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
More Blog Entries:
More Blog Entries:
Cleveland Speech Therapists Offer Activities to Encourage Kids’ Language, May 12, 2022, Cleveland Speech Therapy Blog
May is Better Speech & Hearing Month, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports 1 in 12 kids age 3-17 in the U.S. has a disorder related to voice, speech, language or swallowing. Our Cleveland speech therapists recognize that speech problems (difficulty being understood by others) are the most common among kids ages 3-10. Language problems (difficulty understanding others) ranked No. 2. More than one-third of kids with communication disorders has more than one.
As Cleveland speech therapists, we have decades of combined experience in engaging with children with speech-language disorders and delays, and helping to encourage their development on these fronts. But we also recognize that speech therapy is only part of the puzzle! The more consistent practice and carryover a child has across environments, the better these new skills are going to “stick,” and the faster kids will reach their speech therapy goals!
So what’s the best way to practice these skills with your kids? Play!
“Your child’s most important job is to play. It’s through play that young kids learn and grow. So playing with your child is really the best way to help them sharpen those speech & language skills.”
Jaclyn McClymont, speech-language pathologist, owner and founder of Therapy & Wellness Connection.
Any play that engages your child is generally going to be good for encouraging speech and language (as well as positive mental health and interpersonal connection). That said, there may be some activities/games that are more beneficial than others.
Here, our Cleveland speech therapists offer a few of our simple favorites!
Pretend Talk on the Phone
Pretending to talk on the phone is great for teaching kids important words, family member names, and social skills like turn-taking. If they’re very young, you can work on the basics, “Hi!” “Ok!” “Yes.” “No.” “Momma.” “Grama.” “Bye!” Modeling speech & language doesn’t need to be super complicated for it to be effective. The key is to keep it fun!
“Who’s on the phone? Is it Daddy? No, Ok. Is it Momma?”
“Did you tell Momma hi? Hi, Momma! Ok, bye!”
Sing Songs in Motion
The list here is endless, but to name a few:
- Wheels on the Bus
- Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Old Macdonald
- Five Little Ducks
- Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes
- Baby Shark (if it doesn’t drive you crazy!)
- Hokey Pokey
Often, kids will copy the motions first. Eventually, they’ll wade in with a few of the words. Before you know it, they’ll have it all down to a T!
YouTube has some engaging videos to go along with these, and the extra visual may help too.
Look Through/Read Books
You don’t have to read a 40-page book. Most kids won’t sit through that anyway. But start with picture books. Think small – 3-5 pages. And you don’t necessarily have to “read” them all either. Look through the pictures. Point to various objects or people in the story. Label them. Talk about what might be happening.
It will take time, but eventually you’ll be able to get through the whole book. Then you can start reading it. Rhyming or sing-songy books are often best for memorization.
Kids love balls. They’re great not only for gross motor skills, but also for development of joint attention, turn-taking, and other key social skills.
You can work on words like roll, throw, bounce, catch, down, up, around, over, your turn, my turn, etc.
If you’re trying to encourage requesting, wait a few beats after you’ve gotten the ball for them to motion or ask for it returned.
“You want the ball? Say, ‘Ball!” or “Ball please!”
Narrate everything you’re doing.
“The ball went over the chair!”
Once they master some of the basics, you can start adding other adjectives.
“You’re playing with the big, blue ball!”
Play With Bubbles
Bubbles are so easy and simple, they’re sometimes overlooked – but they can be a source of ENDLESS fun and enjoyment for kids.
Help your child work on requesting the bubbles, model for them “more bubbles” and say words like, “up, down, pop, jump, catch, circle, over, under,” etc.
Bubbles are great at bath time year-round, but spring & summer are perfect for taking it outside, and giving them a chance to get some fresh air & soak up some Vitamin D!
Play With Pretend Food
Kids are crazy about pretend food. They love to play as if they are planning, preparing, and eating it. It’s been our Cleveland speech therapists’ experience that even when kids don’t have utensils or plates or cups or play-food, they’ll get imaginative and make do with what they have. So if you have pretend food – cool. If you don’t – no sweat. Kids’ imaginations are a wonder. You can use a block, a box, or even empty boxes or cans, cartons, etc.
You can model pouring food, cooking food, drinking, and eating. You can model words like, “Yummy! Great job! Hot! Cold! Yucky! cup, plate, fork, all done, mine, yours, good,” etc. You can also label different food items, and even put them into categories. “Apple is a fruit.” “Chicken is meat.”
Cleveland Speech Therapists Encourage Parent Involvement!
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you play – but that you’re engaged. The best thing parents can do for their kids day in and out is talk to them. Narrate what you’re doing. Narrate what others are doing. Talk about colors, shapes, animals, weather, foods, people, cars – anything that captures their interest and imagination.
If you have questions about how you can engage your child during playtime, our speech therapy team can help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron 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.
The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun, Sept. 28, 2020, Healthline.com
More Blog Entries:
Why Our Cleveland Speech Therapists LOVE Repetitive Picture Books for Kids, March 19, 2022, Cleveland Pediatric Speech Therapy Blog