Sep 3, 2013 by Maura Deptula

inference as a reading strategyStrategies for teaching reading skills

Reading is one of the most rewarding and challenging skills to teach. It involves building upon solid strategies and taking your students from the mechanics of reading to the magic of the written word. Teaching inference skills playfully in the classroom helps us bring literature to life and connects our students with writers who artfully fill the pages of their books.

Being able to infer is a critical comprehension skill. As readers, students must approach texts like detectives and find the meaning that lies behind the words that they read. For many students this task is fun and exciting, but for some it can be daunting. 

For students who are struggling with learning to infer, working on precursor skills can help. Two important precursors to inferring are automaticity and background knowledge.

Reading Automaticity

When we say that students need to develop automaticity, we mean that they need to be able to read with enough ease and accuracy so that their brains have time to focus on the meaning and the message of the text. Building fluency with a program like Reading Assistant can help students achieve automaticity. Without this groundwork laid, students are simply too busy working on decoding words to seek out meaning in the text.

Background Knowledge

In order to make an inference, students need to have some background knowledge about what they are reading. We can support them by building context and asking thought-provoking pre-reading questions.

Teaching Strategies

Teaching inference as a reading strategy can be great fun. Here are some ideas you can use in class with your students:

  • Challenge your students to be sleuths. Give them a riddle and have them brainstorm possible answers. Explore how they reached different conclusions about what the correct answer might be and probe them on their analysis process.    
  • Assign groups of students different perspectives to take as they read. For example, one group can focus on the historical period of a story, another on the social aspects of a story, a third can focus on the events that preceded the story, and a final group can develop ideas around what the future holds.
  • Ask students to write about their inferences. A simple exercise of having them jot down a note about finding hidden meaning in text can help them focus more and recognize when the author is conveying meaning beyond the words.  (A simple worksheet with the following sentences works well: I think ____________.  What led me to think this was __________. )
  • Ask students to infer the meaning of complex vocabulary words presented in sentences.  For example: She found the data counterintuitive because the many times she had tested herself her results had been quite different.

As students approach more complex texts and work more rigorously to meet the Common Core Standards, they will need to rely more on their ability to infer meaning from text. Solidly developed inference skills will enable readers to understand and apply the knowledge they acquire from print in school. And, perhaps more important, solid inference skills will also support a greater love of reading throughout their lives.


Kurland, D. (2000). Inference: Reading Ideas as Well as Words. Retrieved from

Graesser, A.C.  & Clark, L.F. (1985). The Generation of Knowledge-Based Inferences during Narrative Comprehension. In author G. Rickheit & H. Strohner (Ed.) Inferences in Text Processing (pp. 53-94), Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.

Canada. Ontario Ministry of Education. Think Literacy: Cross-Cultural Approaches, Grades 7-12.(n.d.). Retrieved from

Related reading:

Student Engagement Strategies That Can Help Your Learners Read Better

Why Dr. Timothy Rasinski Thinks Reading Fluency Should Be “Hot!”