Making an Inference Mary Barrett

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Making an Inference

Mary Barrett

Mayo High School

Rochester, MN 55904

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If something is literal, you can point to it in the text. You don't need to draw a conclusion or make an inference. The information is right there.


Inference means that you understand something that the author did not directly say. You can find clues in the author's words. The clues help you to make an inference. It is an educated guess, but you are only looking for things implied in the text.


Analysis means that you look at each part of what the author wrote. You are trying to find out why each detail is important to the ideas of the author. You use your judgment to help you complete the meaning the author started. You also make inferences as part of this judgment. You are going beyond the text in analysis.

Inference Worksheet
The young girl is standing on the corner. She is wearing a bright red jacket and bright red snow pants. She has a scarf tied around her face. She is wearing striped mittens. She looks to the left down the street. She stamps her feet. She puts her backpack on the ground. She looks to the left down the street again.
List the things you know that the author did not say directly. Tell the clues that helped you make the inferences.

Inference Worksheet


Inference Worksheet

It is winter. She is wearing a jacket, snow pants and mittens.

She is going to school. OR the library. She is standing on the corner with a backpack.

She is waiting for the bus. She is looking to the left and standing still.
The bus is late. She looks to the left two times.
She is angry. OR She is cold. She stamps her feet.
It is morning and probably dark. If she is going to school, it is early, and it is

dark in the winter mornings.

Examples of Question Types

1. Literal Question:
What color is the girl's jacket?

2. Inferential Question:
What is the girl waiting for?

3. Critical/Evaluative Question:
Is the girl dressed warmly enough?

When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers

©2003 Heinemann – Portsmouth, NH – ISBN 0-86709-519-9

Chapter 5 – Learning to Make an Inference

Pages 61 to 72


An inference is the ability to connect what is in the text with what is in the mind to create an educated guess.
Here is a sample paragraph. Read it; then write in the margin what you think is happening in this text:
He put down $10.00 at the window. The woman behind the window gave him $4.00. The person next to him gave him $3.00, but he gave it back to her. So, when they went inside, she bought him a large bag of popcorn.

If you could figure out this paragraph, you made all of the following types of inferences:

  • figured out to whom the pronouns referred

  • gave explanations for events

  • decided where this was taking place

  • decided why the characters were doing what they were doing

  • figured what the relationship was between the characters

  • used your own knowledge about the world to provide details

Types of Inferences

Skilled readers ...

    1. recognize the antecedents for pronouns

    2. figure out the meaning of unknown words from context clues

    3. figure out the grammatical function of an unknown word

    4. understand intonation of characters’ words

    5. identify characters’ beliefs, personalities, and motivations

    6. understand characters’ relationships to one another

    7. provide details about the setting

    8. provide explanations for events or ideas that are presented in the text

    9. offer details for events or their own explanations of the events presented in the text

    10. understand the author’s view of the world

    11. recognize the author’s biases

    12. relate what is happening in the text to their own knowledge of the world

    13. offer conclusions from facts presented in the text

How can we help students make inferences?

  1. Post a list of the types of inferences that good readers make. Refer to the list whenever you are making inferences.

  1. Model the strategy of making inferences. Read aloud a short passage, and think aloud your inferences. Have students decide what type of inferences you are making (see list above). Kylene Beers recommends doing this at least once each day and says that such books as Two-Minute Mysteries by Donald Sobol and Five-Minute Mysteries and Even More Five-Minute Mysteries Even More Five-Minute Mysteries by Ken Weber are excellent sources.

  1. Teach kids that authors provide clues to help you make inferences.

EXTERNAL TEXT – what the author says IMPLIES something

INTERNAL TEXT – what the reader understands as he INFERS something
Look at this sentence: Sam ate the food on her plate without slowing down between bites.
The literal text tells us that somebody named Sam ate all the food that was on the plate.

The author IMPLIED that Sam is a female by using the pronoun her.

The reader INFERRED that she was hungry since the author stated that she didn’t slow down.
What if the next sentence read, “Her bus would be arriving in about two minutes.”

The reader would change the inference from, “Sam is really hungry” to “Sam is in a hurry so she doesn’t miss her bus.”

  1. Read ahead in the text and make notes of all the inferences that students will have to make. Make an overhead of a paragraph from the text and then perform SYNTAX SURGERY. In other words, as you make inferences, write them on the page and draw arrows to indicate where you related pronouns to nouns, used the context to figure out a word, or added details to events described in the text.

  1. Cut out cartoons from the newspaper and put them on an overhead transparency. Read the cartoon aloud and think aloud your inferences. It is our inferences that make the cartoon funny. At first, Beers has kids bring in cartoons to share. Eventually Kylene Beers gives kids extra credit if they bring in cartoons that they CAN’T figure out. This allows Beers to discuss how an inference does not work.

  1. Show students signs or bumper stickers. Have kids write out their inferences (internal text) based on the clues the author provided (external text).

Syntax Surgery

Beers, page 70

He put down $10.00 at the window. The woman behind the window gave $4.00. The person next to him gave him $3.00, but he gave it back to her. So when they went inside, she bought him a large bag of popcorn.

Bumper Stickers

Beers, page 71

A mom put this sign on her teenaged son’s door:

Enter at your own risk.

An unknown bacteria is said to be growing in this room

In the football team’s locker room:

I am your coach, not your mother.

At the vet’s office:

Puddles are for jumping over, not walking through.

Bumper sticker on a highway patrolman’s car:

Don’t slow down on my account.

But if you don’t, it will probably hurt your account.

Bumper sticker on a teenager’s car:

A floorboard? There’s carpet on the floorboard?

At the library:

Check it out – really!

Try write one of your own:

Practice Making Inferences

Read each of these conversations and then answer the questions.

1. A: Look at the long line! Do you think we’ll get in?

B: I think so. Some of these people already have tickets.

A. How much are the tickets?

B. Only $4.50 for the first show. I’ll pay.

A. Thanks. I’ll buy some popcorn.
What are these people talking about?

Where are they?

Which words helped you guess?

2. A: Well, what do you think?

B. The color is perfect on you.

A. What about the style?

B. It’s a very popular style.

A. How does it look on me?

B. It looks great on you. It looks great on everybody.
What are these people talking about?

Where are they?

Which words helped you guess?

3. A. Did you understand everything today?

B. No. I’m so confused.

A. So am I.

B. She doesn’t explain things very well. She goes too fast!

A. I know. And now we’re going to have a test!

What are these people talking about?

Where are they?

Which words helped you guess?

4. A. I can’t believe this is my last day here!

B. You’re leaving us today?

A. Yes. I’m so nervous about this.

B. I’m sure it will be fine.

A. I don’t know. It will be so different.

B. I thought you wanted a change.

A. Yes, I did. I wanted more pay. But now I’m not sure it was the right thing to do.

B. Stop worrying. Everything will be fine.

What inferences can you make from this conversation?


Conversation Piece

What happened in this story? As you read this short story, write any inferences you make as you figure things out. You can try “Syntax Surgery” and draw arrows to the clues you connected to make your inference.



“You didn’t!”

“I did.”


“Just now.”






“You know.”

“I don’t!”

“You do.”



“With whom?”

“With you.”



“She didn’t ...”

“She did.”

“We didn’t ....”

“You did.”

“You knew?”

“I knew.”
Conversation Piece, p. 2
“How long?”

“Long enough.”

“What now?”




“Why later?”

“Guess again.”

“Tell me!”


“Oh no!”

“Oh, yes.”

“You can’t.”

“I can.”


“Don’t beg.”

“Forgive me!”

“Too late.”

“Good God!”



“Yes, sir.”

“The police.”

from: Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher, p. 5-6, Stenhouse Publishers, ISBN 1 57110 384 8

Say Something Strategy

Beers, page 105

Dependent readers don’t distinguish between decoding and reading. To them, reading means pushing your eyes across the words, continuing on whether you understand or not. Say Something is a strategy that was first published by Harste, Short, and Burke in 1998. The strategy interrupts a student’s reading of the text and asks the student to think about what she or he has just read.
Here is how it works:

  1. Students get in pairs or groups of 3

  2. The first student begins to read aloud one portion of the text.
  3. The student reading aloud pauses to “say something” about what was read. That students should:

    1. make a prediction

    2. ask a question

    3. clarify something that is confusing

    4. comment on what is happening

    5. connect the text to something the student knows

  4. The reading partner responds to what the first reader says.

  5. They then switch roles, and a new person reads aloud.

  6. When reader 2 stops to “say something,” the process begins to loop.

Rules for Say Something

  1. With your partner, decide who will say something first

  1. When you say something, do one or more of the following:

    1. make a prediction

    2. ask a question

    3. clarify something you had misunderstood

    4. make a comment

    5. make a connection

  1. If you can’t do one of those five things, then you need to reread.

Prompts for Say Something

Beers, Page 108

Make a Prediction

  • I predict that ...

  • I bet that ...

  • I think that ...

  • Since this happened (fill in detail), then I bet the next thing that is going to happen is ...

  • Reading this part makes me think that this (fill in detail) is about to happen ...

  • I wonder if ....

Ask a Question

  • Why did ...

  • What’s this part about ...
  • How is this (fill in detail) like this (fill in detail) ...

  • What would happen if ...

  • Why ...

  • Who is ..

  • What does this section (fill in detail) mean ...

  • Do you think that ...

  • I don’t get this part here ...

Clarify Something

  • Oh, I get it ...

  • Now I understand ...

  • This makes sense now ...

  • No, I think it means ...

  • I agree with you. This means ...

  • At first I thought (fill in detail), but now I think ...

  • This part is really saying ...

Make a Comment

  • This is good because ...

  • This is hard because ...

  • This is confusing because ...

  • I like the part where ...

  • I don’t like this part because ...

  • My favorite part so far is ...

  • I think that ...

Make a Connection

  • This reminds me of ...

  • This part is like ...

  • This character (fill in name) is like (fill in name) because ....

  • This is similar to ...

  • The differences are ...

  • I also (name something in the text that has happened to you) ...

  • I never (name something in the text tat has never happened to you) ...

  • This character makes me think of ...

  • This setting reminds me of ...

What your pet bird wishes you knew

Julie Glass

Good Housekeeping

Americans own 31 million pet birds, and the number is on the rise. Yet veterinarians report that many would live longer, healthier lives if owners knew more. Unfortunately, pet stores do a poor job of educating people, says Irwin Ruderman, D.V.M., director of New York City’s Animal Clinic of Staten Island and an active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV). Despite recent veterinary advances, too many birds die prematurely because owners don’t know the basics of care.


Many pet birds actually die of complications resulting from malnutrition, says Dr. Ruderman. A diet of seed and water – what most caged birds get – is like bread and water to a person. Wild birds thrive on an enormous variety of foods – seeds, blossoms, fruits, insects – and your bird needs the same variety. Unlike dogs and cats, birds should have table food.

“Only half the diet should be starches,” Dr. Ruderman says, “and that includes seed, but you can give birds pasta, potatoes, beans, peas, and corn. Twenty-five percent or more should be fruits – raisins, apples, pears, melon, you name it – and vegetables, cooked or raw. Go for the darkest and brightest: kale, beets, red peppers, squash.” For hookbill birds – parakeets,

cockatiels, parrots, and lovebirds – the rest should be protein” meat, poultry, fish, eggs (all cooked), cheese, and yogurt.

A few cautions

Birds are susceptible to salt poisoning, so be sure all people snacks (pretzels, chips, peanuts) are unsalted or low-sodium. Never feed a bird from your mouth, since some of the benign germs we carry can wreak havoc on a bird’s system. Resist the temptation to overdo junk food or sweets – especially since birds that don’t get a lot of exercise can put on unhealthy excess weight. And don’t buy the boxes of grit you see sold in pet shops. In the wild, small stones ingested with food act like teeth in a bird’s digestive tract; this is important since they must gather food, swallow it quickly, and fly off to avoid predators. But pet birds have the leisure to munch, and studies show that grit offers no benefits. What’s worse, some birds gorge on it and go on to develop blockages that can be fatal.


Mental stimulation is crucial to a bird’s psychological health. Birds do best when kept in the liveliest room of the house, close to the action. “In the wild, they do everything together and they’re always busy – foraging for food, building nests, raising their young, grooming each other, showing off for the opposite sex,” says Dr. Ruderman.

Consider buying several birds so they have one another for company. But if you buy a single

bird, plan to make it a member of the family. Parakeets, canaries, and finches do particularly well in groups; large birds, which may become very loud with other birds around, do best as one-on-one companions to people. And do learn to handle your birds; should they require medical treatment, they’ll suffer less trauma if they’re comfortable being held.


“No matter how small the bird, choose the largest cage you can, the most important dimension of which should be length,” says Dr. Ruderman. “People are charmed by tall pagoda cages, but birds need space to fly across.” While cages with vertical bars are fine for canaries and finches, hookbills – who enjoy climbing – should live in cages with horizontal bars.

Provide perches of varying thicknesses since birds need to exercise their flexible feet – but forget the sandpaper perch covers that stores sell. “A monstrosity,” says Dr. Ruderman. “How would you like to walk barefoot on gravel your whole life? And the covers rarely do what they claim – to keep a bird’s toenails filed.” Your vet can show you how to clip and file your bird’s nails and beak (which may become overgrown) or, for a small fee, can do it for you. Be sure also to provide wooden ladders and chew toys; birds need and love to gnaw.

Birds like an occasional bath too. Offer a bowl of clean water, or take your bird into the shower with you. Most birds love water – many will sing and whistle as they bathe.


When you get a new bird, take it to a vet within a few days. “Preventive care is very important because birds are defensive animals. A sick bird hides symptoms for as long as possible; in the wild, any sign of illness attracts predators, so the flock will drive a sick member away,” Dr. Ruderman says. “So schedule yearly checkups, to test for problems while they’re still treatable.”

Choose a vet who’s a member of the AAV – the main source of continuing education in the field. You might even ask if he or she keeps birds at home; firsthand experience is a definite plus.
It may sound as if birds are finicky, high-maintenance creatures, but in fact most are hardy and adaptable, once you understand their needs. And the rewards of their intelligent, affectionate, and entertaining companionship are well worth the attention to detail.

848 Words; 7.9 G.E. Flesch-Kincaid

This article appeared in the June 1995 issue of Good Housekeeping on page 16

The QAR Strategy

As you are reading, it is important for you to stay engaged with the text in order to gain a full understanding of the material. This means that rather than passively scanning through a piece of literature, you should be asking and answering questions about what you are reading. Practicing this skill will help you to increase your comprehension of the materials and will enable you to remember it longer.

In this class, you will learn a variety of methods that will help you to become an active reader. One of these strategies is called Question – Answer – Relationship (QAR).

What is QAR?

QAR is a reading strategy that will help you understand different kinds of questions. You will learn to recognize and answer three different levels of questions. After you have learned how to identify the three question types, you will start to ask and answer the same question types on your own. This will help you stay actively involved as you read the text. You will move from a basic level of understanding to a deeper level of understanding.

Three Types of QAR Questions

  1. Text-Explicit

These are "right there" questions. The answers can be found directly in the text.

  1. Text-Implicit

These are "think and search" questions. You must search for ideas in the text that are related to each other. Then you put the information together to answer this type of question.

  1. Experience-Based

These are "on your own" questions. You answer these questions based on your prior knowledge, your own experience, and/or things you have learned.

What would sample QAR questions look like?
Text-Explicit: Where does the story take place?
What is the main character's occupation?
You could look these answers up in the text. They require only a basic level of comprehension.
Text-Implicit: Why do you suppose the teens in this poem are not speaking to one another?
How would the main character feel about curfews?
The questions are not directly stated in the text, but related ideas can be found. The reader needs to make inferences based on what is in the reading in order to answer text-implicit questions. They require a more in-depth level of understanding. They require the reader to make assumptions about the reading. The answers are not spelled out; they are referred to only indirectly.
Experience-Based: How would you feel if you had experienced the main character's loss?
Describe a time when you felt left out and alone, as the child in this story did on the first day of school.

These questions are based on the experiences of the reader who must relate what he already knows or has experienced in order to answer the questions. These questions call for the deepest level of understanding because they require the reader to place himself in the story and rely on his own thoughts and feelings, not those of the author.

How will QAR be used in literature units?
First, we will do some practice sessions in class to ensure that everyone has an understanding of the different types of questions. Next, you will receive a packet that corresponds to our first literature collection. For the first few stories, I will provide you with the QARs for the reading; you will simply need to answer the questions. As we continue through the unit, you will eventually be asked to generate your own QARs that apply to the assigned readings. Your questions and answers will serve as the foundation for class discussions. With practice, this strategy will become a natural process that will help you become a better reader!

Right There = Literal

On My Own = Analysis

Author and Me = Inference

Making an Inference ©

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