Sometimes you have to be a trickster! I tell my students that I’m expecting a call from one of my kids, who is in college, to tell me how she did on an important exam. I have arranged to have the school secretary summon me just at this time, and when she does, I yell “Yay!,” do a little happy dance, and leave the classroom for a couple minutes. I return smiling and ask students to use their inferencing skills to explain what happened. (My daughter called, she did well on her exam, I’m happy.) I write their inferences and supporting evidence on the board. Then I tell them that today we are going to make inferences about what we see and hear. We will use our senses and the evidence we see along with our schema (connections and background knowledge) to infer how someone is feeling and why.
(By the way, I don’t let on that there was really no phone call as I think I might lose some credibility with students by doing so.)
The following activity, "The Inference Game," helps students build inferencing skills using their senses as a stepping stone to making inferences about texts or videos.
I begin by outlining the activity: Some students will act out scenes written on task cards. The "audience" will use their inferencing skills to determine what is happening in the mini-dramas presented. When sharing their inferences with the class, students will also give the background knowledge (schema) and the evidence they used to make their inferences.
I choose four students to act out the first four scenes. They each choose a card and silently gather props and other students to fill out their “casts.” They get two minutes in the hallway to prepare and practice their scenes.
Meanwhile, on the board I draw a three-column chart with headings Text Scenario, Clues, and Inference. I tell students that they must work together as a group to identify the clues about what people are doing and feeling in the scenes. I encourage them to become detectives and to look carefully for clues by asking themselves, "What is the person thinking? feeling? doing?" I reiterate that, to make inferences about events we witness, we use clues presented by what we see and hear and the connections between what we see and hear and our own experience or what we already know. I ask, “What kinds of connections to events can you make?" (personal experience, stories from other people, books and movies we’ve seen)
I go over the behavioral expectations I have for audience members and the consequences for anyone who disrupts the class before I invite the first group to present their scene.
When the scene is complete, I ask students for clues in the scene that could lead to inferences and add their responses to the chart. Together we make some inferences based on the clues and I also add these to the chart.
After the audience as drawn inferences about a scene, I have the presenting group read their task card aloud and also add the text scenario to the chart so that students in the audience can evaluate their inferences. They may gain a deeper understanding of what they saw.
I log points for each correct inference. We repeat the procedure for the next three scenes.
Note: This activity requires a fair amount of classroom management. Excitement can run high and you need to keep things moving along fairly quickly because the audience can get squirmy and loud if not kept focused on an objective. Two other possible problems might arise: students may overact the scenes, making the “plot” hard to follow; and, a lack of costumes and props can make the scenes difficult to interpret. Guided discussion among audience members after watching a scene can help with both problems.
Now students work in small groups. Group members take turns choosing and acting out one of the scenes from the remaining task cards. I limit the independent practice to 15 minutes– but if you want to add more time, you might skip the closing activity and boil it down to an exit ticket question for the end of the day. I like to circulate and listen in on group presentations and conversations so that I can start noting which students are not strong with visual and auditory inferencing skills.
I like to close this lesson by gathering students together and reviewing the kinds of connections and the senses they used to make inferences. I ask students for examples of how they made inferences in their everyday lives to understand the actions and feelings of someone else. (my sister was stayed in her room so I knew she was sad; my mom yelled at my brother so I knew she was angry, etc.)
I close by restating the lesson objective: When we make inferences we draw conclusions about people, settings, events, and information. To make inferences we use what we already know and clues, or evidence, presented by what we see and hear.