For a reading and writing lesson to introduce inference to low-intermediate/intermediate EFL university students, I created these easily adaptable activities.

Once students have gotten the hang of making inferences, you can have students create their own and exchange with other students or groups of students to check on the strengths and weaknesses of their creations. When students analyze the activities their classmates have made, they should justify why the activities are successful or unsuccessful and what the creators can do to improve activities.

Lesson plan: Introduction

This week, we are beginning to study inferences. Inferences are conclusions we can make without having all the information in something we're reading, watching or listening to.

For example, when you see two people yelling at each other, you can infer that they are angry with each other. To make a correct inference, you do not have to ask them, "Are you angry with each other?" When you see people smiling and hugging each other, you can infer that they like or love each other. To make a correct inference, you do not have to ask them, "Do you like each other? Do you love each other?"

I had students complete these activities for homework and then compare and discuss their responses with their partner or groups. I found that, by and large, students had no trouble with A, C and D, but B was tricky for them. They applied the logic of the example (crying baby) and to the kittens, so they identified pears and cherries instead of fruit. Students’ confusion led to a quick and insightful discussion.

In an amusing "sign of the times" observation, I found that while students understood that D were all writing instruments, they did not know the word "typewriter." They were astounded when I told them I had learned to type on a typewriter.

Part 1

Here are activities to help you understand how to make inferences.

Fill in the blanks. Example:

From these images, I can infer that the last picture is of a crying baby.

Now try these.

A. What is the last image a picture of?

B. Fill in the blanks. Then answer: What is the category?

C. Fill in the blanks. Then answer: What is the category?

D. Fill in the blanks. Then answer: What is the category?

Part 2

For the next part of the homework, I have students watch a video, "Yellowbook Commercial Dog Eats Bird." These are the instructions I give:

You will watch a video, take notes and make an inference. You may watch the video as often as you want or need to. As you watch, respond to these questions:

  • What are the facts?
  • Where does the situation take place? Why do I believe that?
  • At the conclusion of the video, what inference can I make?
  • Why can I make that inference?

In class, students worked in groups to discuss their responses. All students believed that it is a fact that the dog eats the bird, possibly because they were swayed by the title. I have them watch the video again, even multiple times, on their phones to find proof of the dog eating the bird. As they watch many more times, they realize that they never see the dog eat the bird.

Instead, there is a wealth of clues that allow viewers to infer that the dog has eaten the bird. We take time to deconstruct the many clues: the dog chewing, feathers in and around the dog's mouth, the dog owner reprimanding the dog, the dog owner apologizing to the bird's owner, the horrified looks on the others in the room, and the reason for the commercial (the need for a lawyer).

We also talk about who may need a lawyer (both the dog owner and bird owner). We spend a good deal of time examining the difference between fact and inference, including why students believe the situation occurs at a veterinary office or hospital.

We also analyze what we can eliminate as invalid inferences How do we know the hamster didn't eat the bird? Do hamsters eat birds? "No." How do we know that the snake didn't eat the bird? Do snakes eat birds? "Yes." So how do we know that the snake did not eat the bird?

In Korea, where I am teaching now, it is customary for students to be reticent and inhibited in class, an entrenched behavior ingrained from an education system that places all its emphasis on high-stakes testing. Easy discussion, interaction and critical thinking — more essential now than ever — are as rare as the world's rarest diamonds.

However, the cute pictures and funny video made a dent in students' taciturn exterior: Students were engaged, laughing and talking and having fun while learning.