Three Fun Ways to Teach Inference – For the Teachers

Inference is a crucial skill not only in reading and academics but in life in general. I focus on it a lot with students – and with my own kids – because I want the thought process to become a habit. Rather than taking anything they read or see at face value, I want them to question: What does this really mean? What’s going on here? How do I know? – whether they’re reading a news story, watching a commercial, or seeing a meme online. There’s more than meets the eye.

Inference and other interpretive comprehension skills, such as generalizing, summarizing, and drawing conclusions, can be abstract and hard to explain to students. These skills require students to apply background knowledge, to use what they already know to make assumptions and decisions about what is happening. There are simple ways that these ideas can be presented, both to introduce the concepts to younger students and to reinforce them with older students.

Inference involves finding clues, reading between the lines, and understanding what the author doesn’t explicitly state. For a student to make predictions, to summarize, to generalize, or to draw conclusions, they need to be able to make inferences, to understand what’s going on behind the scenes in a story.  




1. Start Simple: Use Pictures

  What is happening in this picture?

  • Emphasize: 
    • How do you know?
    • How can you be sure?
    • What clues do you see?
    • What do you already know about what you see?
Madisons Party 030  


  • What is happening?
  • How old is the girl?
  • What time of year is it?
  • What happened next?


  • How do you know?
    What are the clues?

In these days of Instagram and Pinterest, good photos are readily available. Begin your own collection, saving the favorites that you find so you can use them whenever you need then.


  • Note: Preview photos before showing them to students. Some photos, particularly on news sites, may be inappropriate.


2. Add More Detail: Use Comics

Inference_Comic_coloredGetting a joke IS inference! It requires having some background knowledge and making sense of the clues to understand what’s funny. Editorial cartoons can be great ways to start discussions about current events and issues; students need some understanding of the issue to “get” the cartoon.

As with photos, when you find a good comic, save it. I have a file folder full of favorites I’ve been saving and using since I was in college. Some of my favorites come from Mother Goose & Grimm by Mike Peters and Bound and Gagged by Dana Summers.

Editorial cartoons can be great too, especially if they focus on a current event you’ve discussed in class.

Begin with the same basic questions that we used with photos.  (Help students learn to begin asking the questions themselves.)

  • Ask:  What is happening? What makes it funny?
  • Emphasize:  How do you know? How can you be sure?
  • What are the clues?
  • What do you already know about what you see?


3. Look for Clues Purposefully: Use Mysteries

Mystery stories are a wonderful way to teach inference because they are all about looking for clues.  Begin with short examples with a clear outcome.  The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol work well.  Sobol’s Two-Minute Mysteries work with older students. Not all of the stories are appropriate for school, but I’ve used and really liked several from Sobol’s book Still More Two Minute Mysteries, a book I borrowed from the library as a kid, lost and paid for, and then found and was glad to own! I used The Cases of the “Dropped Cuff Link,” the “Gold Bar,” the “Arctic Explorer,” the “Bushwhackers,” the “Italian Sports Car,” and the “Kidnapped Brother” with my middle school students, and they went over very well – solved with a great deal of acting out riding in a train bunk and repeatedly opening and shutting the classroom door to see how the hinges worked. 🙂

Also, look for mysteries in the basal series and other resources that are readily available to you.


Three Fun Ways to Teach Inference

One thought on “Three Fun Ways to Teach Inference

  • September 10, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    thank you you really help me out for my lesson.


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