Get rid of those reading demons!

28th October 2017

Just in time for Hallowe’en, the second part of this 8-part series about teaching reading targets the reading demons in your class. Whilst every class is different, we all have aspects of reading that seem, at times, impossible to teach. Countless papers have been written on the very subject, so why is it that we still have children who struggle to apply some of the basics?

This week, our focus is on inference and deduction. Imagine them as the witch and ghoul of reading: bold, brash, in-your-face and present any time you do your reading instruction. But as with any reading skill, remember that to become competent in using them, you will need to model how to infer and deduce across a range of subjects and text types.

Let’s stick with the Hallowe’en theme just for a moment. To deduce successfully, a child must be able to make conclusions and know the links between cause and effect. The easiest way to introduce deductive skills is by the use of pictures, which ultimately means that we can teach these skills even when our children are not yet independent readers.

Imagine giving your class a variety of Hallowe’en pictures. Each child must keep their picture hidden, and can only give clues about what they can see. For example, they might say that the character has a cape, that they have pointed teeth and that they have a ghostly pallor. By using the clues given, their partner may be able to guess that the hidden character is a vampire.  

This is a task that you can build into your morning work. I know that at the schools I worked in, we had to have tasks up on the board for the children to do when they came in. Why not use a range of pictures, and ask the children to work out what is going on in the pictures? Make them into text detectives. Why does this sound familiar? Because it is exactly what we did when we played the old childhood favourite, Guess Who. Got a box lying around at home? Bring it in to develop those picture-deduction skills.

The fantastic thing about deduction is that it is a skill that is easily transferable to other areas of the curriculum. Every time that you ask a child to make a hypothesis before a science experiment, you are asking them to make conclusions given a set of information.

To teach cause and effect, first introduce/ recap this type of connective (e.g. therefore, because, due to), and then ask the children to think about an incident that had a linked consequence. These can be as simple as you want: if somebody has forgotten their P.E. kit, what will the consequence be? Teaching cause and effect is a great way of differentiating because you can use your questioning to challenge the more able students in your class: how would Charles Dickens’ work be different if they books were written 100 years after they actually were? It allows the children the opportunity to think about the relevance of the historical context.

Understanding the historical context will also help to develop a child’s inference skills as what is going on around us affects our choices day-to-day. But what about practical strategies that can be used daily?

Get emoticons to do the talking. With the rise of technology, there probably isn’t a child at school who hasn’t seen one. So how can we use this to our advantage? When reading a text with a child, whether that is the whole class text, the guided reading text or a book they have chosen for themselves, ask them to assign an emoticon to the main character that would describe how they are feeling. To do this, children must be able to understand how the situation surrounding the character is having an impact on them.

And it doesn’t stop there. Any time that you introduce a character to your class before reading, they are already making judgements based on what you have said. Get them to note them down so that they are able to explore whether they were correct or not once they have read the text.

Understanding the character’s thoughts and feelings is a question that students are asked about throughout their English instruction. Use the conscience alley task to encourage the children to understand how a character is feeling, and then use the text afterwards to find the evidence.