Your Reading Comprehension Toolkit: Making Inferences

By Amy Mackenzie | Reading Comprehension

Books are meant to be read.

We pick them up, turn the pages, read the words. It's pretty obvious stuff, right?

Because the act of reading appears simple, children often tell you they are reading long before they make sense of the words on a page. And then, as children get older, and actually begin to read the words on a page, they still tell you they are reading. They move their lips and the words on the page match the words coming out of their mouths. But now the question becomes do they actually understand the words coming out of their mouths?

Understanding what you read is, by definition, what happens when we comprehend text. One of the keys to comprehension is the ability to make inferences. When readers look for clues that tell about the hidden story behind the words on the page, engagement skyrockets and comprehension deepens.

Take this example:

Julia stood at the front of the classroom. Her heart was beating fast and her hands were shaky.

The sentence above is only 18 words long. But there is an awful lot of story packed into those 18 words. Here's what we can infer:

  • Julia is at school
  • She must be giving some sort of presentation
  • She's nervous
  • She's probably warm
  • Julia doesn't enjoy public speaking

Nowhere in that sentence does the author tell us Julia is nervous, but we can easily infer her anxiety based on the clues the author revealed. Teaching students how to notice clues about the hidden story is all about showing them how to read between the lines.

Here are some books and paired resources to help you teach your students about the art of making inferences:

Or try the following making inferences activities that can be used anytime and with any text.

#1: Be Highlighter Heroes

This is a baby step in a long process of teaching inferences. For this activity, give students a notecard with an inference that you made after reading one section of a book. Then give students a photocopy of that section of the book and highlighters. Send them on a “mission” to find and highlight clues that support the inference you made. When they find them, they become highlighter heroes!

#2: Build an Inference Web

A spider is a great metaphor for this activity. Explain to students that every author weaves a web of clues throughout a story. It’s up to us to collect all the clues to find the hidden story behind the words on the page.

Give students a piece of paper with a spider web drawn on it along with 4–5 sticky notes. First, ask them to make an inference about the text. Direct them to write it on a sticky note, and place it in the center of the web. Then ask them write clues from the text that support the inference on the other sticky notes. Place the supporting sticky notes around the outside of the spider web.

#3: Play Clue Me In

Here's a fun game to play during transition time to strengthen your students' inferential thought process. Start by holding up one item the students will need for your next lesson. Ask them to make an inference about their next activity based on the item you hold up. Continue to introduce items to your students into the next lesson. After your students have correctly inferred what the next activity will be, take the time to discuss which item led them to make the correct inference.

Want More Ideas Like These?

This post is part of a 10-part series. In each post, we share ideas for making comprehension strategy practice more engaging.

Click here to see tips and activity ideas for the other reading comprehension strategies.