Why Our Cleveland Speech Therapists Teach Kids How to Make Inferences
As Cleveland speech therapists, we help kids of all ages work on a broad range of speech, language, and communication goals. One of the toughest of those is something called inferences.
When kids are first learning how to engage in conversations, we start by asking them literal questions or prompting them with fill-in-the-blanks for literal details. It takes some explicit, thinking skill instruction to teach kids how to answer inferential questions.
Learning to make inferences is important because they’re used frequently throughout the day. They’re often required in the text we read for school, but they’re also used to read our environment, as well as the people around us. Social situations often require that we make assumptions about what others are thinking or feeling – so that we can adapt our response/behavior accordingly. This doesn’t always come naturally to some kids, and that’s why it’s an important skill on which our Cleveland speech therapists focus in our sessions.
What is an Inference vs. a Literal Question?
As our Cleveland speech therapists can explain, literal questions are probably most easily described as the “Wh questions.” You know: who, what, where, and when things. The answers are to such questions are going to be literal, concrete, explicitly-stated and easily verified. Answering a literal question requires a child to recall or find facts that are in the text or that were just stated in a conversation.
An example of a literal question would be something like, “What color is the ball?” or “What is Jamar eating?” or “Where is the dog?” While kids with speech-language delays or disorders may have some difficulty answering these questions, they’re the easiest sort of questions because the answers are concrete and verifiable.
It gets trickier with inferential questions. One needs to utilize context clues to be able to use an inference to answer a question. It often involves answering the why or how of something. A lot of times, there can even be more than one correct answer. An inference involves a child looking at the text or picture, thinking about the context clues, matching that up to their own background knowledge or understanding, and then formulating a conclusion about what has happened or is happening.
For example, let’s say your little brother has chocolate on his mouth. There are cookie crumbs on the floor, and the cookie jar is empty. You can infer your little brother ate the last cookie.
In another example, the book explains that the thunder boomed loudly, and the author found her dog shaking underneath the bed. The reader recalls from their own experience that loud noises can be scary. The reader can infer the dog is scared of the thunder.
Why Teaching Inferences is Important to Speech Therapy
Students learn to answer questions as a core part of their education. The ability to answer questions – both literal and inferential – is also frequently key to many aspects of kids’ speech therapy goals., particularly as they get into 2nd grade and beyond.
Schools start with expecting kindergarteners to answer literal questions about a given text. Students need know how to answer literal questions first – and have a solid foundation of that – before moving on to the higher-order thinking skills required for inferential questions. In second grade, schools begin setting expectations to have students make inferences.
If a child does not have a solid foundation of being able to answer literal questions, that is where our Cleveland speech therapists will first focus our attentions.
Some examples of methods we may use to help children answer literal questions:
- We may ask a where or a who question and provide several picture choices, allowing the child to give an answer based on the pictures
- We may allow the child to draw their answer to a literal question.
- We may provide a highlighter and start by having the child highlight the nouns. That often provides great clues about where we will find the answers to literal questions.
- We may tip them off with “clue words.” For instance, if we’re asking the child to provide an answer to a where question, we want them to think about the fact that they aren’t looking for an object or name, but rather a place. We may even have a visual aid that shows where = place, who = person, when = time, etc.
When we start in with lessons on inferential questions, our Cleveland speech therapists must teach that they aren’t always going to find the answer straight out of the text. They’re going to need to put on their detective hats to solve the mystery answer. Some of the strategies we might use to help children learn to answer inferential questions:
- Flag clue words. These are going to be words like “think,” “might,” or “probably.” Also, if they’re being asked how a certain character feels or why something happened the way it did, this is a good indicator that they’re being asked to make an inference. Other clue words are adjectives, given that they can help describe the person’s feelings or how an event occurred.
- Graphic organizers, like sequencing charts, can provide a visual tool to help kids see a chain of events and make inferences about the how and why.
- Whenever possible, we’re going to take advantage of visual aids like pictures, drawings, etc. Many kids are visual learners, and visual guides can go a long way toward boosting their understanding.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Making Inferences, Scholastic Teachables
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Cleveland Speech Therapists Offer Activities to Encourage Kids’ Language, May 12, 2022, Cleveland Speech Therapy Blog