Learning to Infer

This teaching strategy has been adapted for use in UK classrooms from our Common Core-Aligned Writing Prompts supplements.


Inferencing requires students to take something from the text, combine it with some existing background knowledge, and make a new connection. It is a vital skill that students must develop in order to interpret and write convincingly about the texts that they are studying. Students, however, often need support in moving beyond the literal meaning of a text to make inferences about the significance of any language and/or content. Teaching students how to infer, naming that process for them, and giving them opportunities to practise inferring orally will help prepare them to transfer that skill to their written analysis. 


  1. Introduce the Concept of Inferencing

    Give students simple real-world examples that require them to infer, but do not name inference as a concept yet for your students. You could share something from a current event or outline a theoretical situation and ask for their feedback on the situation.

    Here are some ideas if needed:

    Then, have students work in pairs to write their own example and ask some volunteers to share with the class.

    • A man is walking down the street wearing oversized shoes and a red nose. 
      • What might this man do? 
      • How do you know? Identify specific words and phrases that give you hints about this man’s profession. 
    • A woman is standing on a podium smiling, holding a medal.
      • What is going on?
      • How do you know? Identify specific words and phrases that give you hints about what is happening.
    • A postman is running away from a dog that has its teeth bared.
      • What is going on?
      • How do you know? Identify specific words and phrases that give you hints about what is happening.
  2. Identify theTypes of Inferences People Make

    Next, use a more complex example like the one below to introduce the concept of inferencing and to help students understand some of the kinds of inferences that people make when interpreting a text.

    A woman walks into a shop with a box and places the box firmly on the counter. A shop assistant appears and says, ‘How can I help you?’ The woman responds saying, ‘I’d like to see the manager.’
    • What do you think is going on?
    • How do you know? Identify specific words and phrases from the text that give you hints about what is happening.
    • What background knowledge or information from your own experiences did you use to figure out what is happening?
    • How did you put the two together for the ‘aha’ moment – what we call making an inference?

    Alternatively, you could have your students practise with an image. The New York Times Learning Network publishes a captionless image in their ‘What’s Going On in This Picture?’ series every Monday.

    Let students know that writers provide information in the text and readers use this information, along with their own expertise and lived experiences, to make inferences so as to understand what the writer is implying.

  3. Model How You Infer by Using an Example from the Specific Text You Are Using
    • Read or write up some information on the board from the text or related to a character.
    • Next, write up the relevant background knowledge you have. 
    • Third, show students how you put the two together to make an inference or interpretation.

Inferencing Frameworks

The options below show two specific scaffolds to teach students how to infer. Choose one to use with your students.

Option A: It says… I say... And so...1

It says/they say… 

(the text or character)

I say… 

(my background knowledge)

And so…

(put the two together to make an inference)


Option B: Inference Equation2

I notice + I already know = So now I am thinking… 

I notice (the text or data) + I already know (my background knowledge) = So now I am thinking (put the two together to make an inference)

For more teaching strategies designed for UK Educators, view our PDF resource Teaching Strategies.


  • 1 : Kylene Beers, When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003).
  • 2 : Inference equation developed by Nicole Frazier, former social studies teacher at Manual High School, Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO, 2008.

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