One of the hardest strategies I teach my fourth grade readers is making inferences. Of course, I begin by modeling with a picture book. I read aloud, I stop and think out loud and show how I use my background knowledge and fill in the gaps to understand. We discuss our understandings based on information that’s given “right there” and information that must be inferred. This part my students get. However, when it comes to my students’ own reading, they have a really hard explaining their thoughts and inferences. It’s the metacognition that gets in the way. Have you seen this? Even the ones who are making inferences have a hard time explaining how they know.
So this time, I started by explaining to my students that inferences are something that happen all the time. I asked my students what they would think if I showed up to school in my high heels and fanciest dress with my hair done up. I asked what they would think if they heard thunder, if they saw smoke, if a diaper fell out of my purse. I gave examples over and over and they all inferred, and they all explained how they knew. I told them, you’ve been making inferences since you were born. Next, we talked about visualizing, which we’ve been working on anyway, and connected those mental images they get to filling in the gaps while they are reading. It was a quick introduction that took about 10 minutes and my students were feeling good about their ability to make inferences for the rest of our lesson that day.
Next, I introduced our anchor chart. I explained the most common inferences good readers make. I explained the process of making an inference. And we were ready to begin our “inference challenge”. Now, I logged into Epic! (a free for teachers digital reading app) and projected the first couple of pages of two different wordless picture books. I told my students I wanted them to look at the pages and think about their thinking (the metacognition part). If you’re wondering, I gave my students two books I knew they’d never seen before, “Blue Rider” by Geraldo Valerio, and “Bird Cat Dog” a graphic novel by Lee Nordling and Mentikell Bosch. Graphic novels really hook my boys. If you haven’t tried using these with your class, I highly suggest it!
I asked my students to share their inferences and their evidence and recorded it on a t-chart. I praised everything. They were inferring so accurately! Now for the challenge … they were to work with a partner and write the narrative story that the authors left out. I can’t even tell you how hard they worked and how well they did. What you should know is that I teach a collaborative class and my students who are labeled sped did just as well with this activity as my general ed students and my TAG students. It was a success! And you guessed it, most of my boys wanted to use the graphic novel and were just as engaged in their work as my girls.
I gave them about 35 minutes to read and write the story. They were engaged and actively working the entire time, and although they were finished with their narratives, I stopped them and asked if anyone wanted to share. This is a time that is often hard to get everyone to participate in, but not this time. EVERYONE wanted to share! And when it was time to move on to reading groups and independent assignments for the week (which wasn’t this), the students begged for more time to write their stories. So, I made a promise that they’d get to continue next week.
Y’all, I would do this lesson and activity over and over again. They just got it in a way that no other introduction lesson I’ve done ever showed. Even in our reading groups, in which we were working on visualizing and sensory details, my students began talking about the inferences they were making while we read. I can’t tell you how proud I was.