Inference proves difficult for most middle-school readers. Requiring higher level thinking skills, inferring forces students to search the text for clues, rather than black and white data. After students find clues, they have to sort the information and draw conclusions. Since it's so hard for students to understand, teaching inference requires creative, engaging activities.
Fill a trash bag with carefully chosen "trash." Each piece of trash should provide a clue. For instance, open a clean bandage, crumble it up so it looks used, and throw it in the trash. Maybe include an empty medicine bottle, grocery store receipts or empty dog-food bags.
Divide your students into groups and give each student a pair of gloves. Let them know they will dig through your trash. As they dig through your trash, have them record the clues and make inferences for each. For example, students might infer that a used bandage means you cut yourself. Your students might conclude that a medicine bottle means someone in your family has been sick, or you need to go to the store to replace it.
Your students will have so much fun as they dig through your trash, they won't even realize they're learning how to infer. However, some students may grow squeamish at the thought of digging through your trash. If this occurs, simply explain to them that you hand-picked the trash, ensuring cleanliness.
Design blank checks and fill them out as a fictitious character. Carefully consider what your character would spend his money on. For example, make a check out to a veterinarian for $100. Make other checks out to a doctor, a pharmacist and a health food store. After filling out all checks, run copies of each.
Introduce your fictitious character to your class and give each student copies of their checks. Instruct each student to carefully examine each check to figure out something about the character's life. For instance, students might infer that the character has a sick animal based on the vet check. Students might conclude that the checks to the doctor and the pharmacist mean the character experienced illness and had to take medicine to get well. Students might assume the character cares about their health because they shop at a health food store.
When students have made their inferences, ask for some to share. Discuss reasons for inferences, and point out some they may have failed to make.
Search for comic strips you think your students might enjoy. White out the words from each strip. Divide your class into groups and give each group a comic strip. Provide each group with small sticky notes. Instruct your students to carefully study each comic strip and decide what each word bubble should say. Students will write their inferences on sticky notes and place them in the appropriate spot on the strip.
Afterward, have each group share theirs with the class, first showing the class a blank strip, and then adding their words. Once all groups have shared, provide the class with the original text for each strip and compare them to the new text.