Everyone knows that inference is one of the weakest skills identified by NAPLAN. I’m not pretending that what I outline below is the only way to teach inference, but one tool for teaching this skill to struggling students. The way I have found success is through combining reading and writing skills.

So, in this post you will get a tool to help teach inference and a slide deck to support that instruction.

Essentially, we use sentence models to show students how authors craft inferences and get student to imitate those models with their own compositions.

In this strategy you need to be familiar with some of the sentence structures I outlined in The Art of the Sentence. These are the participle, action verbs, and the absolute. If you are not familiar with this, the link above will open in a new tab and you can download the slide decks for those concepts.

When we say to kids “show” don’t “tell”, often we are asking them to write in such a way so the reader needs to infer something about the setting or character.

Crafting inferences

These are the model sentences used in the slide deck, pulled from a range of novels:

Participles

  1. Pinching his nose, Harry drank the potion down in two large gulps.
  2. “Hello,” said Ben, squeezing his bottom lip.
  3. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.

Verbs

  1. Lockie cooked inside.
  2. The father glared at his daughter with deep suspicion, but said nothing.
  3. The man strode along the platform
  4. Rain-rotten shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away.
  5. The remains of a picket drunkenly guarded the front yard.

Absolutes

  1. Ben stood, walked quietly out of his bedroom and tiptoed up the hall, heart keeping time with his footsteps.  
  2. Radley had been leaning against the wall when I came into the room, his arms folded across his chest.
  3. Fingers trembling slightly, he opened the white envelope.

Using a few targeted sentence structures and models is a powerful way to get kids to notice how writers make us infer detail about the text, and how it can transform how a student writes.

In the very first example, a typical student composition would be:

Harry drank the foul smelling and tasting potion in two large gulps.

They have gone into tell mode. JK Rowling, however, includes the participle phrase at the beginning of the sentence.

Pinching his nose, Harry drank the potion down in two large gulps

Harry Potter

JK Rowling makes us infer something about this potion; it’s smell by the visual detail conveyed by the participle phrase ‘pinching his nose’.

We can get students to learn how to craft an inference by imitating the style and structure of this sentence.

For example:

Scratching his head, John looked at the examination paper.

Imitation

If you have taught these structures already, you have the opportunity to reinforce the grammatical element. It’s the authentic way of teaching grammar in context. If you have taught a kid to use the participle phrase in their writing, it is likely that they are starting to write some examples where the reader needs to infer meaning. This opens up opportunities to discuss inference on a daily basis using any text.

Look through the slide deck below to see how the other sentences can be used to support students to identify inference but also create their own in sentences.

You can download it as well.

And if you really want, drop me a comment below to motivate me to keep sharing resources. In a future post I’ll show how to authentically teach grammar in context.

15 thoughts on “Teaching inference through writing and sentence structures

    1. Hi Rachel, I’m happy to help in the small way that I can – through sharing ideas and resources. The more we pull together and share approaches that work, not only will our students benefit but we will reclaim valuable personal time, and our wellbeing as teachers will be improved. Thanks for commenting; it means a lot!

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  1. Brilliant just like your other work Tim, Thank you so much. Love how you tie it into excerpts from established authors and ones that are also familiar with the students

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    1. Thanks Steph! I wish I could go back to when I started teaching and apply what I know now. Hopefully though this is one way of passing along to new graduates so they don’t have to blindly find their way like I did.

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  2. This looks brilliant… I can’t wait to apply these principles next term with my 5/6 class. Thank you!

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      1. I’m looking forward to sharing your blog with colleagues – you’ve created some awesome resources here.

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  3. Great resource, Tim! Thanks for sharing it. I always notice students find infering challenging. I’ve always used the model: what I read, what I know, now I know. E.g. I read pinching his nose…, I know when you pinch your nose to drink something you usually dislike the smell/taste, now I know the potion was awfully smelly or tasted grotesque.

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  4. Thankyou Tim for sharing your resources, they are much appreciated and helped me to better teach inferencing to my kids!

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  5. Thank you for sharing, Tim. My PLC is currently applying inferring strategies in the classroom. If you don’t mind, I’d love to share your work with the group.

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