I teach fourth grade. One of the most important reading skills we learn is inferencing. Like I tell my students, in second and third grade you learn to understand the text that’s written. In fourth grade we learn to read the text that isn’t written.
And it’s really, really hard for some of them.
I’m always on the lookout for tricks to help my students learn how to make inferences and draw conclusions.
A couple weeks ago we had two days in a row of early dismissals to make time for Spring Parent Conferences. Because of the schedule, my kids had to eat in the classroom within a fifteen-minute time-frame. That meant no time to visit and enjoy the meal. It was a matter of efficiently getting food from trays and bags into mouths. I’ve found the best way to achieve this goal is distraction. So I did what I usually do: show Pink Panther cartoons from YouTube. Why Pink Panther? It’s my favorite.
So we were watching the Pink Panther doing his thing, when it hit me: with no dialog and no narration, watching a Pink Panther cartoon is predicated on making inferences. There’s essentially no other way to know what’s going on. Granted, the plots aren’t overly complex, but still, the process of comprehending these cartoons is basically the same as making inferences from a text. You need to rely on clues and synthesize them with person experience and knowledge.
So I picked out a good one. Pink Panther; Smile Pretty Say Pink. The one where he compromises The Little Man’s efforts at nature photography. I explained the purpose of the lesson to my students and reviewed the fundamentals of making inferences.
As we watched the cartoon, we listed some of the inferences we made. I modeled the first one, we collaborate on the next two, and the students were on their own for the rest. Here’s a typical response.
Of course, I wrapped up the lesson with the all-important debrief. “How is making these inferences and drawing these conclusions similar to making inferences and drawing conclusions in texts?” And they got it! “We used clues and our own experiences to figure out what was happening.”
After that, I worked with my four reading groups, focusing on making inferences. It was awesome! The kids had clearly constructed a clearer understanding of and incredibly important comprehension strategy.
So sit back, enjoy some classic cartoons and Think Pink!