Inferring Dialogue

Two of the things my students often struggle with are making inferences and using quotation marks. Students regularly confuse inferences with observations, telling me what they can see, rather than what they can guess. Then there is the issue of quotation mark use, which begins with a tendency to call them “double top commas” and goes on all the way to placing them after every word or not using them at all. In an effort to help students practice these skills a bit more, I came up with this fun activity, and today I’d like to share it with you (it’s a free download at the bottom). There are two versions, so hang in there with me as I explain the differences between them.

The Basic Idea

In both versions, students practice making inferences by looking at pictures of people talking. Designed in PowerPoint, each slide has a photo of two or more people conversing. The students look at the people and their surroundings before inferring what they people might be saying. Since it’s a photograph, it is impossible to observe what the people are saying, forcing students to move past telling me what they see to making a true inference. There are twenty pictures in all, fourteen have two speech bubbles each and the last six each have three bubbles.

Version One: Speech Bubbles

In the first version, each picture is as full screen as I could make it without distortion. I then added a speech bubble for each person. Students type the inferred dialogue into each speech bubble, creating a one frame cartoon, of sorts. There’s also a PDF version in which students can write the dialogue by hand, if computers are not available for their use. As I’ve said in the past, I prefer, whenever possible, to have students type their dialogues so they get practice typing, and build their typing stamina/speed, in preparation for standardized testing. Since speech bubbles do not require the use of quotation marks, this particular version practices only making inferences. It is version two that brings in the second skill.

Version Two: Writing Dialogue

This is the version I use with students who are ready to move beyond writing and punctuating simple sentences to using more advanced punctuation. In this version, the images are contained to the left two-thirds of the slide and a text box is provided on the last third. Students again type (or write, depending on which version you use) their inferred dialogue, but this time they must do so using quotation marks and phrases to identify who said what. This is also great practice of synonyms and other verbs to replace “said” in writing and speaking.

How I Use This Activity

No matter which version I decide to use, I typically follow the same pattern. We will do one or two pictures together as a class as an example. I’ll project it on the board, solicit suggestions, and then type the class’ chosen dialogue into the slide. Then, depending on the class, I’ll either have them complete the other pictures alone or, more often, with a partner. Students then present their dialogues to the class either via a glary walk (set the slides to advance automatically and put each presentation into present mode for digital projects) or by choosing the slide they think is their best and sharing it with the class (good speaking practice).

Use the Activity Yourself

You can create your own version of the activity (I found the pictures on Pixabay), but there’s no need. You can download my version for free from this post or, for a convenient one click download of all the PowerPoint and PDF files of both versions, from Teachers Pay Teachers. If you are thinking the digital version is the way to go but prefer Google, never fear! The file uploads well to Google Slides, so it’s an easy conversion for you. Without further commentary, here are the links for the files. Happy teaching, everyone!

Want to get all four versions of the activity in one convenient download? It’s free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


If you are looking for more practice with the skills of making inferences or using quotation marks, check out these resources:

Wheel of Quotations

A free game! Simply click the picture.

Ambivalent Inferences

A free activity! Simply click the picture.

Inferences? For Sure!–post with more information

It Might Be!

A fun board game!

Inferring: It Might Be!–post with more information & another free activity download

Inference Picture Challenge

A whole class PowerPoint game!

A new whole class game made especially for students just getting started with making inferences.

Inferences? For Sure!

For Sure! Board Game: Paper Version
Ambivalent Inferences Writing Activity: Slides–FREE!

On Monday I shared with you two of my students’ and my favorite activities for practicing making inferences: inference pictures and It Might Be… Today I’d like to share with you two more activities that we enjoy.

For Sure!

I am a big believer in activities that practice more than one skill (cross curricular activities are even better!), and just as the board game It Might Be… practices modal verbs, as well as inferences, the board game For Sure! is not just about making inferences. It also practices adverbs of degree and the future tense. Each square of the game board has a phrase of something that may or may not be possible in the future (i.e.: we will vacation on Mars). Students must make an inference as to the likelihood of this taking place using an adverb of degree and the future tense (i.e.: I believe we will definitely vacation on Mars someday.). The game is a quick, and fun, way to practice making silly inferences about the future. Since there are no right or wrong answers, the focus can remain on the grammar, and students have the freedom to be a little silly. When I play with more advanced students, I challenge them to go beyond a simple sentence and speak for at least 30 seconds, giving reasons to support their opinion.

There is, of course, a digital version of For Sure! The digital version features a specially coded script that adds a dice menu to the tool bar. This menu randomly generates a number between one and six, allowing students to “roll the dice” without ever leaving the game board. Other than this special addition, the game is played in the exact same manner. (You can see the blog post A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1, for suggestions on how we like to play digital board games.) See how to play the game for yourself in this video:

Ambivalent Inferences

The last activity I’d like to share with you is Ambivalent Inferences. This activity was inspired by a YouTube video by Tolentino Teaching called Ambivalent: Creative Writing Activity. In the video, Tolentino explains the word ambivalent, and then challenges students to write a paragraph as if they were a famous person. The paragraph should describe something the person was ambivalent about. I thought this would be the perfect addition to our lesson on inferences because other students would have to make an inference about who the paragraph was describing. I made a quick Slides / PowerPoint activity that included the video about ambivalent, as well as a video defining the word inference, added a short explanation of my own, repeated the directions about writing a short paragraph, placed squares for students to type their inferences into, and added a grid for students to insert pictures of the famous people they were representing through writing. The whole process was very quick, and it makes for a nice addition to our practice.

The activity takes place in multiple stages. First, students watch the videos and write their paragraphs. Later, after I’ve looked over the paragraphs and checked that all is ready, students go back, read what others have written, and type their inference onto each slide. The picture grid at the end can give students hints as to who the mystery person might be, or you can remove it before doing the second part of the assignment.

As I said on Monday, my students always look very nervous when I first start explaining what an inference is, and it gets worse when I tell them we’ll be making inferences of our own. After these four activities, they are much more confident, and many of them are smiling and laughing. I hope your students will enjoy them as much as mine. Happy teaching, everyone!

Inferring: It Might Be…

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.

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!