I open the lesson with a personal story to give students an example of the way we make inferences in our daily lives. I tell them that my teenage kids love to hang out and talk with their friends all day and that I was worried that they would be impolite or hide in their rooms if I invited their younger cousins over for the weekend. My son TJ shocked me: he seemed happy about the visit and suggested that we take the kids to the park to play ball and have a picnic. That got his sisters excited, too. I was so surprised by their enthusiasm. They usually complain about going places or doing things with the family.
On the board I draw a three-column chart with headings:“Text Clues,” “+ Schema,” and “= Inference.” Underneath this I write: TJ wants to take the kids to the park + TJ doesn’t usually like to do things with the family = TJ must really like his little cousins.
I explain that when I put together TJ’s suggestion—that we take the cousins to the park—with what I already know about TJ—that he doesn’t usually like family outings—I can infer that he must really like his cousins. Then I state the big idea of today’s lesson: We can use text clues—information in a text—plus our schema—what we already know—to make inferences about a text. Our text for the day will be the tall tale "John Henry."
For this part of the lesson, I distribute copies of the text to students and also project the text on the whiteboard. (If you have a lot of students who tend to go off-task, you might want to work with the projected text only.) I pre-mark stopping points in the projected text for my own benefit.
I start by thinking aloud to demonstrate the process of drawing an inference. I read aloud the passage (beginning “John Henry decided it was time for him to go on down the big road”) in which John Henry offers to lend a hand to move a boulder in the road. I read and then reread the line, "John Henry smiled to himself. ‘Whatever you say’” and wonder aloud, “Hmmm, why did John Henry say that?”
I reread :
John Henry offered to lend them a hand.
“That’s all right. We’ll put some dynamite to it.”
John Henry smiled to himself. “Whatever you say.”
Then I reread just the last line: “John Henry smiled to himself. ‘Whatever you say.’” I stop and think. Then I say, “I know when people smile they’re feeling happy or they think something is funny. I also know that when my kids say "whatever" to someone, it’s because they don’t really believe or take seriously what the other person is saying. From the fact that John Henry smiles and says “Whatever you say” when the boss says “We’ll put some dynamite to it,” I can infer that John Henry thinks it’s funny and that he doesn’t believe the dynamite will work. That shows me that he is smart and has probably had some experience with giant boulders and dynamite.
I continue to read, stopping after the line “John Henry chuckled. ‘Just watch me.’” I paraphrase: “When the boss says he doesn’t believe that John Henry could be stronger than dynamite, John Henry just laughs. What can we infer from this about John Henry?” (He’s very strong and he knows it. He’s confident in his physical strength. He’s not afraid to take on a challenge.) I prompt students who respond to support their answers with text evidence.
I read on, stopping after the line, "The boulder shivered like the morning when freedom came to the slaves." I reread this line and ask, “What does the author mean when he says the boulder shivered? When does someone or something shiver?” I prompt students to respond with personal connections to shivering. It’s fun to ask them to show you what shivering looks like. I might follow their demonstration with my own connection: “That looks similar to how my daughter's body shakes when she gets excited about something.”
I reread the line again—"The boulder shivered like the morning when freedom came to the slaves"—and ask, “How do you think the slaves felt when they became free men? Do you think they were excited?”
After students respond, I think aloud again: “When I connect the text clues about shivering with what I know about how my daughter shakes when she’s excited, I can imagine that boulder shaking intensely, like it’s ready to explode.”
I add this information to the chart on the board for students to use as a reference: Text Clues - The boulder shivered; + Schema - shaking with excitement; = Inference - the boulder was shaking intensely.
If students don’t seem to be grasping the concept, I continue reading and demonstrating drawing inferences until I see some comprehension. Here are some additional questions you can work with.
I now tell students that they will have the opportunity to use the skills they have just learned as they answer questions, like those they could expect to find on a test, that require drawing inferences. I tell them to keep the formula in mind as they answer the questions: text clues + schema = inference.
I arrange students in four groups. Groups read the passage and the questions together and approach each question by first identifying the question type and where they should look to find the information they need to draw an inference. (You may want to briefly review QAR basics.)
Groups work together for 10 minutes to answer the questions by locating text clues and drawing on schema/connections of their own to draw inferences.
This video shows ways that students can mark a text as they identify text evidence in the process of drawing inferences.
I gather the class together and put each group’s worksheet on the overhead. Groups share what types of questions they identified and what information and prior knowledge they used to come up with their responses. Classmates indicate agreement or disagreement with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down and explain their reasoning, and we discuss the questions as a class.