Some students are good at literacy, often they love reading and engage well within English lessons. Others are better at numeracy, maybe they love the idea that the answer is always right, maybe they just like working with numbers – whatever the reason they feel more comfortable with numbers than letters.
But improving students’ inference skills doesn’t need to be about text – inference is a stand-alone skill which is relevant across the curriculum – but is especially important in English.
I often use non-text based inference activities to develop students’ familiarity with the skill, before moving on to looking at texts. I’ve found that this engages students who find numbers more comfortable – opening them up to discussion and developing their thinking.
Here’s a couple of techniques I’ve been using:
I observe / I wonder / I infer / Multi inter / The red herring!
After completing this for a graph, table or map (which I make relevant to the context of the lesson), we will then repeat with quote from the play/poem/novel so that students can relate back to the discussion where they felt more comfortable.
I observe: what can you physically see here? What is the graph/data showing you?
I wonder: what questions does this raise? Is there anything that you would like to explore further? What would you ask the researcher/author?
I infer: what can you infer about this? What would your theory be about why this is happening?
I’ve included these final two to push the more able students – although all could attempt them:
Multi infer: could you come up with more than one interpretation of the data? What would someone from a different perspective see here? How would someone from a different location or time period feel about this?
The red herring: what common misconceptions could there be of this? Are there ways you could infer this which would seem short-sighted or misinformed? This is used to address the misinformed sweeping statements that students sometimes make.
I observe / I wonder / I infer
If that’s too much try it just with the first three.
What do you see in this graph:
- All the lines are sloping up
- The lines for men and women stay about the same distance apart
- The line for men is above the line for women
- The men’s line is on £30 000 in 2016
- The women’s line is on £25 000 in 2016
What do you wonder about that? What questions can you ask?
- Why is the data recorded in this way?
- What information does this not show us?
- What country is it recorded from?
- How is the data collected?
What can you infer about that? What do you already know that will help you understand this?
- This could illustrate that men have an unfair advantage in the workplace
See / infer / predict boxes
Here I’d print the data for students and have them annotate around it in the different boxes to show the different skills.
I use this example for teaching the context of An Inspector Calls.
Could this work to improve your students’ inference skills?
If you’re a non-English teacher could you use this to improve inference skills across the curriculum?