How to overcome inference problems

If you know a child has trouble with inference (reading between the lines to come up with an idea which has not been stated but which the reader should know is true), here are some ideas to help.

child questions Rapunzel's actions

  • Go online and search for reading selections with inference questions. Make sure they are the right grade level or age for your child. Ask the child to read the selections aloud and then answer the inference questions provided. Help the child to make connections.
  • Expose your child to various times, places and cultures. Fill in the gaps in his knowledge. Together  read books or watch a TV show or go to a baseball game. Ask your child what seemed strange or unusual, and what reminded him of his own life.  ESL students need to know more about American culture to understand inferences and English language idioms.
  • Model inference-making as you read aloud to your child. “You know what I think will happen next? I think blah, blah, blah. What do you think?” Or, “Cinderella’s stepsisters are so mean. I bet something bad happens to them because they are so mean. What do you think?”
  • Expand your child’s vocabulary. If you encounter a new word or two while reading, explain the word. Use it later that day and the next day. Offer the child a reward—a high five—if he can use the word properly. Don’t baby his vocabulary. Use real words and real grammar. Let your child overhear you using an adult vocabulary, and explain a word if he looks perplexed.  Don’t wait for him to ask.
  • While reading, stop and ask about pronouns. “Who is the ‘he’ in this sentence? What does ‘it’ mean in this sentence? Problems with pronoun antecedents are common, so common that the SAT offers questions to see if high school students can figure them out.
  • Before your child starts to read a story, offer background information. Recently I was working with a sixth grader who was reading a Sherlock Holmes story. I asked who was telling the story. My student had not stopped to consider this, and when he did consider it, he didn’t know. I asked when the story took place? Again, he was clueless. Don’t assume. Provide helpful information to make a story or book clear.
  • When a student makes an inference connection, ask her how she knows. She might be guessing. Let her prove she has picked up the right clues.

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