Impromtu Inference Lesson

You know how sometimes the best, most meaningful lessons just kind of happen in one of those "teachable moments"? I totally had one of those moments this week.

Going back after winter break, I knew we were going to tackle inferencing, but my plans were, um... let's say sketchy. I knew what books I wanted to use and I had tons of games and task cards prepared from last year, so I wasn't too worried. But at lunch a few of my friends were talking about a book that was great for inferencing. I knew I had the book, so I dug it out and they were SO right!

The book is Two Bad Ants.  As soon as I told the kids it was by Chris Van Allsberg, the author of The Polar Express, they were hooked and couldn't wait to hear it.
The book is from the perspective of the ants, so everything is huge and the ants can't always see the whole object. It's a great chance for the kids to make inferences based on what they know about ants and items they would find in a kitchen. I was shocked how much trouble my kids had with this!

Here's a great example. They see this picture and this text.

"Then the lake tilted and began to empty into a cave. The ants could hear the rushing water and felt themselves pulled toward the pitch black hole. Suddenly the cave disappeared and the lake became calm. The ants swam to the shore and found that the lake had steep sides."

They were able to infer what was happening here pretty easily, but some other ones really gave them trouble!  Inferring that this was a spoon stirring coffee wasn't too hard, but still some were saying hot chocolate and soup. So we had to refer back to our schema and ask why would we add sugar to either of those? And what kind of soup would be dark brown? We eventually settled on coffee.

This one really threw them for a loop! They totally didn't get that the ants were hiding in holes in an English muffin that then was put into a toaster.

But the one I was really surprised about was right at the beginning. The ants discover sugar and bring it back to the queen. Of course, they never call it sugar, but they do refer to it being sweet.

They were saying sand, rocks, diamonds... nothing about sugar, or even salt! We got a little closer when I reminded them that the ants found these sweet crystals in the kitchen, but even then, it wasn't really hitting home.

Eventually other clues led to it being sugar. But I realized the problem was that they didn't really know that sugar and salt are made of tiny crystals. We're about to start learning about matter, so perfect tie-in!

I grabbed our hand lenses, passed out some hastily cut black paper, and dug in my drawer for salt and sugar. First we explored the sugar alone and then we added some salt.

They were totally into it. And of course they wanted to eat it.

We made some quick observation notes on the board 
{no time for cutesy anchor charts...honestly that's how we roll most of the time}

Then we referred back to what we know about making an inference and we realized we had a hard time making inferences about the sugar because we didn't have a good schema about sugar - like understanding that it's really made of tiny crystals! I think this really  brought home the idea that you need to have some sort of schema on the subject to make a good inference. 

Now I just have to get them to stop using schema as a verb. As in, "I schema about dogs." It's almost as bad as when they say, "I'll verse you next" when playing a game. I swear that's like nails on a chalkboard to me! But, that's another story...


  1. Teachable moments are the ones that are so powerful! I love how you tied the inferences back into needing schema to make good inferencing choices. Two Bad Ants is a great book!
    Conversations in Literacy

  2. This is brilliant!!!
    (I have to say I did think it might be about a lost corn dog.)

  3. I have that book and love to read it, but you definitely put a different spin on it! I will have to do this with my kids. I love how you tied it in with science. I had always hated to find ants on my counters in my house. But once I read this book, I began to think of ants in a whole different way! I still don't like to find them, but I can at least sympathize with them that they are just trying to please the queen!

  4. This book looks so fun! We teach a Science unit on rocks and minerals and I could tie this in nicely! Thanks for sharing the idea!

    Kate :)
    McDee's Busy Bees

  5. I love using this book for inference!! I really loved that you tied in the science with observing the crystals!
    A Tall Drink of Water

  6. What an amazing post Denise!!! Loved it all!!!! I did inferencing this past week and boy oh boy... You rocked it much better than me!! I am definitely going to add in a little bit more on this topic and I'm going to use this text. Thanks for the awesome idea!!!

    Simply Skilled in Second

  7. Loved reading your post! I have that book but have not used it yet this year. The books I used for inference were Probuditi! and The Widow's Broom by Chris VanAllsburg. The kids loved it. I think all of his books are wonderful for inference because they leave so much to the imagination. Thanks again for the idea!

  8. I love this idea! I also love those on the spot moments. They'll remember exploring salt and sugar forever!

    I also did love Kristin's corn dog reference :)



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