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Reading Comprehension Strategy of Inferring

Inferring is the ability to “read between the lines” or to get the meaning an author implies but does not state directly. For instance, readers must infer a character’s traits, since authors don’t usually state their personalities, but want the reader to figure out the traits by what the character does, what the character says and what others say about the character. This is just one example of inference, but there are many. Essentially, all readers must infer, and to a degree, the reader has to ‘get inside the author’s head’ to do so.

There are certain conceptual understandings that must be in place in order for students to understand inferences: 1) That implied means ‘to read between the lines,’ not just the lines, 2) Authors compose texts based on their experience and background, 3) Authors leave information unstated, expecting readers to infer it, and 4) Comprehension is an active process of constructing meaning.

Additionally, students must also be able to find the clues embedded in the text; be able to access their own experience regarding these clues; make predictions about the implied meaning based on their experience with the clues the author provides.

Modeling thinking as the ‘expert reader’ is reading is necessary for students to understand how to approach inferring or implied meaning. For example, if you were to read the beginning of a story that started out expecting the reader to infer, I would start with telling the students just that. I’d say “Let me show you how I figure out meaning that is not directly stated in the text by using an example like the following; “It was a dark and stormy night, and the walk home was chilling, at best.” I would read the first sentence out loud, stop to say “I think this is going to be a scary story, since most of the frightening ones I’ve read before start out with a setting like this. If the walk home was chilling, I believe the author means it sent chills down the character’s spine, not that it was cold. I think the author is setting me up for something foreboding or bad to happen. I would be scared in such a situation, and I think the character would be too. I’m going to read on to see if I am correct in my inferring.”

At first students might need extensive help in figuring inferred meaning, but modeling situations help the novice reader to become familiar with such examples and gradually will become more and more independent, needing less teacher help, until finally s/he can do it on his or her own.

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