Reading Comprehension: Inferring

What makes a good reader?

In class over the past few weeks we have been focusing on inferring meaning from the texts that we read. Inferring is one of the many comprehension skills we need to develop in order to become a confident and capable reader.


As you can see from the diagram above, there are many, many skills required to be confident reader who has a really good understanding of the texts that we read. By grade 5/6, most of us are really good at ‘decoding‘ the texts that we read; that is being able to sound out and say the words we see on the page. This does not mean we necessarily understand the words that we read.

Many students are also good at understanding ‘literal‘ comprehension questions. Literal questions are questions that require an answer that is directly stated in the text. For example:

Luke bought a new, blue car.

What colour was Luke’s new car?

This question is literal because the answer is right there in the text. I do not need to sort the information or work out what the author is trying to say; they have told me right there in the text.

Inferring Meaning

Inferential questioning is more difficult and requires a different set of skills to understand. As I have talked about with the students, it is much like knowing the four operations in maths; just because you know one of the skills doesn’t mean you know them all. You need to be able to add before you multiply, and multiply before you divide. The skills build on one another.

An inferential question is one where clues are given in the text, but they are implied rather than stated literally. For example;

Luke chose a car that was the colour of the sky on a clear, sunny morning.

What colour was Luke’s car?

This text does not tell us exactly what the colour of the car is. Rather, we need to identify key words in order to answer the question. Looking at this text, the words clear, sunny and sky stand out. We can then make a link to what we know about clear, sunny skies and know that the colour must be blue. Another example;

Tears ran down the baby’s face. The noise filled the house. A full bottle lay dripping on the floor.

What was the noise? Why was it happening?

This text does not tell us what the noise was literally, but we can infer that the baby is crying because there are tears running down his face. We can also infer that this is happening because the baby dropped their bottle; we know that a bottle does not normally belong on the floor.

Often, what we know about the world around us, our life experiences, can have a big impact on our understanding of what we read. This is a question we looked at two weeks ago and only one student could answer it.

Except for a few clowns we all missed the parade, but we would see everything tonight in the gigantic tent rising now in the park.

What were they going to see tonight?

It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to answer the question. The students could identify the key words – clown, parade, tent. But only one student had been to a circus that had clowns. A lot of the time, to infer meaning, we need to have a lot of experiences on which to draw. And while these can come from when we are out and about, they also come from what we read. The more we read, the more experiences we can draw on. This is why we encourage students to read a wide variety of texts.


These skills require a lot of practise and reinforcement to master, just like our maths operational skills. In class we have been constantly talking about the importance of these skills and looking at short texts each week to learn to identify the key words and the links we need to make. The texts 5/6 students are reading contain a lot of inferential information as it is much more interesting to read; but are the students understanding it if they do not have these skills? While students are reading at home it is still important that they have the opportunity to read with an adult who can question them and see if they understand the meaning of what they are reading. While they may seem to be reading ‘independently’ because they can decode, they may not have an understanding of what it is they are reading.

If you would like any more information, please feel free to contact me. In a few weeks we will have a look at another of the reading skills.

One thought on “Reading Comprehension: Inferring

  1. Pingback: Reading: What are inferences? – Dale Mills – Berwick Fields PS

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