Updated: May 1
Note: This blog is based on a lesson that I regularly do with my students. All of the answers have been responses that were given to the questions below and the suggestions given by me on ways to write a more effective and accurate answer on an inference question .
Inference and deduction is a technique that English students are expected to demonstrate and understand when completing comprehension tasks.
By the time a learner gets to the stage where they are practising for 11+ English tests; or even if they are attempting a GCSE Comprehension answer, there is nearly always a few questions on a test paper dedicated to it.
So; what is it, how does it work and why can it be so tricky to master? To be able to know how to do it, we need to work out what it all means.
Inference means: To read the information in a text/or story and give an implicit (or implied) opinion based on YOUR knowledge of what you have read about a character or a situation and then give an answer and opinion.
You will also have to write an answer that is a logical (or explicit) response based on the evidence you have read and deduce what has happened in the text or story.
Therefore: When writing an answer or response to an Inference question; a candidate has to demonstrate their ability 'read between the lines' and use at least one or more pieces of information from the text to write or explain the implicit or hidden meaning in the question.
The word implicit means something that is hidden or what is unwritten; or not said.
To be able to write an effective answer, the student will need to write a P.E.E response to the question. So, what does a P.E.E response mean?
P.E.E stands for Point (Make a point), E (Evidence: Use a quote from the text to back up your explicit answer) and Explain (Writing a considered response to show you have understood the question in your own words).
By using the phrases such as: "I know this because in the text it says..." or "This demonstrates... or This suggests... can nail a good response to a comprehension answer.
Below are some demonstration questions based on an Inference worksheet I do in my 11+ English lessons.
Read the text below and read the questions that follow:
Lisa looked out of the window and sighed heavily when she saw white everywhere. She had to go to work regardless of what she saw; so reluctantly she put on her hat, a big furry coat and thick woollen gloves.
When she got to work, she noticed her nose was an interesting shade of blue and her teeth were chattering. I hate this weather; she thought and shivered, trying to warm up with others in front of a small heater in the corner of the room. Mr White, her boss suddenly walked in.
“What’s going on? Get back to work now! We can’t have people being lazy; this order is due out today”.
A discussion question with my student: Can you write some brief Inference notes to the questions below?
What sort of weather is Lisa going to work in? What inference in the text has given you a deduction or hidden meaning of this?
Student C's Answer to this question: Lisa is going to work and it is cold.
Tutor's response and suggestion: This is a reasonable assumption to make from Student C; but it's not accurate enough. Yes; the evidence in the text does imply that by the time she got to work, she was feeling the effects of the cold weather because the text mentions her nose went blue and "her teeth chattered", but this answer isn't exactly in reference to what sort of the weather Lisa is going to work in.
A better answer would be to mention what type of weather when it occurs, makes it seem as if things have 'turned white' when we experience it. Snow is the type of weather that typically appears to coat things in white. Therefore, the inference (hidden meaning) is suggesting that Lisa is going to work after it has been snowing, as the evidence is suggesting that the white she can see everywhere is indeed snow.
How to write this as an effective inference response: The sort of weather that Lisa is going to work in is snow. (Point). I know this because in the text it says; "She saw white everywhere." (Evidence/Quote). This suggests that she is going to work after it has been snowing, as the snow seems to have given the effect of white everywhere. (Explanation ).
Here is another piece of text and a few more questions to tackle. Read the text below.
When Abdul opened the door, the house seemed strangely quiet. Something didn’t seem right. Normally he would have heard them on their PlayStation or watching TV after they’d done their homework.
As he walked through the hallway, he noticed floating carelessly above his head, a solitary balloon floating magically, gliding slowly across the top of the ceiling; brilliant and shiny with the number thirty-three written on the front of it in glitter.
A huge smile crept over his face. Finally, he walked over to the kitchen door at the end of the hall and was suddenly flooded with shouts of “Surprise!” and lots of enthusiastic singing.
What special day do you think Abdul experiencing and how old is he? How do you know?
Based on the text, why is it so quiet in the house?
What are they likely to be singing when he opens the kitchen door? How do you know?
Student Z.L's Answer to Question 1: I think that it's Abdul birthday. I know this because in the text the balloon is floating near the ceiling and it has the "number thirty-three" on it.
Tutor's response and suggestion: This is a partially correct answer, but it's not answered the question fully. Yes, it is Abdul's birthday, however Student Z.L, has not quite linked together the floating balloon and the number thirty-three as evidence of it being his birthday and the thirty-three also indicating how old he is.
Student Z.L has made the point; (It's Abdul's birthday) and put the evidence/quote; ("number thirty-three"), but it doesn't quite tell us what we need to get full marks for the question.
How to write this as an effective inference response: I think it is Abdul's birthday (Point). I know this because in the text it mentions that there was a "floating balloon...with the number thirty-three" on it. (Evidence/Quote). This suggests that the balloon is showing how old he has become with the number thirty-three on it. (Explain). Note: If you want to show you've missed out some words in this quote, an ellipses (three dots) needs to be used.
Tutor's response and suggestion: Student Z.R's answer to the questions about Abdul's birthday is correct. They've answered fully using a P.E.E response and also they have demonstrated a good inference answer. See below for the original text she produced in the lesson.
Student N.A's answers:
Answer 1: (Point): I think Abdul is experiencing his birthday. Evidence: I know this because the balloon gives evidence of this saying; "The number thirty-three on it". (Explain): This demonstrates he is thirty-three".
Answer 2: (Point): Based on the text, it is quiet in the house because Abdul's kids are likely to be in the kitchen. I know this because it says; "normally he would have heard them on their PlayStation". (Evidence). This demonstrates that they are probably in the kitchen waiting to surprise him. (Explain).
Answer 3: (Point): They are likely to be singing 'Happy Birthday' to him when he opens the kitchen door. I know this because it says; he "Was flooded with shouts of 'surprise!' and enthusiastic singing". (Evidence). This suggests that they are likely to be about to celebrate his 33rd birthday. (Explain).
This is a copy of student's N.A's work that was done in the lesson
When we look at students that are in KS3, KS4 and GCSE English; it is important when attempting an inference question (especially if it is a poem you are analysing), to mention any figurative language when trying to decode the meaning of the text. (You can do this on a 11+ English question as well); but it would definitely be needed when working towards GCSE standards.
The example from Student S.H (on the right) was not quite successful in achieving an inference response on Question 2, as they needed to use put a bit more detail into their answer; even though their quote is an appropriate answer to the question.
Below is a better and more detailed answer to Question 2.
There are two moods conveyed the poem; the first mood describes how the house was before it was destroyed by the bombing and the second mood in the subsequent stanzas, reflects how the house and people within it suffered devastation after it was bombed. (Point). An example of this is when the poem mentions the quote; 'Once lit warm with fire' which effectively shows this; however the juxtaposition within the poem displays the opposite has occurred with the lines; 'Wracked with tears'. (Evidence). This contrast of the negative overtones describes the wreckage that has happened to the house and equally appears to metaphorically infer that the people have suffered when living in the house as a result of the bombing. (Explanation).
Note how much more detail is needed when writing a response as a KS3/KS4 student. The question also takes into consideration any figurative language that has been used in the poem for effect.
Overall, this technique will require your student to 'read between the lines' and work out a justifiable conclusion by becoming a 'word-detective' in order to figure out what is implied by what you read through the clues presented to you within the text.
So, why not get your learner to give it a go and see what happens?
For further information about inference, these websites are useful to take a look at:
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©SjS April 2023