There are so many fun activities for teaching inferencing to younger students, but not so much for the older learners that I teach. At its core, inferencing is a skill that transfers, but English language learners still need to practice the language of inferencing. The best way to practice the language of inferencing is to actually make inferences, but having students hide things in paper bags and make guesses didn’t seem appropriate for my middle school and adult learners. This week I’d like to share with you the four main activities I use with my older learners when practicing inferencing (and other skills).
After defining the word inference, my students are usually scared. Even when I simplify the formal definition, and explain that it’s just an educated guess, my students still look fairly nervous. In order to help them relax, and realize this is a skill they already have, I like to start with some pictures. These are nothing fancy, just things I’ve pulled off the internet, but I have two sets (you can get them from the buttons on the left). I simply display them one at a time on the board, and ask the students, “What can you infer from this picture?” They almost always start by telling me what they can see, such as, “The boy is eating vegetables.” I don’t tell them they are making an observation, not an inference, instead I ask follow up questions such as, “Does the boy like vegetables?” and “How do you know he doesn’t like vegetables?” After the students answer, I explain that they’ve just made an inference. They took what they could see, a boy making a face at a forkful of vegetables, and added what they knew, kids don’t like vegetables, and made an inference: the boy doesn’t like vegetables. We then move on to the next picture and repeat the process. After a couple of pictures their confidence has grown and they are ready for a greater challenge.
Our second activity is usually a board game, and one of our favorites is It Might Be… The object of the game is to infer a specific person or thing based on a category (sports, occupations, food, famous places, famous people, animals) and set of six clues. The fewer clues a student needs to infer the person/item, the more spaces he/she gets to move. To play, the person to the right of the player whose turn it is draws a card. The card holder then reads the category and first clue. The person whose turn it is either makes an inference as to the person/item being described, or asks for another clue. If the player is able to correctly infer the item from the first clue, he/she moves six spaces. Every additional clue required reduces the number of spaces the player will move by one (so if four clues are read, the player moves two spaces). I use this game as an opportunity to sneak in a little practice with modals of possibility/probability (might, may, must, could…), by requiring students to include one in their answers. Play continues in this manner, with students taking turns and reading to one another, until someone reaches finish and becomes the winner.
A digital version of this game is also available, but is played slightly differently. Rather than another player reading clues, all of the clues are presented at the same time. Students use a specially scripted game play menu item to “draw a card” (they are jumped to a random question slide in the deck), and read the clues for themselves. After making their inference, they click the answer button to check the answer, and the game board button to return to the playing board. Once at the playing board, students again use the game play menu to “roll” the dice and move their piece. You can learn how to play the digital version of the game in this video:
Honestly, the digital version of the game is cool, but my students and I all prefer the paper version of this game. We all like how the number of spaces you move is directly tied to how early you’re able to make a correct inference, it adds a level of challenge and reward that is missing from the digital version. But, the digital version did get the job done, and we were able to practice both inferences and modals of possibility while doing distance learning.
On Thursday I’ll share with you two other activities we enjoy using to practice inferencing. Until then, happy teaching, everyone!