Saturday, March 29, 2014

Making Inferences: Scaffolding the Strategy Whole-Class and Small Group *Freebie!

Making inferences is tough! It's is one of the more difficult things we ask kids to do. We model, model, model, but making an inference requires more than following some steps. It requires some sense of what is logical and how we use evidence and background knowledge. It's tricky! Especially for our struggling readers, making inferences requires multiple exposures with lots of scaffolding. 
To help kids make inferences that are logical, I try to keep them very closely tied to the text. This doesn't mean that I don't value their background knowledge - background knowledge is so important to reading deeply! It just means that sometimes, students don't use background knowledge to understand text evidence; they use background knowledge to replace text evidence. And that's not good reading.
So I teach kids to use background knowledge to understand the evidence the text has provided. This means we have to start with the evidence! 
 Whole-Class Scaffolding

 This is a lesson we did with our second grade students. We were focusing on making inferences about a character. Specifically, we were working with A Bad Case of Stripes.

There is a lot of evidence about Camilla Cream's character in A Bad Case of Stripes. We wanted our kids to learn how to focus on searching for evidence to support their inferences. 

First, we started with introducing the strategy and what our purpose for reading was. The questions were charted on the left side of the chart before the teacher began reading the book. The teacher read the first question before starting the book to help focus the kids' thinking.

As the teacher read the book aloud, the kids listened for evidence that would help them specifically respond to the question. As they found evidence to respond to the question, it was charted on the right side. They used the specific details to make an inference and respond to the question. The answer was charted under the question on the left. 

Once the first question was answered, the teacher charted the second question to set a purpose for reading the next piece of text. The process continued throughout the book to help kids think about Camilla's character at different points in the story.

Small Group Scaffolding

 Sometimes what we do for the whole group doesn't "click" with some kids. They try to understand, but the learning is elusive. Small groups are a great time to differentiate your instruction and provide some scaffolding for students to learn a concept in a more structured way.

This is a tool I've used with small groups to help scaffold their inference-making skills. I chose a text very carefully that had several opportunities for students to make inferences. This can be challenging when you're working with a group of struggling readers. It's tough to find a text they can navigate at an instructional level and still have opportunities to "read between the lines" because the text is often so straightforward. Maybe this is easier for others than it is for me, but to ensure that my lesson is as accurate as possible, I really have to do some thinking! 

I chose a leveled reader from our supplemental materials after several re-reads. I found a few places in the text where I could make an inference. I made a two-columned table and and recorded the text evidence in order on the left side, in the order it appeared in the text. On a separate page, I made a blank some blank boxes and typed in the inferences I was able to make using the evidence. These I typed up out of order.

As students read the text, we hunted for the text evidence. Once they found it in the text, we read around it and thought about what we could "tell" from the evidence. Then we looked at the answer choices - the four inference statements that I typed up on the cards - and decided which one accurately matched the evidence. I had students circle a few words that helped them understand the inference was supported by the evidence. 

These are the questions I asked to guide their thinking:
What does the evidence mean?
From the evidence, which inference can we say is true? 
Which inference is supported by the piece of evidence?
Do the inference and evidence have similar meanings?

These questions helped focus the kids' thinking and made sure they were being logical in their evidence-inference connection.

Supporting inferences with evidence

I did a similar activity to work on the reverse of the evidence-inference process. I provided the inferences on the table, and the kids had to match the text evidence to explain which sentence from the text best supported the evidence. We read the article first and discussed important ideas. Then we read the evidence on the cards and sequenced them to locate the context of the evidence in the text. 

Then we read our inferences on the right side of the column and tried to logically connect the evidence to the inferences on the chart, making decisions about which piece of evidence helped us prove the inference true.

It was more challenging than moving from evidence to inferences, and required more time the first time I taught the lesson. But these scaffolding strategies helped our kids become more deliberate in their inference-making and inference-justifying. I used them with kids in grades three and four; special education students and general education students, too! 

What do you do to support kids' inference-making?

 Here's a handy dandy FREEBIE to help you scaffold your inference instruction!

And get all my Reading Strategy MiniPacks in the BIG BUNDLE!

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  1. What an excellent way to work through this difficult concept for students! What is really great about your lesson is that it is easily modified for any elementary grade level, even middle school. Thank you for your time in posting this.

  2. Bookmarked this since I will want to come back again and again...inferences are tricky, because students don't always use the text enough. (Or at all, as some of mine did on the last reading test...they could have just answered the questions without reading first, since their answers were right from their little heads! Grrr....)

  3. what a great activity! pinning so I remember to come back to it :)

  4. do you happen to have the peanut article handy to share?

    1. can you scan and share it as a PDF file if you don't have it electronically?

    2. Thank you for your interest in my blog! I hunted around until I found the peanuts article and then I realized where it came from - a free sample of a test-taking resource I'd been sent in the mail. It's not something I can scan and send, because of copyright issues. However. if you are hunting for articles to do a similar activity with, you can find many on I have used their passages in the past with this activity and, as long as you choose carefully, they work very well. Good luck!

  5. I love your lesson, not only for teaching inferences to struggling readers, but also because it teaches the much talked about "close reading" asked for in the CCSS. I'm also trying to set up my own blog, and yours is quite a model!

  6. Thank you so much for the informative posts because i was looking some like aluminum scaffoling in Google and finally i got, thank you


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