Monday, June 7, 2010

What You Know Without Being Told

Look at this picture.

What can you guess about the character that it belongs to?

This is exactly the question I asked a group of second graders and when I did, they astutely called upon their background knowledge to tell me some very smart things. The character is a boy because girls don’t wear swim trunks. The character is not a grown-up because the trunks are not big enough to fit someone older than seven or eight. The notebook is small and portable (they really used that word) so the character carries it with him. The character must be at the beach because you use a bucket and shovel to dig in the sand.

So, do you know who this stuff belongs to? What boy character in the neighborhood of age eight carries around a notebook? Being able to answer that question requires having some background knowledge about children’s literature which given that this character comes from what is popular with the second grade set, they saw that there were only two choices: Jack from Magic Tree House or Nate from Nate the Great. When I added a bottle of maple syrup to the mix, they knew right away. These items belonged to Nate and Nate was going to the beach to do some detective work.

In order to draw this conclusion, these second graders had to infer. Most teachers recognize inferring as an important, higher level comprehension skill but feel stuck when it comes to knowing how to teach it. When we started here and pointed out that inferring is when you take information and put it together with what you know from your prior experiences and draw a conclusion, somehow, it seemed so much easier than it had in the past. As we began to read the Nate the Great and the Boring Beach Bag together, we stopped every so often to talk and think about what we knew without being told and it was amazing how the students could “see between the lines.”

What do you do to help teach your students how to infer? Join our discussion or leave us a message here. We’ve also been doing some work with visualizing to help kids arrive at inferential thinking. If you’re interested in seeing how we did that, click here.

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