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Book Chat: Inferences Through Story

by Pepper Basham

0055361001600694838.jpgAs a speech-language pathologist who has a specialty in the “language” portion of my profession, using storybooks/narratives as tools for therapy is a vital (and enjoyable) part of my work. So many aspects of language development, including social language, can be taught through story. With the added bonus of pictures or verbal descriptions (such as “he grimaced”), there are many ways in which the natural art of storytelling can lead to deeper understandings of the world around us.

One way I use stories to teach language is through teaching “good guesses” or what is often referred to as inferencing. Inferencing is the process of drawing conclusions based on existing evidence, either in a text, video, conversation, or situation, etc. In other words, it’s using the existing clues to make a “good guess” about what’s happening between the lines.

How people are really feeling despite what they say.

Who the “bad guy” is based on hints. 

What decision the character may make next based on the information he’s received.

Things like that.

And movies and books are great ways to work on teaching this skill because with books, we can reread information to look for the clues and with movies we can pause the information to discuss what clues we’ve seen.

So, with books, how might this look when trying to teach inferencing?

Let’s use the children’s book, Little Red Riding Hood, to work through some of these inferencing questions:

  • What we know (background knowledge) – Little Red is going to grandma’s house alone. Wolves are usually not portrayed favorably in books. We’re usually even given the Wolf’s thoughts like “I can have the grandma for dinner and the little girl for dessert”. So, we take that previous knowledge and current “clues” to make inferences about what the Wolf might do next.
  • Facial expressions – these hint at how people are feeling, usually. Little Red is initially scared when she meets the wolf and it shows on her face. Why would she be scared? Probably for good reason 😉 The wolf can also show a sense of ‘sneakiness’ in his expression, which is a great picture for kids to review especially if they have a harder time reading more nuanced emotions.
  • Say versus mean – The wolf in this story is excellent at saying things he doesn’t mean. “Let me help you find your way to Granny’s house”. He appears helpful when his intentions do not match his words or his actions. This is a great tool to teach kids about how words and actions cannot always be taken literally and that there are those “invisible” intentions that go behind what is said to hint at what is the real meaning so that we can make inferences about what will happen next.  
  • Context – Context is the setting and situation in which something is taking place. In the story of Little Red Riding Hood we have two main settings: the dark forest and Granny’s house. The context of the dark forest already sets the scene for something unsettling because if we take our background knowledge from other stories, we know that “dark” forests are usually where bad things happen or bad characters live. Context gives us a clue.

Teaching inferencing to our kids can happen quite naturally through story.

If you want to learn more so you can put this activity into practice at home, here is a great link that talks about inferencing and literacy 😊


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