The ability to make conclusions based on textual evidence (called inference) is a valuable comprehension skill. Teaching inference through storyboarding is a fun, creative activity sure to hold your child’s interest and stretch her critical thinking skills.
A few weeks ago, I was working with a student as she brainstormed a paper for her lit class. She had one heck of a prompt:
Compare and contrast the presence of the supernatural in The Canterbury Tales, Richard III, and Macbeth, placing special emphasis on the role these supernatural elements play in the plot and how they might have been intended to affect a Christian audience.
I’m exhausted just reading that.
My poor student, though, was in full-on panic mode:
“How am I supposed to discuss the affect of this on a Christian audience? There’s no obvious reference to Christianity at all!!!”
It might not be immediately noticeable, I said, but it’s there. You’ve just got to do some detective work.
Becoming an Inference Detective
I don’t often criticize modern education. As a former educator, I know how hard it is to meet benchmarks while trying to reach a room of diverse learners. But there is one area where today’s classroom methods fail our kids: with so much attention on testing and quantitative results, the focus ends up not on teaching children how to think, but on teaching children what to think.
In this way, learning becomes a passive pursuit. Children aren’t trained to think critically, and they move into high school and beyond looking for the answers in the lines, not between them.
Fortunately, making inferences (or reading between the lines) is a skill children learn very early on, courtesy of the pictures in their favorite books.
Illustrations play a valuable role in the development of reading and writing skills.
They help young readers become inference detectives, making judgments about the content of the story beyond the words on the page. When the reader sees a discrepancy or notes consistency between text and illustration, he is able to infer something about the subject matter. This is why pictures gradually disappear from books: as time passes and reading ability grows, a reader no longer need illustrations to guide him. Theoretically, a reader should be able to make these inferences by interpreting clues in the text.
In our house, we are great fans of Ian Falconer’s Olivia series – a perfect example of this phenomenon. In Olivia Saves the Circus, Falconer’s art reveals more about the character’s text than his words portray. At the beginning of the book, for example, Olivia is a “big help to her mother”: she makes breakfast for her younger brothers, leaving the kitchen in absolute chaos. Taken together, the text and illustrations paint a clear picture of Olivia’s personality.
Teaching Inference Through Storyboarding
Creating illustrations for a text can assist children in developing their inference skills. I love to use storyboards for this reason; the comic-book styling appeals to a variety of age levels and adds a an element of fun.
To create a storyboard:
- Read through the text, listing the major elements of the plot (choose a chapter if you are working with a larger text). If you are working with a young reader, ask the child to tell you what seems important in the story.
- Divide a piece of paper into eight sections: turn the paper to landscape orientation (horizontal) and fold top to bottom. Then fold right to left, and right to left once more. Unfold and spread out.
- Decide what part of the plot will appear in each section. It is usually best to proceed chronologically, beginning with the first event in the top left and ending with the bottom right.
- Illustrate each part of the plot in its corresponding section. Avoid using words, as the goal is to show the elements of the story through pictures alone. Don’t worry if you are not an artist – stick figures are perfectly fine!
- Once the illustrations are complete, write for a few minutes (or, for younger readers, discuss for a few minutes) about why those particular moments stood out to you and what your illustrations reveal about the text beyond the words on the page.
- Ask your child what inferences she made in reading the text, and why she made those judgments.
Once a reader has done a storyboard or two, she’ll begin to see the internal connections made between the words on the page and the things left unsaid. Grab a favorite book and give it a try, then let me know how it turns out!
Looking for more comprehension strategies? Over the next two weeks, I’m linking up with some seriously talented literacy bloggers. Be sure to check out their ideas below:
Tuesday, 3/14, Allison at thehousethatlallibuilt.com – Visualizing
Wednesday, 3/15, Vicki at babiestobookworms.com – Activating Prior Knowledge
Monday, 3/20, Jennifer at happyteachermama.com
Tuesday, 3/21, Tina at litmamahomeschool.com
Wednesday, 3/22, Erin at mystorytimecorner.com