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How to Teach Inference with Picture Prompts

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Making inferences is a higher-order thinking skill used across the curriculum, but to some, it may seem like an abstract skill to teach. Here’s a simple strategy to help students learn to make logical inferences based on clues that they infer from looking at a picture. This strategy engages students’ natural curiosity. Then the same method is applied to their reading.

1. Show students an intriguing photograph or picture.
Teaching-Inference
2. Ask students what they see in the picture and what they think is happening in the picture.

Depending on the picture, you can present this strategy as a mystery. Students solve the mystery by examining clues to help them explain it. For example, ask students “How did the puddle get there?” and work together to provide clues.

A simple statement may help students focus their answer, such as:

  • “I see…” (describe what is happening in the picture)
  • “I think…or I infer”(describe what is happening based on clues in the picture)

For example: “I see a boy walking his dog. I infer that it rained because he is wearing rain boots and wants to splash in the puddle.”

3. Read a passage or short story and ask students to apply the same statement to what they’ve read. First, ask students to describe what is happening (“I see…”) and then provide clues to what they think is happening (“I infer..”)

For example: This short passage from a grade 4 Daily Reading Comprehension unit provides strategy practice. As students read the story, they are looking for clues to explain what happened to the campers’ food. (See “Who Did It?” passage on page 98.)

Ideas for picture prompts:

  • Picture books are helpful for finding intriguing photos or illustrations. This teacher blogger shares her favorites in 10 + 1 Picture Books to Teach Inference. Here are a few more suggestions from teachers:
    • In the Woods: Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George
    • Looking Down by Steve Jenkins
    • Suddenly by Colin McNaughton
    • Zathura and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Ask students to clip funny pictures from magazines or bring in an interesting photo from home. You can fill a shoebox with potential picture prompts!

Other resources:

  • This thorough ASCD article outlines four strategies for teaching inference.
  • This Reading Rockets article provides additional lesson ideas to help teach inference across subject areas.
  • Daily Reading Comprehension, grades 1–8, teaches students reading skills and strategies, including making inferences. The short daily lessons are easy to integrate, and the comprehensive skills list helps you target instruction.

Image of Theresa WoolerTheresa Wooler has more than 10 years’ experience in K–6 classrooms as a parent volunteer and homeschool educator, has taught high school English, and is currently involved in education through Evan-Moor’s marketing communications team.

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