isn’t working and the main working part of a bathroom is the toilet. Using these two parts, you can reasonably assume that the toilet is not working and they therefore do not want anyone to use it. That, my friend, is an inference.
What Do We Use Inferences For?
Inferences come in handy frequently throughout our day. Not only do we make inferences about text that we are reading, we also using inferences to “read” our environment and make inferences about what’s going on around us. Also, we use inferences to “read” other people and try to make assumptions on what they’re thinking or feeling so we can adjust our actions accordingly.
Inference Vs. Prediction
Keep in mind that inferences are made about past events or events that are currently happening. If you make an assumption or guess on what is about to happen (something in the future), you’re actually making a prediction, not an inference.
When to Work on Inferences (Common Core State Standards)?
Our students with language delays often have trouble with inferencing because it requires them to use language at a higher level than the straight-forward way that they are used to. For that reason, making inferences can be a great target for speech therapy sessions or home practice.
So when is it appropriate to work on these skills? When should we assume to see them in our students? Great question! Since most of the United States are adopting the Common Core Curriculum State Standards, I am going to use their guidelines for when and how children should be using inferences.
Here’s what the common core says children should be able to do in the different grades:
Grade 4 (Reading Standard): Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, and then circle or underline the words that helped them make that inference
Grade 5 (Reading Standard): Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, and speak or write the sentence(s) that helped them make that inference
Grade 6 (Reading Standard): Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, and summarize what information from the text helped them make that inference
Grade 7 (Reading Standard): Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, summarize several points that helped them make that inference
Grade 8 (Reading Standard): Reading Grade 8: Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, summarize the points from the text that were the most helpful to making that inference (prioritize out the most important)
Grades 9-10 (Reading Standard): Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Simply Stated: Read a text, tell you what inference they drew from it, summarize the points from the text that were the most helpful to making that inference and as many points as are necessary to thoroughly demonstrate the basis for that inference
Grades 11-12 (Reading Standard): Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Simply Stated: Same as 9-10 but include information about where the text doesn’t provide enough information to fully support the inference
Sample IEP Goals for Making Inferences
So what exactly will we be teaching and measuring then? You’ll need to look at the common core standards (or whatever standards your school goes by) and then look at how well the student can currently perform the skill. Write a goal that will get as close as possible to the target skill with added supports as needed. Here are a few examples to get you started (Click Here if you need help with writing goals).
By the end of the IEP cycle, CHILD will read a grade-level text (informational or literature) and make one inference from the text on 4 of 5 opportunities in the speech therapy setting with one reminder of the definition of an inference as needed.
By the end of the IEP cycle, after making an inference about a grade-level text (or being helped to find one if needed), CHILD will underline the pieces of the text that gave clues to the inference on 4 of 5 observed opportunities with one verbal hint from the therapist as needed during a speech therapy session.
Step One: Making Inferences from Pictures
Since it is typically easier to make an inference from a picture than from a text, we’ll start with that. Have the child look at a picture. You can find pictures in books that are good for inferencing or download my worksheets of 12 pictures for making inferences by clicking the button below:
Click Here To Download Making Inferences From Pictures Activity
If you are using your own pictures, try to take pictures of things that are out of place or pictures that clearly define an event that just happened.
How to Teach It:
Take each picture and show it to the child. Ask the child to guess what is going on in the picture or what happened before the picture was taken. Then, talk to the child about what an inference is. You can say something like “an inference is when we find clues in the picture and combine them with our own background knowledge to make an assumption about what is happening or what just happened”.
Then, show the child the picture again and talk through the inference that was made. For example, in the bathroom example above, you would explain to the child that the inference is that the toilet is broken. You figured that out because you used the clues from the picture (out of order sign) and combined that with your background knowledge that “out of order” means broken and the toilet is the main working part of the bathroom.
Walk the child through several examples like that until the child can identify the two pieces that contribute to the inference on his or her own.
Step Two: Making Inferences from Text and Pictures Combined
Since it can be quite the jump from making inferences about pictures to inferences about text only, I like to include an in between step where they make inferences about text and pictures combined. You can use children’s books that have a simple story along with pictures or something like a comic strip that uses text within a picture. Comic strips (like from your Sunday Funnies section of the newspaper) can be very good because they rely heavily on inferences to make the strips funny.
Take this comic strip for example:
Observations/Clues: The pets are running around like crazy. The owner says he wished he had the receipt for the pets.
Background Knowledge: You need the receipt when you return something that you don’t want anymore.
Inference: The owner wishes he could take back his pets sometimes.
How To Teach It:
For this step, read the text and look at the pictures with the child. Then, have them make an inference and back it up by telling you what in the text or pictures they used as clues/observations and what background knowledge they had to add to come up with their assumption.
Step Three: Making Inferences about Text
Finally! We’ve made it to the actual skill that kids are expected to use in school. These children must read a grade level text (literature and informational) and then make inferences based on the information provided. The child you’re working with may not be ready for something on grade level yet so you may have to adapt this skill down at first. Start with steps one and two from this tutorial before you go into this step because you want them to have a good working knowledge of what an inference is and how to come up with one.
How to Teach It:
Show the child a few sentences that are written down that could lead to an inference. Ask the child to read the text and then make an inference about what just happened or what is currently happening. Once the child has made his inference, have him circle or underline the parts of the sentence that he used for clues/observations and then have him write down what background knowledge he added to come up with his inference.
For example, here is the sentence:
“Johnny walked into the room and saw a birthday cake with his name on it, presents, and all of his friends standing around the table”.
Inference: It is Johnny’s birthday.
“Johnny walked into the room and saw a birthday cake with his name on it, presents, and all of his friends standing around the table”.
Background Knowledge: You get presents and a birthday cake with your name on it when it’s your birthday.
Once you have done several examples like this and the child is able to come up with an inference and tell you how he got there, you’re ready to gradually increase the difficulty level of the text. Work your way up to being able to do this in the readings or texts that the child has been assigned for his classes. Provide support for the child by walking him through the steps of picking out the clues and adding background knowledge as needed.
Using Inferences for Social Skills
If you are working with a child who purely needs to use inferencing for reading activities, you can stop here. However, many children with social problems also need help with making inferences in social situations. If a child doesn’t understand how to “read” a situation to figure out how to act or “read” a person’s body language to get a good idea of what’s going on, they may need some inferencing help.
Children who have trouble with this skill are often having difficulty with both parts of the formula. Let’s look at an example.
Johnny starts talking to Fred about trains. Johnny loves trains so he tells Fred everything that he knows about trains. He has been talking about trains for 5 minutes. Fred starts to look at his watch and tap his foot. He starts looking around and he stops responding to what Johnny is saying. Johnny keeps talking anyway.
Know anyone like that?
Well, poor Johnny has a few problems here. Chances are, he doesn’t notice that Fred looks disinterested. He hasn’t noticed him looking at his watch or tapping his foot. Furthermore, Johnny doesn’t even know that those signs typically mean that someone is not interested. So even if Johnny had noticed Fred looking around, he doesn’t have the background knowledge to tell him that when someone starts looking around, they aren’t interested in what you’re saying.
How to Teach It:
In order to teach making inferences for social skills, you need to teach the child not only to start paying attention and making observations, but also to know what to look for. You must give the child the background knowledge necessary to know what nonverbal behaviors mean.
Start by choosing one social skill that the child has trouble with, like knowing when someone is no longer interested in what he has to say. Teach the child what to look for (what observations or clues to look for) and then teach him what those clues mean. Role play situations where you demonstrate the clues for the child and the child has to recognize them. Then, you’ll also need to teach the child what to do when he notices those signs, like ask the other person a question about himself or herself.
Practice those situations and then take the child to a situation where those kinds of things may happen and signal him to pay attention to the clues when you see them arise. You can also video tape interactions and play them back to the child to help him see the clues when they arise.
Free Inferencing Worksheets:
Don’t forget to download my free inferencing worksheets with 12 different pictures for you to make inferences about along with places to write out your observations and your background knowledge. Click the button below to download!
Click Here To Download Making Inferences From Pictures Activity
Social Language Goal/Objective Ideas
Given a hypothetical social situation presented that depicts someone potentially being taken advantage of, <STUDENT> will discriminate if the situation is helpful/fair or hurtful/unfair to the individual for 80% of situations presented over 2 measurement periods.
Given hypothetical situations presented to <STUDENT> that are clearly unfair/hurtful to the fictitious character involved, <STUDENT> will describe why the action is unfair and the likely negative outcome the character may experience, for 80% of all scenarios measured over 2 measurement periods.
Given a situation where <STUDENT> is processing a situation where he has been reported as being disrespectful by an adult, <STUDENT> will calmly talk about the situation with a teacher and be able to describe his perspective/intention as well as the likely impression he leaves with the adult for 80% of all documented instances overall in a trimester period.
Given a situation where <STUDENT> has the opportunity to initiate with peers in a small group setting (ex: lunch/recess, small group work time in general education, etc) – <STUDENT> will initiate with peers by gaining their attention by using appropriate personal space, and asking a question or making a comment about a relevant topic, 80% of the time on average as observed/reported by staff over a trimester period
Given actual social situations <STUDENT> has reported being a part of, or staff/parents have reported involving themes of peer attempts to deceive or take advantage of <STUDENT>, he will be able to:
a) Describe the problem situation
b) Describe the intention (s) of both himself and the peer(s) involved when processing the situation later with a teacher.
The objective will be met when <STUDENT> is able to demonstrate these critical thinking skills for 75% of situations presented to him during a trimester reporting period.
Given adult examples of statements using various tones of voice, <STUDENT> will identify whether the tone of voice communicates: a) agreement/respect, b) agreement/disrespect, c) disagreement/respect, or d) disagreement/disrespect with 80% accuracy overall over a trimester of probe opportunities.
Given adult examples of various tone of voice samples, and accompanying non-verbal cues –<STUDENT> will accurately imitate the model provided by the teacher with 80% accuracy as judged by the social skill teacher, over trimester probes.
Given a hypothetical or actual problem solving scenario reported by the student/adult or presented by the clinician, <STUDENT> will demonstrate basic comprehension of cognitive perspectives by: a) Explain at least one emotion felt by each participant in the scenario, and b) explain the intention/perspective of each participant. Criteria will be met when <STUDENT> is able to do both listed tasks for 4/5 proposed problem scenarios on 2 separate probes.
Given a conversation with one other peer, <STUDENT> will maintain a topic of conversation of the peer’s choosing for at least 3 conversational turns in 4/5 measured conversations over a 9 week grading period.
Given a small group social conversation, <STUDENT> will ask one question of a peer about their sharing [by imitating the clinician’s cued question OR when cued to the occasion to do so – “___can you think of a question to ask __ about ___?” OR spontaneously] in 4/5 measured conversation over a 9 week grading period.
Given an analysis and data averaging of 3 conversations with 1 person, <STUDENT> will have 35-45% of his conversational turns on average be Questions directed toward gaining information about his conversational partner’s thought with the remaining turns be Comments.
Given a social sharing/conversational time, < STUDENT> will share novel news appropriate to the group/context in 3 out of 4 sharing instances as measured in 2 separate months.
Given a social sharing/conversation time with 1-2 peers, <STUDENT> will demonstrate joint attention with the group’s conversation by repeating back a peer’s sharing comments when cued to do so in 3 out of 4 sharing instances as measured in 2 separate months,
Given a role play of conversation breakdowns demonstrated by the clinician, <STUDENT> will identify which “type” of breakdown it was (Non-Acknowledgment, Request for Clarification, Wrong Shift) with 80% accuracy on average over 3 probes.
Given a role play of conversation breakdowns, <STUDENT> will brainstorm how to “repair” the breakdown given choices of “Repetition, Recast, Addition of Content, Reduction of Content”, with 80% accuracy on average over 3 probes.
When in a frustrating situation <STUDENT> will describe his own emotional reactions to their own problems based on their perceived size of the problem in 4/5 measured situations in a small group setting facilitated by an adult.
When in a frustrating situation <STUDENT> will describe other people’s emotional reactions to their own problems based on their perceived size of the problem in 4/5 measured situations in a small group setting facilitated by an adult.
Given a visual cue, <STUDENT> will describe the 3 parts of play and will regulate their own behavioral reactions during the “set-up” portion of play (choosing token, establishing directions/rules, choosing person to go first) in 2/3 measured game instances.
Given a picture scene, comic strip or story, <STUDENT> will verbally express a plausible perspective/emotion of at least two different characters involved for 4/5 scenarios presented, maintaining this criteria over 3 separate days.
Given a verbal description and visual depiction (cartooning, drawing stick figures) of a hypothetical social conflict, <STUDENT> will describe the likely perspectives/intentions and/or feelings of at least 2 persons involved, and be able to do so for 4/5 scenarios presented, maintaining this criteria over 3 separate days.
Given a verbal description and visual depiction (cartooning, drawing stick figures) of an actual social conflict <STUDENT> was involved in, <STUDENT> will describe the likely perspectives/intentions and/or feelings of himself and at least one other person involved, and be able to do so for 4/5 scenarios discussed over a trimester grading period.
Given a topic of conversation, <STUDENT> will list at least 4 initial or follow-up questions she could ask related to the topic, doing so for 4 out of 5 conversation topics presented, as measured by the speech-language pathologist.
Given a sample and average 3 different conversation topics with 2 peers, <STUDENT> will demonstrate turn-taking, topic maintenance and “balance” in <HIS/HER> contribution of the conversation, by taking a range of 30-40% of the total turns <HIMSELF/HERSELF, as measured by the speech-language pathologist.
Given a sample and average of 3 different conversation topics with 2 peers, <STUDENT> will have at least 35% of her contributions to the conversation be initial or follow-up questions, rather than comments or non-response, as measured by the speech-language pathologist.
Given an actual social scenario that <STUDENT> was a part of, <STUDENT> will self-reflect upon what other peer’s perspectives/thoughts/feelings were toward his own social behavior in three out of five situations discussed with him.
Given a hypothetical social scenario picture or role play, <STUDENT> will describe the meanings behind various non-verbal communication signs (facial expressions, body language, tone of voice) in 80% of situations presented on average over 5 probes.
Given an actual social scenario that <STUDENT> was a part of, <STUDENT> will self-reflect upon what other peer’s perspectives/thoughts/feelings were toward his own social behavior given his interpretation of various non-verbal communication signs (facial expression, body language, tone of voice) in three out of five situations discussed with him.
Given a unit of figurative language (ex. Idiom, metaphor, slang, joke), <STUDENT> will explain the meaning [given a contextual cue OR without a contextual cue], in 80% of instances on average given 3 probes during a 9 week grading period.
Given an emotion word or description, <STUDENT> will demonstrate comprehension of that emotion by: a) naming a synonym, b) explain it’s meaning, and c) indicate a time that they have felt that emotion. Criteria will me met when <STUDENT> is able to do two of the three listed tasks independently for 4/5 emotions on 2 separate probes.
Given a storybook read aloud, <STUDENT> will indicate an emotion felt by a character [and indicate the reason for the emotion] in 4/5 probes in one storybook and maintain this level for 3 books over a 9-week grading period.
Given an adult or peer model of various non-verbal cues, <STUDENT> will demonstrate comprehension of such cues by explaining the intent or meaning behind the cue (i.e. facial expression, tone of voice, gesture, body stance) in 4/5 modeled instances over 2 separate probe days,
Given an emotion, <STUDENT> will demonstrate comprehension of non-verbal cues by listing at least 2 cues such as, facial expression nuances, tone of voice changes, body stance nuances, and/or gestural cues that would be present for that given emotion. Criteria will be met when student names 2 non-verbal cues for 4/5 emotions on 2 separate probe days.
Given a clinician model, <STUDENT> will increase expression of non-verbal communication cues by imitate a [facial expression, tone of voice, gesture. body posture] in 4/5 measured instances over 2 separate probe days.
Given a chapter read independently, <STUDENT> will explain at least 2 emotions and reasons for the emotion in that chapter given cue questions by the clinician. Criteria will be met when <STUDENT> is able to do so independently for four out of five chapters.
Given a small group conversation facilitated by an adult, <STUDENT> will direct his comments or questions to a specific peer by saying their name, visually referencing them and waiting until he receives peer’s reciprocated eye contact for 80% of his comments measured over a week’s time period.
Given a storybook or an occasion to share personal news in conversation, <STUDENT> will form an expressive narrative that provides:
a)adequate background knowledge for his listener (reference to people/characters involved and the time/place of the setting)
b)describes a main idea, central theme, or conflict-resolution
c)uses transition vocabulary (i.e. “after that”, “then”, “in the end”, etc.)
d)is a cohesive, sequential story containing adequate detail
Criteria will be met when all aspects are provided in four out of five measured narratives as judged by the speech-language pathologist.
Given a list of 10 common idioms/proverbs, metaphors, or social slang, <STUDENT> will explain the figurative, or “social” meaning for 80% of the terms, on average when probes on 3 separate occasions
Given an activity or assignment <STUDENT>participated in, <STUDENT> will be able to describe two positive aspects of the experience in 100% of instances as judged by observations/impressions by IEP team members by the next review date.
Given an experience that was reported or observed as stressful for <STUDENT>, he will be able to describe the cause or belief system that caused his stress in 90% of instances as judged by observations/impressions by the IEP team members by the next review date.
Given structured language lessons aimed at teaching the understanding and use of mental state terms (think, remember, believe, want, know, feel, guess, means, wish, pretend), <STUDENT> will answer questions about a character or person’s mental state/perspective including a mental state term in each answer for four out of five questions, maintaining this level of accuracy over 3 separate probe days.
Organization Goal/Objective Ideas
Given an adult cue to “clean his desk” and providing visual signs for 3-5 categories (i.e. trash, take home, file in a folder, keep in desk, etc.) , <STUDENT> will be able to sort loose papers into appropriate piles independently in three out of four measures occasions.
When <STUDENT> is transitioning between classes, he will prepare and take with his the necessary belongings from one classroom to another with 1 or less prompts from an adult on 4 out of 5 occasions as measured by the staff observations.
Given a visual cue and coaching experiences with an adult, <STUDENT> will learn and apply a strategy to sort and organize his desk to a teacher’s judged satisfaction for 3 out of 4 measured weeks at the time of his next IEP review in 4/09.
Given a visual cue and coaching experiences with an adult, <STUDENT> will write all required homework assignments for a given day in his planner, gather the materials required, bring them home, for 4 out of 5 days measured during a one week period and maintain this progress over 2 weeks at the time of his next IEP review in 4/09.
Given completed homework assignments, <STUDENT> will independently bring the assignment back to school AND turn it in, for 4 out of 5 days measured during a one week period and maintain this progress over 2 weeks at the time of his next IEP review in 4/09.
Given a multi-part and/or longer term assignment, <STUDENT> will participate in adult guided planning of a prioritized schedule to complete the project and then follow through with the proposed steps for 3 out of 4 projects presented in ___ grade.
Written Language Support Goal/Objective Ideas:
Given an open-ended writing assignment, <STUDENT> will be able to brainstorm at least 3 ideas with guiding questions from an adult in three out of five instances as measured by his IEP team.
Given a specific written language assignment, <STUDENT> will be able to complete the details of a graphic organizer with guiding adult questions in three out of five instances as measured by his IEP team
Given a specific writing topic, <STUDENT> will be able to brainstorm at least 3 details independently to support the topic in three out of five instances as measured by his IEP team
Given a specific writing topic and a completed graphic organizer, <STUDENT> will be able to verbally express/describe his topic in an expressive verbal narrative prior to writing the piece in his classroom. Criteria will be met when he is able to do this for three out of five instances as measured by his IEP team.