A dog is waiting near an empty water bowl. What’s the dog feeling?
You probably guessed that the dog is feeling thirsty. That’s because you made an inference. It’s a critical reading skill that many students with learning and thinking differences struggle with.
Making inferences is especially hard when reading fiction because authors don’t always write how a character feels. They simply write what’s happening. Readers need to think like the character and understand the plot to guess what the character thinks and feels.
To make an inference, a student must make a logical connection between two or more ideas in a text. She needs to “read between the lines.” And research shows if a student can make inferences with pictures, comics or videos, she can make them with words.
So here’s a tip. Use an animated video to help your child develop these skills.
Videos let your child practice the skill of making inferences without having to worry about the mechanics of reading, like decoding words. I suggest wordless animated videos because they require your child to infer an entire plot. That means a lot of practice.
The Oscar-nominated short film Oktapodi is a fun video to do this with. (Be sure to watch this video before sharing it, to make sure it’s appropriate for your child.)
As you and your child watch the video together, ask her questions.
- What’s the man’s job? How do you know?
- Where does the story take place? (Students may not have the background knowledge to guess accurately, but they can guess the climate.)
- How does the orange octopus/pink octopus/man feel? How do you know? (You can ask this throughout the video.)
- What do you think happens after the end of the film?
Make sure to explain to your child how inferences work. For example, ask her what she would infer if she looked out the window and saw people using their umbrellas. Tell her she can make smart guesses if she thinks of her own experiences and looks for clues.
You can even model how you make inferences: “The orange octopus saw the sign on the side of the bus. He must be thinking the pink octopus is in trouble since the man seems to want to sell the pink octopus for food.”
Here are other videos you can use to practice inferences. I’ve also included some questions to ask your child about each. (As with Oktapodi, be sure to “screen” these videos on your own before sharing them with your child.)
- Simon’s Cat (for young kids): Why is the cat upset? Why doesn’t the cat want to get into the crate? Where do you think the man wants to go?
- Crumbs: Why do the mice look around? Where do you think the crumbs came from? Why does the gray mouse give its crumb to the blue mouse?
- Paper Man: Where is this story set? How does the man feel when the woman gets on the subway? What are the man’s boss and coworkers thinking?
- Alma (for older kids): What is the main character thinking when she sees the doll in the window? How do you know? What does the change in camera position near the end of the video mean (around 3:45)?
Jules Csillag, M.S., is a licensed speech-language pathologist and a teacher of students with speech and language disabilities.
Read up on the essential skills needed for reading comprehension. Learn how wordless picture books can help your child’s learning. And watch a video on how to use TV to help your child build social skills.
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