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Teaching Reading Skills: Summarizing and Making Inferences

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Hide all sharp objects. There's thinking going on in this here classroom!

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    Remember the first reading assignment in your first year of teaching? You were all excited about enriching young lives with the world's greatest literature and they responded with "this is stupid," or "this is boring," or "is there a movie we can watch?" or "can I go to the bathroom?" so you spent the next eight months planning your vacation to the Dominican Republic while your students read Dr. Seuss.

    It doesn't have to be that way.

    Teaching reading and thinking skills will prepare your students to read and appreciate more difficult literature (of course, it'll take all year and the teacher who has them after you will be the one who actually benefits).

    Let's begin with summarizing and making inferences.

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    Reading lesson plans should incorporate summarizing.

    Summarizing teaches students to reduce information and to rethink what they have read, written or learned. Summarizing prepares students to learn more, faster, to review information more effectively and to communicate more precisely. Summarizing can be utilized for reading, note-taking, or writing


    • While reading in class, ask general questions: "What is this passage about?" "What just happened?"
    • Use a fishbone diagram or some other graphic organizer that helps them organize their summary by answering Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
    • Remind students to include and limit their summary to main ideas.
    • Have students check for understandability by sharing their summary and determining whether or not it makes sense. Paragraph challenges work well.
    • Use summarizing as a key component in note-taking.
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    Making Inferences

    Making Inferences implies thinking.

    More specifically, making inferences requires students to use reasoning skills and their experiences to make educated guesses. Most great literature requires the reader to make inferences to construct meaning. Here are some suggestions for teaching this valuable skill.

    • Modeling: Show students how making inferences enriches the reading experience by thinking out loud.
    • Guide students to look for clues: Encourage young readers to look for events, dialogue, or descriptions that may signal what a writer is suggesting.
    • Access prior learning before reading.
    • Ask questions that will inspire thought.
    • I have found very few things that work 100 per cent of the time in the classroom. Here is an exception: use individual white boards and have students record answers, comments, or questions as they read.


  • Teaching experience.

Teaching Reading and Thinking Skills

Teachers are faced with the difficult task of preparing students for jobs that currently do not exist. Focusing on content will not prepare them for the world they will inhabit. It becomes, therefore, critical to focus skills to prepare them for life. Begin with reading and thinking skills.
  1. Helping Students Identify Main Ideas and Supporting Details.
  2. Teaching Reading Skills: Summarizing and Making Inferences
  3. Reading Comprehension Strategies: Understanding Sequence
  4. Teaching Tips: Independent Reading Strategies
  5. Reading Lesson Ideas on the Author's Purpose from Primary to Secondary

More Info

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