This lesson is designed to help primary students establish the skill of making inferences as a reading comprehension strategy. The lesson uses the book, Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. In this lesson, students draw on their prior knowledge and use the information from the text to make inferences. This is the second in a set of lessons designed to teach students how to make inferences.
For students to successfully complete this lesson, they should be in the habit of connecting what they already know to the text. They should be able to make guesses and predictions related to a story and visualize what is happening in the story. The introductory lesson using the book Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, by Judi Barrett, should be completed before using this lesson.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto for student partners
Have students practice making inferences by listening to a few facts and then using their own knowledge to supply the missing information. Tell them that today they will use facts and information along with what they already know to make inferences.
You can begin by writing some simple sentences on the board that require the reader to make inferences. Here are some examples:
Ralph said he had gone to Florida to see Mickey Mouse.
Ralph misses his brother, Tom. He said he had gone to Florida to see Mickey Mouse.
Say, "In the first example, who had gone to Florida? How do we know that it's Ralph and not some other person? (We can't be sure, but it's reasonable to make the inference that it's Ralph who had gone to Florida.) In the second example, who had gone to Florida? Who said this person had gone to Florida? And, by the way, what is Mickey Mouse doing in Florida? Where is Tom? Why doesn't the writer tell us that?"
The point you want to make is that, as readers, we have to do some of the work in understanding what others have written. Sometimes the text raises questions. Because we can't ask the author questions directly, we have to work out the answers ourselves.
Tamale-A kind of Mexican sandwich made of ground meat rolled in dough, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed
Knead-work a soft solid (like dough or clay) with the hands (demonstrate for students)
Corn husk-the outer wrapping of an ear of corn when its torn off
delicious-tastes very good!
Explain to students that they will make inferences using clues in the text and what they already know to make logical guesses, or inferences, about information in the story.
Look at the cover of the book Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto and tell students that you will show them how to make logical guesses, or inferences, based on what they already know, and what the author tells them.
Ask the question, "What is the setting of the story?"
Tell students that you know that tamales are a mixture of dough and meat wrapped in cornhusks, then cooked. Tamales are native to Hispanic cultures and are often made for special occasions. So, from what you already know, you can guess the setting is a special occasion for a group of Hispanic people. Now read the first page of the book aloud. Think aloud as you gather facts from the text. For example, say,
In the text, the author writes about snow and Christmas trees. I know the setting is a special occasion because they are making tamales, so I think they are having a Christmas party."
Next, read the text until the page where Maria is wiping her hands, and ask the question, "What will Maria do next?" Think aloud as you think about what you already know as you gather facts from the text. For example, say,
"The author says Maria loved how the ring sparkled. I know that if I love how something sparkles, I want to pick it up and look at it closely, so Maria probably wants to pick up the ring to look at it more closely.
"The author says Maria wiped her hands and then looked back at the door. I know that if my hands are dirty, I want to wipe them off before picking something up, and if I'm doing something I shouldn't do, I check the door to make sure no one will see me. I think she was going to try the ring on."
Next, read until Maria says, "The ring!" and ask the question, "What is Maria thinking or feeling?" Think aloud as you think about what you already know as you gather facts from the text. For example, say...
"The picture on the page shows that Maria is shocked. The author says that she screamed. I think she remembered something, and that made her afraid."
Ask students, "Where do you think the ring is?" Have them use information from the text; for example, Maria was in the kitchen kneading the masa when she tried on the ring. She did not take the ring off and continued making the masa. When she remembered the ring, she ran to the kitchen.
Then have students use information from what they already know. For example, if they lose something, they should look in the last place they know they saw it. If they are doing something they shouldn't do, they usually try to hide it, and maybe Maria hid the ring in the masa. The author never said that Maria forgot about the ring, but we can use the information to make a guess and infer that Maria forgot about the ring on her finger, and it fell off into the masa.
If students are having trouble responding to the question, try to give them a choice of answers, written on the board and read before hearing the text. Have them practice finding important information from the text to answer the questions.
As students become more competent making inferences, pair them, and have them answer this question after you read the rest of the book.
"Why does each child take just one bite of the final tamale?"
Information from the text: There were 24 tamales at the beginning. Then the cornhusks were all over the floor. The children's stomachs were stretched.
Possible information from prior knowledge: The children ate a lot of tamales. If their stomachs were stretched, they probably didn't want to eat any more, or couldn't eat a whole tamale because they were too full.
Encourage partners to share the clues they found in the story to help them make the inference, and then the information they knew already.
As independent practice, ask students to draw a picture or write the answer to this question.
"Do you think that the cousins enjoyed helping Maria find the ring?"
Students should make an inference based on the text and their prior knowledge. As students draw, move around the room asking students to explain their drawings and inferences. Student responses should include the information from the pictures in the text that show the cousins looking unhappily full after eating all of the tamales or background knowledge of how they felt at a time when they had eaten too much.
Have students make an inference about what cheers Maria up at the end of the story, and have them draw and/or write their answer, citing clues from the story that help support their inference.
Reflection and Planning
Students who can justify their answer by using events in a story and their prior knowledge have mastered this strategy at this level. Having them find and explain the information that helped them make their inferences encourages them to be aware of and articulate their thought process.
Students who are struggling with this strategy may need more support activating prior knowledge before mastering this strategy. Other lessons on making inferences to try: Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing and Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears.