super-important inferring during read-alouds

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inferring during read alouds


Read-alouds are the perfect time to sneak in a little bit of learning, whether you’re talking simple reading comprehension strategies, concepts of print, or word recognition.

Tonight, we rocked our nighttime read-aloud with a few more thought-provoking and difficult strategies than normal. We practiced inferring and drawing conclusions in only ten minutes.

For the last week, Cora has requested the same thing for her nighttime book: Too Many Pumpkins by Linda Arms White and illustrated by Megan Lloyd. Too Many Pumpkins is the sweet story about lonely and cranky Rebecca Estelle who loathes pumpkins only to have her yard taken over by pumpkins one season. In an attempt to rid herself of these pesky gourds, she bakes tons of pumpkin goodies and draws her entire town to her house for a pumpkin party.

My parents bought this beautiful book for the kiddos a few years back, so really, it’s one of those books we’ve read dozens and dozens of times. And it’s one of those books that I enjoy so much I don’t really mind the re-reading (and re-reading, and re-reading).

So rather than zip through the book one more time, tonight I tried to get my little sleepyheads thinking while they listened. . .

  • Inferring During Read-Alouds: Inferring is simply using background knowledge along with text clues to come to a conclusion about a topic or idea. Inferring happens every single day, dozens of times, but for many, inferring as a reading comprehension strategy is more intimidating than it needs to be.
Cora’s book of choice, Too Many Pumpkins,
set the stage for pumpkin talk and inference-making.

Inferring is nothing to be afraid of; rather, it’s something to play with and get kiddos comfortable with early in the game so that they’re able to move to bigger and more challenging synthesizing, determining importance, and summarizing down the road.

So when Cora pulled out Too Many Pumpkins for the 80th time in two weeks, I stepped back a bit and tried to look at the book a little differently than I had before. I pushed Maddy, Owen, and Cora to do a little more ‘reading between the lines’ like Harvey & Goudvis say in their 2000 Strategies That Work.

Inferring is ‘reading between the lines’ according
to Harvey & Goudvis.

When we read on the first page that when Rebecca Estelle was a child, her family ate pumpkins for every meal because ‘money was scarce’, I asked, Rebecca Estelle’s family ate pumpkins all of the time when ‘money was scarce’, so what might that tell us about pumpkins?

A tough, open-ended question for Cora and maybe Owen, but Maddy picked up on it and said, I bet you can get a lot of pumpkins for only a little money. Or something. I said, You’re right. They may have bought pumpkins for only a little money or how else do people get food?

Owen said, They make the food or get it from somebody else. Or grow it like our tomatoes in our garden.

So we ran with that and talked briefly–briefly!–about what we remembered about the veggies in our garden, and then we read on.

We stopped now and again for me to ask questions or to have Maddy, Owen, or Cora talk us through a page here or there, but the end was another great spot for making inferences.

Rebecca Estelle gave away all of her pumpkin seeds and goodies in the end, until ‘all that remained was a handful of seeds’ which ‘she tucked snugly into her pocket where they would be safe until planting time next spring’.

I asked, Why would Rebecca Estelle have kept a handful of seeds for herself if she dislikes pumpkins so much? and we talked about what she might do with the pumpkin seeds next planting season. I asked them to tell me how they knew she’d plant them (after they told me she would) and they came up with some pretty solid answers, even pointing to Rebecca Estelle’s smiling face at her pumpkin party.

It was a pretty cool–quick!–before bed chat, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora had no idea they were making inferences using a book they’ve read a million times.

Harvey and Goudvis (2000, Strategies That Work) say it best when they state,Inferring is the bedrock of comprehension, not only in reading. We infer in many realms. Our life clicks along more smoothly if we can read the world as well as text. . . Inferring is about reading faces, reading body language, reading expressions, and reading tone as well as reading text.

It makes total sense. We use what we know to make conclusions about the world around us. Why not practice using a simple read-aloud?

Here are some prompts to consider using when helping kiddos make inferences during (or after) read-alouds:

  • How do you think the character feels about. . . ?
  • Why did the author make the title of the book _____?
  • What does the author want you to know?
  • This character’s actions show me that. . .
  • This character’s face tells me that. . .
  • What clues did the author give you to make you come to that conclusion?

Thanks to Valerie Ellery’s Creating Strategic Readers (2009) and Harvey & Goudvis’s Strategies That Work (2000) for information in this post.

Check out some more fab Valerie Ellery resources for Primary Grades and Intermediate Grades if you’d like more strategy-work freebie ideas.




  1. LLebresco says

    These are great suggestions. I've been practicing this a bit with my son who seems to be obsessed right now with "Officer Buckle and Gloria." It is truly amazing to see how much a book can light kids up when you read it with expression or take time to look at pictures, ask questions, etc. It usually takes me 3 times as long to get through bedtime reading than it does my husband- drives him crazy! :) I love bedtime reading!!

  2. Michelle says

    Yes! Yes! Yes! You have a lot of readers. I hope a ton of parents take your advice.
    Creating Strategic Readers is at the top of my professional reading list now. It looks like a great book based on research.

  3. Sarah Cooley says

    Thanks for this. Inferring is kind of a difficult thing for me to teach. It is kind of a hard concept to explain to little kids. But reading this helped! I will be using some of the prompts you listed to help get my students thinking! Thank you!

  4. Read Aloud Dad says

    Thanks for great information. I do intend to include it in my read aloud sessions with my twins.

    Very valuable indeed.

    Read Aloud Dad


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