Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Activities for Teaching Inferences in Nonfiction

Understanding logical inference can make the difference between comprehending and misunderstanding text. Students must infer cause and effect, main ideas, problems and solutions, comparisons and contrasts and visual cues to be effective readers. When you conduct inference activities in your reading class, students learn interpretive understanding — even when facts are not presented in text, they recognize what makes sense. This skill carries over to subject areas such as social studies, math and science.
1. Games
o Students — especially those in elementary and middle school grades — should engage in hands-on activities such as interactive games to learn about inferences. They can play a card game based on real-life situations. Students try to uncover fact and inference card matches. The fact, “Grandpa’s suitcase is next to the door,” matches the inference, “Grandpa is going on vacation.” Students also can work with partners playing “Where am I?” They create realistic scenarios or scenes from books using inferences only. “I love feeling the sun on my face and listening to the crashing waves.” The partner surmises she’s at the ocean. They alternate turns. Students also can have a "silence challenge" where they sit for two minutes with no movement except breathing. When a student moves, he’s out of the competition. Two or three students typically remain. Students then analyze possible character traits of the winners, such as willpower and determination.
Other Group Activities
o One idea for a group activity has students viewing an approved silent film and analyzing the plot. They can discuss how they were able to follow the story when words were not spoken. They then can work in groups of four using inference to create their own silent “films.” The skits would be presented to classmates. Students can also work in groups of two or three making inferences about each other. Each student prepares a bag of four or five items that represent his hobbies and personality: a mystery book, a baseball, a piano songbook and a model airplane, for example. Group members will discuss what they conclude, based on the bag of items. Students also can play a class game of charades, reflecting on pertinent topics from the subject area. This works well in a history class.
Written Activities
o Students must be able to distinguish fact from inference. When they finish reading a nonfiction article, the teacher can display several related sentences on an overhead projection for all students to copy. They write “fact” or “inference” next to each sentence. In the case of facts, students should find and underline them in the article. The teacher can also present a slide show depicting realistic scenes such as a storm. Students will fold a paper in half and label the halves “observations” and “inferences.” They will record three observations and three inferences for each image. Another activity has students making inferences about characters. The teacher reads an excerpt such as “John saw Bill sitting alone at a lunch table, so he joined him. Bill and John laughed and talked.” Students will then write inferences about John’s personality.
o English-language learners and students with language delays may require modifications to these activities. Teachers will need to be specific and direct. Help students understand that they make many inferences during the day. “Dad saw the mess I made. He looks angry.” With consistent real-life examples, they can transfer the skill to critical reading. Students need to read between the lines and connect what they already know, especially when there is a language barrier. Begin with pictures. Show an image of a woman and make inferences about her. For example, is she happy and successful? Copy illustrations from a wordless picture book and put them on chart paper. Invite students to create an ongoing story by writing sentences on each page to represent the action.

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