Good readers make predictions and inferences while they read. Inferring is how readers “read between the lines.” Much of what an author conveys in English is not directly stated. It is implied. English language learners (ELLs) need to learn strategies to infer meaning. The goal is to help readers get deeper meaning from the text by making connections to prior knowledge, visualizing, and predicting. Inference is a very difficult task for English language learners. In addition to struggling with decoding, grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and a myriad of other language and reading skills, ELLs are also trying to understand what the inferences mean. We want English language learners to develop critical thinking skills, interpret the text that they read and draw conclusions. These skills must be explicitly taught. Teachers need to give their English language learners a model in a frame to help them to express their ideas. Teach students phrases such as *I predict . . ., My guess is . . .I think that….., My conclusion is… I infer that……”
Let’s visit Mrs. Schnee’s 1st grade ESL class. Her students are on the rug on a cold winter day. They can see the field covered in snow from the window. Mrs.Schnee is holding up the book, The Snowy Day (Keats,1976) and tells students, "When I look at the cover, I can infer that this story takes place in the winter. I infer that because I see snow, just like outside my window." She then asks students to infer from the picture what happens in the story. One student, Karim, said, I infer that boy can’t play outside for a long time. ” He used the language that he had been taught to describe what he believed had occurred in the story. When Mrs. Schnee asked him why he thought that, he replied, “My schema tells me that it is winter and the snow is cold.” Then, Mrs. Schnee asked Karim to point out what in the picture helped him think it was winter and Karim pointed to the snowsuit that the boy is wearing and the snow, Thus, she checked for Karim’s understanding by asking him for a rationale for his answer. All students need strategies and language to infer meaning from pictures and text. English language learners especially need this modeling from the teacher and peers with a clear demonstration of how the inferences are made.