Making Inferences to Improve Reading Comprehension

Improving Reading Comprehension for Students With Dyslexia

A teacher reads with a student.
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Students with dyslexia have difficulty drawing inferences from written text. A study completed by F.R. Simmons and C.H. Singleton in 2000 compared the reading performance of students with and without dyslexia. According to the study, students with dyslexia scored similarly when asked literal questions to those without dyslexia; however, when asked questions that relied on inferences, the students with dyslexia scored much lower than those without dyslexia.

Inference: Key to Comprehension

Inference is drawing conclusions based on information that has been implied rather than directly stated and is an essential skill in reading comprehension. People make inferences every day, both in oral and written communication. Many times this is so automatic most readers or listeners don't even realize the information wasn't included in the conversation or text. For example, read the following sentences:

"My wife and I tried to pack light but we made sure not to forget our bathing suits and sunblock. I wasn't sure if I would get seasick again so I made sure to pack some medicine for upset stomachs."

You can deduct a great deal of information from these sentences:

  • The author is married.
  • He and his wife are going on a trip.
  • They are going to be on a boat.
  • They will be around water.
  • They will be going swimming.
  • They have gone swimming before.
  • The author has gotten seasick on a boat in the past.

This information was not clearly stated in the sentences, but you can use what was written to deduce or infer much more than what was said. Most of the information students get from reading comes from what is implied rather than direct statements, as you can see from the amount of information available by reading between the lines. It is through inferences that words take on meaning. For students with dyslexia, the meaning behind the words is often lost.

Teaching Inferences

Making inferences requires students to combine what they are reading with what they already know, to reach into their own personal knowledge and apply it to what they are reading. In the previous example, a student needs to know that having a bathing suit means someone is going swimming and that getting seasick means someone is going on a boat.

This previous knowledge helps readers make inferences and understand what they are reading. Although this is a natural process and students with dyslexia may be able to apply these concepts to an oral conversation, they have more difficulty doing so with printed material. Teachers must work with such students to help them understand the process of making inferences, to be aware of inferences made in oral conversations, and then to apply this understanding to written works.

Suggested Activities

The following are ideas and activities teachers can use to reinforce inferring information from text:

Show and infer. Rather than show and tell, have students bring in a few items that tell about themselves. The items should be in a paper bag or trash bag, something the other children can't see through. The teacher takes one bag at a time, bringing out the items, and the class uses them as clues to figure out who brought in the items. This teaches children to use what they know about their classmates to make educated guesses.

Fill in the blanks. Use a short excerpt or passage appropriate for the grade level and take out words, inserting blanks in their place. Students must use clues in the passage to determine an appropriate word to fill the blank space.

Use pictures from magazines. Have students bring in a picture from a magazine showing different facial expressions. Discuss each picture, talking about how the person might be feeling. Have students give supporting reasons for their opinion, such as, "I think he is angry because his face is tense."

Shared reading. Have students read in pairs; one student reads a short paragraph and must summarize the paragraph to her partner. The partner asks questions that have not been specifically answered in the summary to have the reader make inferences about the passage.

Graphic thought organizers. Use worksheets to help students organize their thoughts to help come up with inferences. Worksheets can be creative, such as a picture of a ladder going up a tree to a treehouse. Students write their inference in the treehouse, and the clues to back up the inference on each rung of the ladder. Worksheets can also be as simple as folding a paper in half and writing the inference on one side of the paper and the supporting statements on the other.

Sources

  • Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions. 6 Nov. 2003. Cuesta College.
  • On Target: Strategies to Help Readers Make Meaning through Inferences. South Dakota Department of Education.
  • The Reading Comprehension Abilities Of Dyslexic Students in Higher Education. Fiona Simmons-Chris Singleton - Dyslexia - 2000.