Language Therapy Inference

Language Therapy Inference: This webpage provides you with a typical language intervention session with an 10 year old girl with language difficulty.

The language domain the clinician has targeted for this session is inference skill.

Inference skills are a critically important part of reading comprehension.

The goal of these particular language therapy webpages is to demonstrate real, authentic language intervention techniques and provide you with strategies and examples of high efficacy language therapy.

The goal is for you - whether you be a speech-language pathologist, teacher or parent - to have confidence to try this type of language intervention on your own students.

The language intervention method chosen is based on communicative reading strategies (Norris, 1991), as outlined and explained in Kathryn DeKemel's book, Intervention in Language Arts.

Kathryn DeKemel's book features several chapters devoted to inference and its role in reading comprehension. Another book worth reading about text-based intervention is Geraldine Wallach's, Language Intervention in School-Age Students.

Communicative Reading Strategies

Language Therapy Inference cont...

To acquaint yourself with communicative reading strategies as a language intervention method I recommend you access the Shared Reading page and associated links. This will give you a brief but thorough background and foundation in the theory of communicative reading strategies.

Also, if you're up for an extra bit of reading, please access the teaching inferencing and reading comprehension problems webpages to learn more about inference and its importance to reading comprehension.

Language Intervention - Background

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Background Information: Maree (name and situation changed) is a 10 year old girl who has a history of poor reading comprehension skills. Maree's class teacher described Maree's reading as reasonably good, but stated that her reading comprehension skills were poor.

An oral language assessment (CASL - Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, 1999, Elizabeth Carrow-Woolfolk) revealed that Maree's receptive and expressive language skills were mildly below average. A spelling test (Dalwood Spelling Test) indicated that Maree's spelling skills were mildly below average.

Maree read an appropriate grade level book to the clinician and any miscues were noted. A narrative analysis revealed that Maree had poor recall of story details, and poor reading comprehension.

This difficulty was most noticeable on questions that required Maree to reveal knowledge about situations not stated explicitly in the text.

Maree's decoding skills were reasonably good in that she made only a few miscues while reading the text.

Understanding Inference Language Goals

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Objective: Maree will identify inference in text from a children's storybook. And also identify and understand what inference is.

Learning Approach: Communicative reading strategies and language stimulation techniques and story grammar principles.

Materials: Storybooks, reference books, graphic organizers.

Rating System: Inference Scoring Chart

Resource Download

Therapy Goals Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Book Selection

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Selecting the right book for language intervention is an important process. It's critical that the book chosen for therapy is at the right level of complexity for the student.

If the books's to difficult to understand the child may flounder; if the book's too easy, the student will learn very little.

The fry readability graph is a useful tool for selecting books, based on grade level.

But, perhaps the most important method of book selection, is to have your student read to you from a book from their grade level and note the number of miscues that the student makes.

Then ask the student a series of comprehension questions to determine how well they understood the story and its themes.

Selected Book

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The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber, Illustrated by Nicola Bayley, 1990.

The Mousehole Cat
Author: Antonia Barber
Illustrator: Nicola Bayley.
Published 1990, Walker Books Ltd.
ISBN: 0-7445-2353-2

Fry Readability Graph Rating: Grade 5 level text.

A miscue reading analysis of the text revealed that Maree was able to decode the words adequately but read the book with a flat intonation, and little variety in voice modulation.

Subsequent questioning demonstrated quite clearly that Maree had difficulty understanding many of the key passages in the text. The clinician and Maree spent several session working on story grammar elements. Maree's understanding of the themes was enhanced, but her ability to infer still needed work.

The story of The Mousehole Cat was selected because it is a beautifully constructed tale that adheres to story grammar principles And most importantly, the Mousehole Cat has much embedded language in the text - inferred information - that needs to be teased out.

Brief Story Synopsis

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The Mousehole Cat is the story of Mowser the cat and his human, Tom, the old fisherman. Mowser and Tom live in a fishing village called 'the Mousehole' on the Cornish coast of England. The Mousehole refers to the village's breakwater which protects the small village's harbour from the destructive fury of the winter storms.

Mowser and Tom live contentedly in the village until one particularly fierce winter when the fishing boats cannot escape the harbour due to the storm's ferocity. Mowser refers to the winter storm as the 'Great Storm-Cat.' The fishing boats are likened to mice snuggled safely behind the breakwater, safely evading the 'Storm-Cat' as if behind a mousehole - hence the title.

The problem is, that though safe behind the breakwater, none of the boats could leave the harbour to fish. The winter storm lasts so long that the villagers are in danger of starving. Old Tom and Mowser bravely venture forth, out to sea and into the storm - in their little fishing boat - to catch fish and save the villagers from starvation.

Language Intervention Session - Inference Maps

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Inference Maps are the core language teaching tool for this particular session. An inference map is an excellent visual aid in that it provides a graphic representation of how inference is analyzed in text.

Many fictional stories are constructed with inference embedded in the text. Authors frequently do not specify relationships and events in the story in a literal way. Much of the language is inferred, for brevity's sake.

That is, authors imply much of what is written, rather than give lengthy descriptions of each and every scene or event in a story. The author relies on the reader's ability to 'fill in the gaps,' using their background knowledge to uncover hidden information embedded in the text.

It has been well documented that children with language impairment and children with reading comprehension difficulty are not successful at doing this.

So, for these students, inference needs to be explicitly taught. Perhaps the best way to do this is with communicative reading strategies and inference maps.

The teaching of inference is a purely metalinguistic task. Once students are made aware of the process, they are more successful at recognizing implied information in text.

Resource Download

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

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

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

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

The Story is Read Together

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The session begins with both Maree and the clinician reading part of the story. The Mousehole Cat is quite a long book and is not a text that can expect to be read in one 40 minute session. The clinician reads a short synopsis of the story and does some work on the background of the story. (preparatory set)

Clinician: 'Mowser's an old cat and lives with an even older fisherman, named Tom. Back in the old days, when this story is set, the villagers needed to fish to survive. In this story there was a big storm that prevented the fisherman from safely leaving the harbour. So old Tom makes a decision. He and his cat Mowser will leave the harbour and confront the storm. They will risk their lives in order to catch enough fish to save the villagers.'

Clinician: 'I'll read the text out loud. You let me know what you think is happening in this passage Maree.'

Maree: 'Um...ok.'

Target Passage from The Mousehole Cat

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'The next morning they set out very early, before the others were waking. Before they went, Tom stoked up the old range and damped it down so that it would burn steadily until they returned. Then he hung a lamp in the window so that it would shine out across the harbour and light their way.'

Excerpt from 'The Mousehole Cat,' by Antonia Barber, illustrated by Nicola Bayley.

Question to Establish the Student's Level of Understanding

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This particular excerpt from the book contains a number of compound-complex sentences which may also impact on Maree's comprehension and ability to infer. It's important to take the linguistic complexity of a passage into account when deciding on therapy outcomes.

Clinician: 'What do you think is happening in that passage?'

Maree: 'They're going out to catch fish.'

Clinician: 'Yes, I agree. Old Tom and his cat Mowser are going out in their boat to catch fish.' (Paraphrase and Extension) 'What did Tom do before they set out that morning?'

Maree is encouraged to read the passage again to better understand the written information.

Maree: 'It says that "Tom stoked up the old range and damped it down." Maree pauses and thinks. 'I don't know what that means.'

Refer to Previous Material

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The clinician refers to previous material in the story (text and images) to support the student's background knowledge related to the target passage.

Clinician: 'The passage says "Tom stoked up the old range and damped it down." If we turn back a few pages we can see in this picture that Tom and Mowser are in the kitchen.'

The clinician flicks back several pages and point to a picture that shows Tom and Mowser standing near an old fashioned stove/oven/heater.

Clinician Reinforces Background Knowledge

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Clinician: 'This is an old stove that was common back in the past, before we had cars and electricity. This type of stove is still made today, but is very expensive. Most modern stoves are powered by electricity. These old stoves were powered by coal and wood. They were an oven that cooked food, but they also acted like a big heater.'

The clinician returns to the target passage and points to the text.

Clinician: 'Here it says "Tom stoked up the old range," which means (gesturing with hand) to push an iron bar through hot coals. And to "damp it down" means to settle the coals and pack them in.'

Maree: 'My grand-dad has one of those stoves in his house.'

Clinician: 'Great, so we know that the old range refers to an old wood-fired stove. It also says something about "it would burn steadily until they returned." What do you suppose would burn steadily?'

Maree frowns a little, but slowly the answer dawns on her.

Maree: 'Is it the coals in the oven? You know, the stuff that heats it up.'

Clinician: 'Yes, it's the hot coals that will burn steadily. Well done. Do you realize that you inferred that their were hot coals in the oven? It doesn't state anything about coals in the text. What you did is called inferencing. Have you ever heard of inferencing?'

Maree shakes her head, no.

Clinician: 'Inference is really important to know about. To inference is to read a passage in a book and then to use your background knowledge to work out the hidden information.'

How to Use the Inference Map

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If you have the inference map printed out in front of you you will notice that it is arranged into 4 convex cigar/UFO shaped circles. The top circle features Language in Text, the two directly below state Information I Know and Hidden Information. The bottom circle has the heading, Best Fit Answer.

The first task is quite simple: the student writes the target sentence or paragraph, word for word, in the top circle. The student is then encouraged to scan the target passage for literal information - information that he/she can readily recognize, based on his/her background knowledge. The student writes this information into the Information I Know circle.

The tricky part comes next. The student is encouraged to fill in the missing information, using their background knowledge as a foundation. The student writes the concealed information - the message not directly stated in the text, but hinted at - into the Hidden Information circle.

With some scaffolding by the clinician, the student writes the best fit answer into the bottom circle. The best fit answer is the inferred information that is not directly stated in the target passage, but is information the author expects the reader to 'figure out' unaided.

Background knowledge is a vital component of a child's ability to inference well. If a student's semantic word and world knowledge is limited then it can severely limit the child's ability to inference at the expected level.

Below is an example of the clinician using the inference map with Maree.

Language in Text - Circle

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Clinician: 'Maree, it says here that Tom stoked up the old range so that the fire would burn steadily until they returned. Why did he do that? Why did he stoke the fire?'

Maree: 'So that the fire would burn.'

Clinician:'Yes, sure. So the fire would burn. I agree. But there is something missing here. Something the author wants us to infer.

Maree: 'I'm not sure. I don't know what's missing.'

Clinician: 'We'll come to that in a moment. We'll figure it out together. Can you write the sentence starting with "Before they went..." into the top circle of the inference map please.'

Maree writes the target sentence into the top circle of the inference map.

Information I Know - Circle

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Clinician: 'So what do we know so far about this passage? Think of the phrase, before they went.'

Maree: 'Tom and the cat are going fishing.'

Clinician: 'Where?'

Maree: 'In the sea.'

Clinician: 'Look at the picture. The clouds are dark and its raining. What does that tell us about the temperature in the village that morning?'

Maree: 'It must be cold.'

Clinician: 'Yes, Cornwall is on the South-West coast of England. I'm sure it must be very cold there in the winter. It's freezing, probably. So that is information we know. We know it's cold and that Tom and Mowser are going fishing in a dangerous storm. Write that into the Information I Know circle.'

Maree writes the factual information about Tom and Mowser and the weather into the Information I know circle.

Hidden Information - Circle

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Clinician: 'Can you think of a time when you've been out all day in cold, wet weather and you come home and the house is cold. What's the first thing you turn on?' (Generalization Activity)

Maree: 'The heater.'

Clinician: 'And how does it feel when you've been out all day in the cold weather and you come home and the heater's already on?' (Generalization Activity)

Maree: 'It feels great.'

Clinician: 'Why has Tom stoked the fire? Why does he want it to burn steadily, to burn slowly?'

Maree looks uncertain, so the clinician tries a cloze procedure.

Clinician: 'Remember, they would have been out on the water all day in the freezing wind, but when they get home, the kitchen will...'

Maree: 'The kitchen will be warm because the fire is burning slowly.' He (Tom) made it like that so it (the fire) will still be going when they get home.'

Clinician: 'You've got it Maree. That's it exactly. Tom was clever enough and experienced enough a fisherman to know that they would both be half frozen when they return home. He makes certain the fire burns slowly so that it burns all day. So the kitchen will be warm all day. That's the hidden information in this passage.'

Maree: 'Yeah, the kitchen will be really warm.'

Clinician: 'Write that information into the Hidden Information circle please, and then write what you think the best fit answer is.' All you have to write in the bottom circle is pretty much what I just said.'

Maree fills in both the Hidden Information and Best Fit Answer circles, to the best of her ability.


Language Therapy Inference cont...

Clinician: 'The author of the Mousehole Cat has said nothing about how cold the weather is outside or how toasty and warm the kitchen will be when Tom and Mowser get home. But she's given us enough information so that we can infer how cold it is outside and how warm the kitchen must be, and why Tom "damped the old range down."

Clinician: 'We've learnt a little today about inference and how authors don't always write everything down on the page. Authors often conceal or hide a lot of information in the text and we, as readers, have to infer what the missing information is, using our background knowledge and by thinking about the passage in new ways.'

Inference Intervention - Conclusion and Scoring Chart

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Resource Download

Inference Scoring Chart
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

The understanding inference language intervention session is a typical and accurate portrayal of text-based language intervention. The session was completed in a little over 40 minutes, which is the maximum time the clinician is able to spend with any one student in a therapy session.

Maree was engaged with a large number of communicative reading strategies techniques. The techniques were used to scaffold the information effectively. However, the clinician remained focused on the core goal of the session: Maree will identify inference in text from a children's storybook. And also identify and understand what inference is.

At the end of the session Maree was asked to recount the target passage, and also asked if she understood what inference was? Maree was able to describe what she believed the author was writing about and how we inferred what the target passage was about.

Maree's response wasn't very detailed, so the clinician marked the scoring chart as 1, in that the student had some understanding of inference but had trouble describing it. Maree participated well during the session and the information she learned would be reviewed and followed up in subsequent language therapy sessions.

Inference Intervention - Next Session

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The next session with Maree will consist of these goals:

Goal 1: Revise the concept of inference.

Goal 2: Revise the target passage inference, 'Tom stoked up the old range...'

Goal 3: Introduce the second part of the passage and explore the inference related to the 'lamp in the window.'


Barber, A. & Bayley, N. (1990) The Mousehole Cat. Walker Books Limited

Collins Essential Dictionary and Thesaurus (2007) Harper Collind Publishers

DeKemel, K.P. (2003) Intervention in Language Arts: A Practical Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kaderavek, J & Justice, L.M. (2002) Shared Storybook Reading as an Intervention Context: Practices and Potential Pitfalls. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Vol 11. 395-406.

Norris, J.A. (1991) From Frog to Prince: Using Written Language as a Context for Language Learning, Topics in Language Disorders. Vol 12, 66-81

Paul, R. (2001) Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Wallach, G.P. (2008) Language Intervention for School-Age Students: Setting Goals for Academic Success. Mosby Elsevier

Wagner, R.K. Muse, A.E. & Tannenbaum, K.R. (2007) Vocabulary Acquisition: Implication s for Reading Comprehension. The Guilford Press

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