Teaching Inference Skills in the Primary Years

Donna Thomson, Think2Read, 2006

The Think2Read team belief passionately that comprehension instruction and child-led discussion within facilitated role-focused groups is central to effective learning in the primary years. To comprehend is to ‘understand’ – to possess the tools to ‘understand’ means you can learn.

For too long now, the education system has overlooked the necessity for explicit teaching of key comprehension thinking and questioning skills, especially within the early years. For example, there is the generally held belief that beginner readers need only to read the words on the page, for comprehension to naturally follow. Robert Fisher (1990) points out that although children may be able to say the words as they read from the text, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily comprehend the meaning beyond a literal understanding.

Although children have innate inference skills on one level or another, like many adults, they are unable to recognise what these skills are when they are using them or how they might be able to apply these skills more effectively to enhance other areas of learning – without first being shown how to do so.

Explicit teaching and assessment of literal, inference and evaluation shows even young children how to recognise and identify what these essential mean-making and reasoning skills actually are; and how they can be applied to enhance overall learning and understanding to enable them to:

  • make greater sense of incoming information;
  • gather, organise and classify data efficiently and purposely;
  • predict and plan confidently;
  • reason, make valued judgments;
  • creatively solve problems,
  • learn independently and collaboratively and communicate ideas effectively.

The Think2Read programme is a research-proven whole school approach that begins with the essential strategies for understanding pictures and text in Key Stage 1. These strategies and inferential questioning techniques are developed further and consolidated as the children progress through the school from Year 1 to Year 6 and into Key stage 3.