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5 Steps to Make Inferential Thinking VISIBLE

Inferential understanding means that the reader must “read between the lines” which can lead them to think beyond the text and reflect on their thinking.

Inferring has proven to be difficult for many students. When readers begin to understand the process of inferring the process of inferential thinking becomes more natural.


Readers are expected to use many different reading processes and strategies in order to make one inference.

No wonder it is so difficult for many readers--especially young readers--to master the process of inferring.

✅ Readers can MAKE INFERENCES from pictures and illustrations without text.

✅ Readers can INFER meaning based on pictures and illustrations.

✅ Readers must pay close attention to DETAILS.

✅ Readers must CONNECT what they already know (SCHEMA) with the TEXT DETAILS to INFER.


How to make inferential thinking VISIBLE

Readers need to see how inferential thinking works. A few simple strategies can make inferring more VISIBLE for students.



Show readers how YOU use the strategy or skill when you encounter a text or any type of media that infers messages.

Work with your readers through a piece of text or media to make inferences and build meaning.

✅ Think aloud when inferring in classroom read alouds.

✅ Think aloud when inferring about school-wide posters, brochures or handouts.

✅ Think aloud when making inferences while looking at a picture.


Language of Inferring

Use the language of inferring. Provide thinking stems that foster making inferences.

"I noticed...., and I know..., so I'm thinking..."

Have your readers break down their thinking into steps. Color code it for those literal thinkers and visual learners.

Inferring is really an equation of details that adds up to make an inference.

Have your readers write the clues in a text, then write what they already know and have them add that together to make an inference.

Use a visual (see photo) to really illustrate this inferring equation.


Provide Visuals to Illustrate the Inferring Process

If students are visual learners, they need to SEE how inferring works.

Use a simple graphic to illustrate how a reader takes in details, connects it with his/her background knowledge (schema) and creates an inference.

Some readers need definitions and explanations. Some readers need a visual reminder (as shown here). Some readers need to have the steps broken down into digestible chunks (as shown in the equation bookmark above)


Infer Using Photographs

Inferring is a skill that needs to be demonstrated in other forms of media, as well as, text. Inferred messages can be formed using different types of print and visual media.

One such example could be photographs. Bring in photographs to display and begin a discussion on what may have been happening in the picture based on the visual details. Use the language of inferring within those discussions.

Try modeling this with the strategy presented in the photograph in step 2 above.


Infer Using Wordless Picture Books

Take inferring with photographs a step further and use wordless picture books.

Books without words have a story but the story is told through the details of the illustrations.

Readers are nudged a little further into examining the text for the details that tell the story.

Wordless picture books encourage readers to put together the clues to make inferences within each page. They connect those inferences to build the story and uncover the meaning. (click here to see some of my favorite wordless picture books)



When readers are provided with visuals to illustrate a complex and abstract process, such as inferring, they will better be able to transfer that work into their own independent reading.

When readers are provided with time to practice inferring within their own self-selected independent texts, they will be able to better understand how the process of inferring works.

Inferring Wall Chart

Until next time...

If you are interested in the printables displayed in the photos above they can be found here

If you interested in minilessons to teach inferring you can find those here

If you are interested in graphic organizers for inferring with wordless picture books you can find those here



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