What is Inference in Reading?

What is an inference?

Making inferences. We do it all the time. But, what exactly is an inference in reading? It simply means we make a guess about something based on the information we have at hand. All the information may not be available. Every little detail may not be completely clear. But, we can make a reasonable guess anyway. Across the street a woman is pushing a baby carriage. We can’t see the baby, but we can infer there is one. The neighbor storms out of his house, gets in his car and races away. We don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we can infer that he’s had a fight with his wife.

As we go through life, we make inferences all the time. We often don’t have every detail of every happening available to us, but we still move through our day confident that we know what’s going on. We do it at work and in social settings, while driving, and even while watching a movie. And we do it – you guessed it! – while reading.

What is inference in reading?

When we use inference in reading, we’re “reading between the lines.” We’re drawing conclusions from the information in a reading passage when the information being offered is not explicitly stated. This is often the case in fiction. The author shows a character crying, for instance, and we know what that means. The author does not have to state: Tess was sad. Nonfiction reading often requires inferences, as well. Ideas are presented and arguments are made, but it is up to us to draw conclusions from those ideas and arguments.

Making inferences while reading results from a process, one that we, as adults, may not even be aware of. It starts with a simple reading of the text during which we look for all the specific details that the author has provided. Once the details are gathered, they can be assessed to see what understanding they offer us.

Why does inference in reading matter?

The ability to infer information from an array of details is a complex process. It takes time and lots of personal experience to develop. This can be challenging for young children. A child must not only understand when information is implied, but also how to identify which ideas are important and how to draw conclusions from them. Once these complex skills are learned, however, they can be used in all sorts of school settings. In math. In social studies. And, most importantly, in reading.

When reading fiction, inference lets your child read about a character’s experience and draw conclusions about what those experiences mean for the character. The character may have encountered bullying. Your child can infer that the character feels scared or intimidated. Drawing these conclusions allows your child to understand the story more fully. Now she can pinpoint the plot of a story, understand its mood or tone, feel compassion for its characters and develop a deeper understanding of the story’s overall theme.

In nonfiction reading, inferences can help your child pull together seemingly unrelated information into a cohesive whole. Using it, she can learn to identify the important details in a passage and use them to understand the information being offered. Inferences can also help when she comes across a word she doesn’t understand – whether reading fiction or nonfiction. Using context clues from the sentence or passage she’s reading, she can infer the meaning of words she doesn’t recognize.

How can I help my child build her reading inference skills?

Are you looking for hands-on ways to help your child develop this complex skill? Here are a few fun things to try! They will help her understand the basic idea of making inferences, as well as how to use that idea while reading.

  • Ask, “What’s happening?”– Do you ever play “I Spy” with your child when the two of you are out of the house? Try a new take on that old favorite. Point out something that you see – like that baby buggy we discussed in our opening passage – and ask, “What’s happening there?” Is a woman going into the bank? Your child can infer that the woman needs some money. Is a man looking at cars in a car lot? He must be planning to buy a car. You get the idea. Your child may need some prompting at first, but she’ll soon pick up the idea and enjoy this new learning game.
  • Get a book of riddles – Riddles are a great way to encourage the kind of thinking required to make inferences. After all, by their very nature they give us only part of the information we need to draw the right conclusion. Kids love to read riddles, and, once your child starts to understand how fun they are, you can even encourage her to make up some of her own.
  • What’s in the box? – Try hiding a small object in a box. Tell your child she has to guess what’s inside without opening it. This not only allows you to discuss what inference is, it also helps her brainstorm some inference skills. How will she make her guess? Shake the box? Smell it? Weigh it? Ask you some questions about it? All good ways to guess – or infer.
  • Take it in steps – Simply understanding what inference is and why it matters doesn’t necessarily make it easy to know how to use it. Help your child break the process down into concrete steps. First, have her read a short passage and form a simple question she thinks the passage was written to answer. Then, have her write down details from the passage that she thinks might help answer that question. Finally, bring the question and the details together. Do they fit? Great! If not, help her reformulate her question or search for other, more relevant, details.

As you may have inferred from this article, inference is a vital reading skill! And, with a little help from you, it’s one your child can eventually master.