Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Inference Games: How to Make an Inference Board

Teaching students how to infer is like trying to find gold at the end of a rainbow, it is like trying to win the million dollar jackpot when you know your odds are 300 million to 1, and it is like trying to prove to any adult that the Easter Bunny is real. (Okay, okay, you get the hint)

Helping students learn how to infer can be made so much easier by using a few strategies.  Inferring is more like a reflex.  It is something that people do naturally without thinking about it. This only happens when a student already has a mental file about certain things such as about how words work, techniques that authors use to convey ideas, behaviors associated with specific character traits, etc.  The problem is that every student is not the same.  While some students read a wide variety of texts, know about a wide range of subjects, and have a wide range of experiences, others do not.  As a result, text clues that would seem obvious to us as educators are overlooked by a student without these same wide ranging experiences.  I have several shortcuts for this. The first one is called an inference board. Students visually store information about specific topics.  The information can be reflected upon to assist students with noticing patterns about characters, informational text, literature, vocabulary, etc. After a while, students won't need the board.  They will notice patterns across texts.

How to Make an Inference Board

(You will also need a display board)

How Can Inference Boards Be Used:

An inference board can be used to teach different types of inferences. This inference board only contains character traits.  My goal for this board is to help students notice patterns of character behavior across texts. I wanted them to learn how characters behave when they are concerned, jealous, anxious, etc.  When my students read texts that had subtle inferences such as "The character kept looking at his watch every two minutes, and paced across the floor", the students were immediately able to infer that the character felt nervous or anxious. I also created inference boards for:
  • Common themes
  • Common central ideas in informational text
  • vocabulary, word choice
  • Text patterns, etc.
Inference boards can be used with anything and across different grade levels.  I used this with the first grade students as well as the middle grade students that I work with as an instructional coach. The students' ability to infer has dramatically improved. 

Step 1:

Using the label maker or printer paper, label each cup with specific information.  I labeled each one of these cups with a different character trait word.

Step 2: 

I attached Velcro to the back of each cup. This way, I could use the same board over but focus on different topics.  

Write the specific text detail that shows a specific behavior, etc. onto each popsicle stick.  As we read biographies and stories, we wrote down what  characters did that helped us infer what they were like and placed popsicle sticks with these same characteristics into the same cup.  After a while, students began to notice patterns.  
  The students would say "I think that Einstein is determined because in other stories people that were determined acted this way __________."

As we continue to read more books, the number of popsicle sticks within each cup accumulates. We spend a few minutes each day discussing what is in some of the cups.

(I just made this board for this blog post.  My board and board cups are at school.  This view is to to show a larger picture of how this would look with multiple cups.)
Continue to add additional labels to each cup

Inference Technique Method 2

I also created inference task cards and inference games that reinforce the difference types of inferences to help students build the mental files about character traits, vocabulary, and subtle texts clues.  This document was just released.Click Here


  1. Do have a file that lists the labels on the cups and popsicle sticks

    1. Hi Reanea Wilson,
      No I actually don't. I hand wrote the ones that I have on the board at school and did not save my file when I typed up the words for this second version of the inference board. For character analysis, I focused on the words: determined, sneaky/deceptive, anxious, creative, wise, kind, jealous, concerned, and courageous.