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Investigating Inferences

Investigating Inferences
Coral Balubar

Throughout the year, both at school and at home, the children have learned to “track their thinking” in a variety of different ways--reacting and responding to text by paying attention to their own inner dialogue as they read. This act of “tracking thinking” is a form of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thinking). It allows readers to become adept at simultaneously:

  1. Reading
  2. Listening for the voice in their head that says, “What just happened to that character has happened to me before!” or “I can feel the mud on my feet.” or “I think in the next chapter the dog is going to run away.”
  3. Labeling and classifying the thinking (connection, mental image, prediction, wow/wonder…)


Perhaps one of the most complex and important skills the children learn in tracking their thinking is how to infer. Inference skills are essential for reading comprehension, as inferring supports readers in determining what is implied in a text. In essence, inferring is “reading between the lines,” and comprehending the text beyond what is explicitly stated in the words. In class, we refer to inferring as “using what you SEE (evidence in the book) and what you KNOW (your own knowledge and experience) to make a good GUESS (inference).”

One of my all time literacy education heroes, Stephanie Harvey, defines this fundamental skill as, “Inferring is the bedrock of comprehension, not only in reading. We infer in many realms. Our life clicks along more smoothly if we can read the world as well as text. If our boss looks grumpy in the morning, it might not be the best day to ask for a raise...Inferring is about reading faces, reading body language, reading expressions, and reading tone as well as reading text.”

This idea of inferring being an essential skill not only for reading but for navigating one’s way in the world was how the skill was first presented to the children. I looked outside and mentioned that I saw dark clouds (SEE). I then explained what I know from my experience is that dark clouds usually mean it is about to rain (KNOW). From there I could make an inference that it was going to rain and that we would have indoor recess (GUESS). As humans, we are constantly inferring as we go about our day, and as readers, it is essential that we learn how to apply this same thinking process to text.

We have concentrated on making these types of inferences about the characters in our fiction books:

  • inferring character traits
  • inferring character feelings

We have worked on both making inferences AND backing up these inferences with evidence from the text.

In learning to infer character traits, the children have become skilled at determining who their character is “on the inside” by studying what their character “does and says.” Here is an example of an inference we worked on together for the first book in the beloved series, The Magic Tree House.

“I infer Annie is adventurous because she climbs up into the mysterious tree house in the woods.”

Notice that the trait (adventurous) is “who the character is on the inside'” and it is backed up by evidence of what the character does (climbs up into the mysterious tree house).

We have encouraged the children to steer clear of bland trait words like “nice” and “good” and they have taken on this challenge with enthusiasm, adding many new trait words to our collective vocabulary!

In our work learning how to infer character feelings, the children have demonstrated an understanding of character emotions even when the author does not explicitly state how a character is feeling. Here is an example we worked on together from the African Cinderella story Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters:

“I infer Manyara feels jealous because everyone likes her sister more.”

Notice that the feeling (jealous) is once again backed up with evidence (everyone likes her sister more).

Inferring character feelings has also led to making real-world connections to the children's peer relationships. We have talked about how we can infer how a friend is feeling even when they don't explicitly say “I feel lonely” or “I feel frustrated.”

Here are some examples of the children’s inferences from their readers’ notebooks. Please remember that when the children use their readers’ notebooks, the goal is not to spell every word correctly or use their best handwriting, but it is about doing the hard work of thinking about the texts they are reading and leaving tracks of their thinking.



As you read with your child, model making your own inferences about characters and ask your child to explain their thinking about character traits and feelings. Remember that inferring does not end when we close our books, but is a skill that can be cultivated in everyday occurrences. Enjoy observing and noticing these real-world opportunities for inferences as well!

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