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Simple Lesson Plan: Making Inferences Based on Clues in Pictures, Music, and Literature

Updated on March 3, 2017
Becca Linn profile image

I am a language arts teacher, and I know how hard it can be to find engaging and effective lesson plans. I love to share what works for me.


Self Starter: Gathering Clues (Anticipatory Set)

Project or write a few hypothetical situations on the board and ask the students to make guesses about what the people are thinking or feeling in each situation.

You can make this a little bit more fun by comparing it to detective work and telling your students that they need to gather clues in order to figure out what's going on in each situation.

For example:

  1. You walk into the classroom the day after you had a substitute teacher. You notice that your teacher is in a particularly good mood and has several boxes of doughnuts sitting on his desk. What do you think your teacher is thinking or feeling? Why do you think so?
  2. You come home from your friend's house later than you said you would. Your mom is waiting for you at the front door and she has a stern look on her face. What do you think your mom is thinking or feeling? Why do you think so?
  3. Your friend has his head down on his desk. You ask him how he's doing, and he says he's fine, but you can tell that he's been crying. What do you think he's thinking or feeling? Why do you think so?

Another option for this activity is to provide a t-chart for your students that has the two sections labeled:

  • What are they thinking or feeling?
  • Why do you think so?

I'm a huge fan of using charts to help students learn how to organize their ideas in a logical manner.

After your students have had a few minutes to fill in their charts or answer these questions on their own papers, give them a chance to share some of their answers.

What is this person thinking or feeling?
Why do I think so?

What Does It Mean to Make an Inference? (Direct Instruction)

Explain to your students that what they were just doing is called making inferences. Help them to realize that they make inferences like these all the time as they go throughout the day.

You might want to provide more examples to your students or even ask them for examples at this point.

I usually tell my students that making inferences is another way of doing what some people call "reading between the lines."

A lot of students are more familiar with the idiom "reading between the lines" than they are with the word "inference," so that makes it easier for them to understand what the objective is when they're just starting out.

Making Inferences Using Charades (Guided Practice)

After you have helped your students to gain a better understanding of what it means to make inferences, it can be really fun to take just a few minutes to play charades.

Ask for volunteers to act out certain emotions, and then have the class infer how the actors are feeling.

This is an easy way for students to really grab a hold of the idea that they are making inferences (particularly about people) all the time.

Many students who are intimidated by the idea of learning something new will feel more comfortable and confident once they realize that making inferences isn't exactly a foreign concept to them.

What kind of inferences could your students make about what's going on in this picture?
What kind of inferences could your students make about what's going on in this picture? | Source

Making Inferences Using Pictures (Guided Practice)

Either provide your students with a t-chart worksheet that has several t-charts on it or have them draw their own t-charts with the two sections labeled:

  • What I saw
  • What I inferred

Then project some pictures on the board that have enough clues about what's going on that your students will be able to make some solid inferences.

The best pictures have enough details to really make the kids think about what's going on.

Remind your students again that making inferences requires some detective work. Encourage your students to pay attention to all the details, because sometimes a little detail can be a huge clue to what the big picture is really all about.

I recommend having some fun with this. The more interesting the pictures are, the more your students are going to be willing to really analyze them and come up with lots of interesting inferences.

I've even used pictures of myself in different situations and that really helps to keep the students' attention.They love to see pictures of me out adventuring since they are so used to seeing me in the school setting.

Help your students notice that they can make inferences based on many different types of details such as:

  • facial expressions (happy, sad, frustrated, tired)
  • clothing (gloves might help you infer that someone is cold or needs some kind of protection while working)
  • location (what usually happens in that location?)

Have your students fill in their charts with whatever amount of observations and inferences you want them to have for each picture.

I usually have my students do this on their own and then have them pair up with another student to share what they came up with. Then I ask for volunteers to share observations and inferences with the class.

After a while your students will get pretty good at this. They're great detectives once they realize how fun and easy making inferences can be.

I've even had kids looking at a picture of me figure out that it was probably warm in the room I was in because it looked like my cheeks were a bit pinker than usual.

That's an observation and an inference that I don't know if I would have made, but once my students' eyes became attuned to looking for these types of details, it was amazing how well they were able to do.

Making Inferences About Pictures

What I Saw
What I Inferred
Nothing gets students more excited than finding out that they are going to get to listen to music in class.
Nothing gets students more excited than finding out that they are going to get to listen to music in class. | Source

Making Inferences Using Songs (Guided Practice)

After my students have a chance to get really comfortable making inferences about pictures, I let them make inferences using songs. This is quite a bit more challenging, but most of the students find it to be really fun so it keeps their interest and gets them to keep working.

At this point, I would have students fill in t-charts similar to the ones they used for the pictures, but the sections in this one are labeled:

  • What I heard
  • What I inferred

For this part of the lesson, you will play songs that tell a story and let your students try to figure out as much as they can about the person in the song or about what is going on in the story.

You might want to consider printing out copies of the lyrics, so that your students can go refer to those if they have a hard time keeping up with what is being said in the song.

I usually play each song at least twice in order for my students to have time to understand what it is about and really make some good strong inferences.

You might want to help your students out a little bit along the way, because this activity is quite challenging.

Encourage your students to figure out as many details as they can about what's going on in the song. These are some ideas that work well with some songs:

  • How old is the person this song is about?
  • How is this person feeling?
  • What is their life like?
  • What is their family like?

I usually tell my students that they need to write down at least three phrases that they heard along with the three inferences they were able to make, but you can have your students come up with as many observations and inferences as you want.

The following are links to Youtube videos that include lyrics for a few songs I've used in the past that my students really enjoyed:

Making Inferences in Songs

What I Heard
What I Inferred

Making Applications in Literature (Independent Practice)

Once your students have had practice working with pictures and songs, it will be easier for them to make the transition to making inferences as they read.

There are a lot of ways that you can help your students do this. One method that I've used is to continue following the same pattern that I used in the activities above.

I have my students fill in a t-chart with two sections labeled:

  • What I Read
  • What I Inferred

It's usually pretty easy for students to make observations and inferences in short stories once they have had the opportunity to practice this skill in a variety of other forms of media.

What I Read
What I Inferred


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    • Becca Linn profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Young 

      5 years ago from Renton, WA

      All those standardized tests are really having their toll on our education system. It drove me crazy, and was a huge part of the reason I went from a full-time teacher to a substitute.

      I got tired of having people in the government who know little about teaching make the decisions about how and what I should teach in my classroom.

      It got to the point where the was hardly time to reach between tests, and I didn't feel like I was asked to do what was best fit the kids.

      On a positive note though, we were required to reach about making inferences, and I completely agree with you that it is a valuable and much needed skill.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Becca. We need more ideas on how to have children draw inferences. It leads them to develop the skills for critical thinking as they grow up. Unfortunately critical thinking has been getting less attention for older children as they are being taught to pass standardized tests.

    • Becca Linn profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Young 

      5 years ago from Renton, WA

      Thanks! You are a brave soul teaching the three and for year olds. People think I'm crazy teaching Junior high, but I think it takes a very special kind of person to have the energy for those cute young kiddos. I'm sure they love going to your Sunday school class!

      Blessings to you as well!

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      5 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I'm not a teacher in school, but I do teach a Sunday School class of 3 and 4 year olds. They are a story in itself. lol You seem to be very good at teaching and really want your students to learn. I'm sure they will learn a lot from you and remember you. I voted up.

      Blessings to you.


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