Bill Goldsmith's picture

Making Inferences Everyday

An umbrella leans against the classroom door, a yellow poncho hangs from our coat rack, and a pair of yellow rain boots are placed neatly underneath.

“So what sort of weather am I expecting?” I ask the students. With great exuberance the hands shoot up in the air.

Inferential thinking doesn’t just apply to reading, it applies to our everyday lives. Making Meaning’s unit on making inferences is powerful; the lessons truly stretch students’ thinking about the actions of characters within stories. In the grade two program, students are asked to use their schema and make inferences about stories they hear read aloud. They often create two-column charts about what they actually read and then what they inferred from what they read; however, before I ask my students to jump right into making inferences about characters in a text, I also want them to be exposed to inferential thinking with simple everyday experiences. I use the same kind of instruction found in the Making Meaning manual to help them make inferences about their everyday experiences!

What Can We Infer from a Teacher’s Desk?

Recently I was teaching another group of grade two students (who were not a part of my regular class) and, knowing that our team of teachers had all begun to teach inferences, I decided to try something a little different.

I asked the students to walk over to my desk and gather around. “You all are just getting to know me as I’m getting to know you. I want you all to take a few moments to look at my desk. Talk to a partner about what you see and what this could tell you about me.”

After a few moments I raise my hand to signal for the students to quiet down. “So what was it you could tell about me, just from looking at my desk?”

Listed below are some of their responses, quoted next to the item they are referring to: (Each time they made a statement, I followed up with questions such as, “What makes you think that?” This simple question prompts students to explain their thinking.)

  • Camera Box: “There’s a camera sitting on your chair, so you probably like photography.”
  • Sticky notes (with dates and notes stuck to various parts of my desk): “There is a lot of things for you to do—and you use the sticky notes to help you remember. Maybe you forget things sometimes…”
  • Stack of papers: “You have some work to grade. Those are your students’ papers that you haven’t looked at yet.”
  • Bag of chocolates (under my desk): “Your student must really like you, because they gave you a lot of candy for Valentine’s Day.”
  • Starbucks coffee cup: “You like coffee, because that’s where my mom gets her coffee in the morning too.”
  • Books (located on bookshelf next to my desk): “You must really like to read because there’s a lot of books up there.”

And finally listen in to this final conversation about a calculator lying next to my desktop.

“You like math.”

“And what makes you think that?”

“There’s a calculator on your desk.”

“Okay, well I do like math—but math isn’t something that I do for fun. In this case I don’t use that calculator because I like math. I use it for other reasons.” I never said this student was wrong—but the intention here is for this student and all the other students to get beyond the easy response of, “You like (something that’s on my desk)” and to think a little deeper, a little more abstract. It worked…

Another student chimed in, “I know why you use that calculator—it’s for grading papers.”

Again, “What makes you think that?”

“I’ve seen my teacher use it before. She uses it to help her grade papers.”

Recording Their Thinking

This sort of conversation exemplifies inferential thinking and now I want to begin to define it with the students.

“You all just made inferences! This is how you did it: You used clues, such as the calculator lying on my desk, combined with your schema, such as ‘I’ve seen my teacher use a calculator before’ in order to make an inference!”

We decided to record this thinking by creating a chart. Here is portion of it:

Calculator“I’ve seen my teacher use the calculator before to grade papers”“Mr. Goldsmith probably uses this calculator to grade papers”
Sticky Notes“We use these to write down things to remember in books.”“Mr. Goldsmith uses sticky notes to remember important things.”
Coffee Cup“My mom stops at that coffee shop.”“Mr. Goldsmith must like coffee in the morning.”

As students become more familiar with inferential thinking using concrete examples it will be a much easier process for them to transfer this thinking to different kinds of texts.

William Goldsmith has been working for Orange County Public Schools for the last 10 years and has been teaching in OCPS for the last five years. He has taught 5th and 4th grade and is currently teaching 2nd grade at Apopka Elementary. At Apopka William is the facilitator for the Reading Council, which works towards enhancing uniform comprehension strategies across all grade levels (K–5). He also works closely with English Language Learners in numerous capacities, to help them make gains in their academic skills. William has used Making Meaning for the last 4 years as key component in his literacy block. In the last 2 years he has also begun using Being a Writer.

When William isn’t working late at school, he enjoys playing tennis, snapping photos, reading (of course), and spending time with his friends and family.

Read more blogs by Bill Goldsmith

Comments (1)

Concise and well written!  

Concise and well written!