Monday, February 16, 2015

Questions Lead to Inferences

  Helping readers to make inferences in nonfiction can be tough. For narrative texts, inferences about character emotions and traits are easy to see. In expository texts, however, the inferences often operate under the surface. Skilled readers may not realize they are making inferences, while less skilled readers may not even realize that an inference is called for.
   To help readers make inferences, I have found that questions are essential. Helping readers to ask questions of a text "wakes up" the inferring process. 
    No questions = no inferences. 

Facts-Question-Response Chart

   I love to use the Facts-Questions-Response chart from the Comprehension Toolkit. This chart has it all! Readers have to:

-Find and paraphrase details for the Facts column
-Ask questions of the text for the Questions column
-Note their own thinking for the Response column
-Best of all, slow down as they read!

    For me, teaching the FQR chart really helps me to see what readers are thinking. I have adapted this chart a bit in recent years. Numbering paragraphs helps us to navigate through the text and share our thinking easily. I also encourage students to put lines under their responses to keep thoughts from each paragraph organized.
    The FQR chart is especially beneficial if you have a large class. Teaching 30 readers at once is challenging. When we work on the FQR chart, I can quickly "clipboard cruise" to note who is doing well and who needs some more support. For example, the student who has filled up the entire "Facts" column but has no questions or responses will need some coaching, as will the student who falls back on a question formula.

From Questions to Inferences

    How does this lead to inferring? After reading a paragraph, we talk about the students' questions and how they can be answered with an inference. In the "Welcome to Antarctica" text, students read that the airport in Antarctica is only open from October to May. This made them wonder--why? Using background information from the "Happy Australia Day" article that they read, students inferred that Antarctica's seasons must follow the same pattern as Australia's--and that the months from October to May are the warmer months. 
    Not all inferences are as ambitious as this. One student read the sentence, "The Southern Ocean is rough and choppy, and many people get seasick." This student asked the question Why do people get seasick?
    I could tell that this reader hadn't connected information from the first part of the sentence with information from the second part. With some coaching, he was able to make this inference and write it in the Response column.

The Text

    I like to use texts that present new information to students for this activity. Last week, I used "Welcome to Antarctica", which is a text that I wrote as part of our Antarctica unit. You can find the text below.
    Helping readers to make inferences in nonfiction can be a challenge. Starting out with questions makes the challenge easier!

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