I started the lesson by explaining the metacognition that goes into making an inference. I used the example of seeing a girl crying between classes (a common sight in most high school hallways). Here's how it went:
Me: "Before first period, you see the girl smiling and holding hands with a boy. After second period, you see the girl in tears and no boy in sight. What happened?"
Student: "She got dumped by her boyfriend."
Me: "How do you know this? What's your evidence?"
Student: "She has tears on her face and her boyfriend isn't around. So that makes me think she got dumped."
Me: "You just made an inference and you weren't in an English class! And we don't know if this really happened, but you have very strong evidence to support your prediction."
I made sure to explain to the students that we make inferences ALL THE TIME. It's what smart people do, and it is a MUST for good readers:
We INFER when we take the FACTS from a piece of text (or from a situation) and we add our BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE about the situation in order to come to a prediction, which is an inference.
The Inference Equation:
FACTS + THOUGHTS/BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE = PREDICTION (INFERENCE)
The teacher wanted to break down this process for the students, so we used a wordless picture book to model this thought process with the class, and then the students worked in groups, each with a different book, to show how they make inferences while reading.
I shared Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole as the model.
Students folded a piece of colored paper into a tri-fold and labeled the three columns as follows:
- FACTS about the pictures
- THOUGHTS/BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE about the pictures
- PREDICTIONS (INFERENCE)
I purposely did not tell the students about the second part of the title (A Story from the Underground Railroad) because I wanted them to get clues from the book to come to this conclusion. We "read" the entire book by analyzing the pictures and using this process to make inferences. I picked five key pages to write down the facts, thoughts, and inferences in the columns. If we had done this with the entire book, it might have been really tedious. Here's what our paper looked like:
The students LOVED the book, which is extremely powerful and thought-provoking. We discussed author's purpose (really illustrator's purpose in this case): Why did the author use pictures instead of words? Would the book have the same impact with words? The students all agreed that using only pictures made the book better because they had to THINK and MAKE INFERENCES themselves. (They really said this!)
We broke the students into groups of 3-4 students and gave each group one of the following wordless picture books. You can click on the image of each book if you would like to read more about it on Goodreads.com:
The students turned their tri-fold over and did the same process for the book that was assigned to their group. They "read" through the book first as a group and then picked five pages that required them to THINK more than the others. They filled in the columns to show how they came up with their inferences. It was wonderful to walk around and here the conversations that were going on. All students were engaged. All students were thinking. All students seemed to be having fun with a book. In my opinion, that's a Teaching Trifecta.
I asked one group if they liked reading picture books in class. Here's what they said, "I like picture books. They are not boring, not stressful, and FUN. And they kind of make me think."
Picture books for the WIN.