I start with yet another review of what it means to infer about something, and it's great to see the kids getting very familiar with what the term means. Inferencing truly is higher level thinking, and poses challenges to the kids when it's not practiced. It can feel abstract when they're not experiencing it. Although not possible with every lesson, teaching inferencing through activity...such as gathering evidence, finding clues, and drawing actual conclusions, will make students comfortable when they hear the word, and confident in their ability to be successful.
On the Smart Board, I write, Mystery and Inference and ask, "What is the relationship between the two?" Many hands go up, and I call a few to the board to write their answers:
"You need to figure something out" (with each of them)
"Involves questions about both"
"You have to infer what's going to happen to solve it" (the mystery)
"You need clues to solve it"
All of these danced around the same theme- A mystery is solved by making inferences. One student mentioned our earlier lesson, Inference Escapade and how we were solving mini-mysteries while figuring out the reason objects (or people) were where they were. This was a simple way to prepare for our activity.
I found a great activity on the internet, but it was in the form of a slide show and the answers were already given at the bottom. As I scrolled down I discovered the slide show cards in typed form, and printed. Although tiny, I put them on the copy machine and enlarged to make situation cards. Ironically, one of the cards- number 3 was smeared by the printer. I didn't notice until returning to my room, but then thought of a great way to combat the observant kids who would ask, "Why isn't there a situation #3?!" More about that in the Closure.
A note about the slide show page. Each time I visit it, there are small ads on the bottom right hand side. Some of the ads have inappropriate content. I don't know why they are there, but don't open the slide show without previewing.
I tell the kids that they're going to split into five groups and read a card that asks a mystery question. They have to use inference skills to figure out what the mystery is. Additionally, as they make inferences, a recorder will write down their clues and ideas to keep track as they go back and figure out the answer. I often create groups that are balanced and carefully placed, but this time I simply picked sticks. They love the "roll of the dice" so to speak, and listen eagerly to see who they'll be working with. Their familiarity with inferencing and the ease of the activity convinced me that a random grouping would work just fine. And it did.
They were very involved and excited with the mystery cards, but didn't want to write the inferences down. The cards aren't too long, so to them, it seemed easy to remember, but I still required them to write down clues.
**Here is an example of what's on one of the cards:
Two men dressed in dark clothing enter a wealthy neighborhood in the early morning hours. They move quickly from house to house, taking everything they can. A policeman observes the pair - but does not approach or arrest them.
Who are the men?
The men wear gloves and leave no fingerprints.
The men avoid certain houses.
The men have worked this neighborhood before and are experts at what they do.
The men aren't breaking the law.
The homeowners prepared for the men's arrival.
The men come every week at the same time.
ANSWER: Garbage men collecting trash.
After everyone finishes, it's time to check the answers. On the Smart Board I prepare a page that says:
Write inferences to help you solve the mystery. Below are the numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 with a note squared off to the side entitled, Mystery Extra- Why is card #3 missing? Each recorder is invited to come to the board, one at a time, and write the answer to their mystery by their number.
The final results showed that numbers 1, 2, and 4 were correct and 5, 6 were not. Genuinely surprised myself, I asked the class "What can you INFER about that?" Many hands went up as the kids suggested that the questions started easy and got difficult. I hadn't noticed that this was how the cards were structured, but it seemed like an accurate assumption.
Next, I directed them to the question about #3. "So, why IS card #3 missing?" A few inferences about that: someone stole card #3 or somebody cut it up. I gave them the actual answer about it getting messed up in the printer, but really appreciated the amount of inferencing we did on this day. I do believe we're comfortable with inferencing!