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The Top Ten Inference Tips

Reading Inference Categories

10 Inference Categories

Often, an author intentionally leaves parts of the text unclear. This is done to allow the reader to construct meaning as the reader discovers clues in the plot of a story or in the line of argument in an article or essay. At other times, the author suggests (implies) the meaning without directly stating it. In these cases, the author expects the reader to guess or draw conclusions (infer) the meaning from other textual clues. In poetry, the poet uses poetic devices, such as metaphors, to compare unlike objects and require the reader to make those connections. Some authors use allegories, such as C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series. And of course, the reader’s job is to use inference skills to understand these texts.

Why don’t authors just come out and say what they mean? They have their reasons. A good deal of learning involves the process of how something is learned. When the reader discovers the meaning of the text, the reader understands and appreciates the text and ideas much more than if the meaning is spoon-fed. For example, we all enjoy a good mystery best when the clues of the text interact with our prior knowledge to help us guess “Who done it.” This is the essence of how to inference. Inferencing involves interpreting, making connections, and drawing conclusions.

Although good detective work in searching for textual clues and prior experience  both help readers inference, teachers can also help students become more adept at the process by teaching reading schema. Reading schema involves knowing how a story, essay, poem, or article are structured, the characteristics of each genre, and the writing style and interests of a particular author. For example, knowing that Arthur Conan Doyle likes to use Dr. Watson as Holmes’ foil, knowing that mysteries set up the obvious suspects but use twists and obfuscation to intentionally throw the reader off track, and knowing a bit about British dry wit will help the reader better inference throughout any Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Additionally, having some familiarity with and practice in applying the common categories of thought that authors use to develop their clues can provide an organizational schema to improve inference accuracy and efficiency. Here are ten such common inference categories (with examples) that are frequently used to help readers to inference.

Here are ten inference categories (with examples) that are frequently used to help readers to discover meaning on their own. Re-read the section before and after the unclear section with these categories in mind. Select the category that best fits to help you interpret difficult reading text.

The Top Ten Inference Tips

1. Location: While we roared down the tracks, we could feel the bounce and sway.

What Can Be Inferred? They are riding a train.

2. Agent (Occupation or Hobby): With clippers in one hand and scissors in the other, Chris was ready to begin the task.

What Can Be Inferred? He was giving a haircut.

3. Time: When the porch light burned out, the darkness was total.

What Can Be Inferred? It is late at night.

4. Action: Carol dribbled down the court and then passed the ball to Ann.

What Can Be Inferred? They are playing basketball.

5. Instrument (tool or device): With a steady hand, she put the buzzing device on the tooth.

What Can Be Inferred? The dentist is drilling out a cavity.

6. Cause and Effect: In the morning, we noticed that the trees were uprooted and homes were missing their roof shingles.

What Can Be Inferred? There had been a tornado or hurricane.

7. Object: The broad wings were swept back into a “V” and the two powerful engines roared to life.

What Can Be Inferred? A jet plane is preparing to take off.

8. Groups (kinds or types): The Toyota and Honda were in the garage and the Chevy was out in the front.

What Can Be Inferred? These are all automobiles.

9. Problem-Solution: The side of his face was swollen and his tooth was loose.

What Can Be Inferred? He got hit in the face.

1o. Feeling-Attitude: While I marched past, in the middle school band, my Dad’s eyes were filled with tears.

What Can Be Inferred? The child’s father was proud of his or her involvement in the band.


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