Inference and Reading: A Practical Guide for School-Age Students




Inference and Reading: Much of what an author writes is implied. Authors expect their readers to fill in the gaps.


So, to truly comprehend or understand much of what an author writes, we, as readers, have to use our inference skills.


The more we are able to do this the better our inference and reading comprehension becomes. And successful inference of written text is often reliant on us having good word and world knowledge.


To have a good vocabulary is important. But perhaps even more important is to have a solid understanding of semantic categories, and the links between words in our mental lexicon, or mental dictionary. If we are able to access the connections well then our ability to make inferences from complex text is that much stronger.


How do we infer?


Successful inferential comprehension requires us to do 3 things.

  • 1.We must use the information presented in the text as our starting point.
  • 2. We look for key words in the text that give us little hints or clues of a hidden meaning.
  • 3. Using our background knowledge, or our world knowledge, we fill in the gaps using the key words to select a best fit answer.


    The best way to illustrate this is to use an example from a children's book: Schumann the Shoeman. To give you some background, Schumann the Shoeman is an old style cobbler who lovingly makes pairs of shoes that are true works of art. No two pairs are the same.


    Example text: 'One grey wintery morning, a shoe factory opened in town. Before long, everyone was wearing the shoes that spilled from its conveyer belts. The shoes came in just one style - sensible. They came in just one colour - salmon. And they wore out after only one season.'Excerpt from Schumann the Shoeman, by John and Stella Danalis.


    This excerpt is a particularly rich example of effective language written for children, and has much gold buried just beneath the surface.


    Often, children, particularly those with oral and written language difficulty, need a little push from us to discover for themselves the themes and depth of certain stories.


    At a literal level, the author presents us with a shoe factory, which makes shoes that everybody buys. The shoes don't last particularly long in that they wear out after one season.


    Inference and Reading cont...


    But there's much more going on in the text than is revealed at surface level. We can sense that the author doesn't really approve of this situation. Nothing is stated explicitly, yet we can feel the disapproval nonetheless. We need to dig a little deeper here. We start by identifying the key words.


    'One grey wintery morning, a shoe factory opened in town. Before long, everyone was wearing the shoes that spilled from its conveyer belts. The shoes came in just one style - sensible. They came in just one colour - salmon. And they wore out after only one season.'


    Inference and Reading cont...


    The author repeats the words one grey wintery morning, and one style, one colour, one season. He adds words such as 'conveyer belts' and 'spilled' to denote a lack of care and absence of originality.


    At a deeper inferential level, the word 'everyone' carries weight in that it hints that Schumann the Shoeman may face a difficult challenge if he were to lose all his customers to the shoe factory. This then raises the larger world view of the small businessman trying to compete with mega-companies and trans-national corporations.


    Inference and Reading cont...


    As we can see, there is much that the author is communicating in this one short passage. The author relies on the reader to use their world knowledge to infer the deeper implications of the impact the shoe factory may have on Schumann the Shoeman's livelihood.


    A child with reading comprehension difficulty may read this book at a surface level and not dig any deeper. The child will note only that a new factory has opened and that it makes shoes.


    The worksheets on this page are highly useful in directing your students' attention to the hidden meaning in much of what they read. To be good at inferencing is to be good at comprehension, which makes reading a far more enjoyable and worthwhile pursuit than simply reading words on a page.


    Inference Map (Example)
    Right-click to download this PDF file here.


    Inference Map
    Right-click to download this PDF file here.


    Inference Key Word Map and Example
    Right-click to download this PDF file here.


    References

    Danalis, John & Stella, 2009. Schumann the Shoeman, University of Queensland Press

    DeKemel, K. 2003 Intervention in Language Arts. A Practical Guide for Speech Language Pathologists Elsevier inc

    Parkin, C. Parkin, C. & Pool, B. 2008 Key into Inference, Triune Initiatives

    Content Updated 8/11

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