Generating Hypotheses and Predictions

Teach your students to generate hypotheses, or make educated guesses, before and after classroom instruction.
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Generating Hypotheses and Predictions

Generating hypotheses, or making predictions, is one of the most powerful instructional tools you have as a teacher. Some teachers refer to it as a process of making “educated guesses” because there are two elements involved. One, we need some background knowledge or prior experiences (the “educated”) to make a prediction. Second, we need to use that knowledge in an active way (the “guess”).

Making hypotheses is something we do quite naturally. For example, we make educated guesses about the weather when we walk outside each day. We watch weather people on the TV use the most sophisticated scientific equipment to help them in making their educated guesses about tomorrow's weather. And we observe the tracking of Caribbean hurricanes on various Internet sites as meteorologists try to predict where and when they will make landfall in the United States.


A hypothesis is an assumption, interpretation, or guess based on currently available information. It is always subject to refinement as new data becomes available.


Deductive is going from the general to the specific. Inductive is going from the specific to the general.

Deductive and Inductive Thinking

Generating hypotheses involves two types of thinking. The first, deductive thinking, is the process of using a general rule to make a prediction about a future event or occurrence. For example, while reading a story that takes place in Minnesota in December, you would predict that there would be snow on the ground and that the temperature would be cold.

Inductive thinking, on the other hand, is the process of drawing new conclusions based on information we already know and are taught. For example, if you were reading a story about a shark that attacked a surfer off the coast of southern California, you might induce that all southern California sharks attack people.

Explanations and Conclusions

Although the act of generating hypotheses is a powerful activity in any type of classroom instruction, it is equally important for students to defend or explain their predictions. Encourage students to “look inside their heads” and describe the thought processes that led them to a specific conclusion.

Interestingly, the process of defending their educated guesses is equally important for young students as it is for older ones. You can help in this process by modeling those types of thinking behaviors for your students. In essence, you serve as a model of good thinking—demonstrating for students the thought processes and mental activities you use.

Do this by selecting a book or chapter in a textbook and thinking out loud—verbalizing what is going on in your head as you read:

  • “From this title, I predict that this story will be about a missing ring and a haunted house.”

  • “Based on what I read in chapter three, I think that in the next chapter we'll find out how the two twins were able to sail to the other side of the lake.”

  • “By looking at this illustration, I predict that the next section of this chapter will describe Columbus's first meeting with the Indians.”

Because students cannot observe your thinking processes firsthand, your verbalization enables them to get a sense of good thinking as practiced by an accomplished reader—you.

Demonstrate this type of modeling for your students in several different types of reading materials (books, textbooks, handouts, brochures, flyers, etc.). As you read and model, allow students opportunities to interject their thoughts about what may be going on in their heads as they listen to the selection. Your goal, obviously, will be to have students internalize this process and be able to do it on their own.

Anticipation Guide: A Hypothesis-Generating Strategy

Anticipation guides alert students to some of the major concepts in textual material before it's read, which gives students an opportunity to share ideas and opinions as well as activate their prior knowledge about a topic before they read about that subject. It's also a helpful technique for eliciting students' misconceptions about a subject. Students become actively involved in the dynamics of reading a specified selection because they have an opportunity to talk about the topic before reading about it. Here's how to use it:

Expert Opinion

When using anticipation guides, it's not important that students reach a consensus nor that they agree with everything the author states. It's more important for them to engage in an active dialogue that allows them to react to the relationships between prior knowledge and current knowledge.

  1. Read the story or selection, and attempt to select the major concepts, ideas, or facts in the text. For example, in a selection on “Weather,” the following concepts could be identified:

    • Many different types of clouds exist.

    • Different examples of severe weather include tornadoes, hurricanes, and thunderstorms.

    • Precipitation occurs in the form of rain, snow, sleet, and hailstones.

    • Many types of weather occur along fronts.

  2. Create 5 to 10 statements (not questions) that reflect common misconceptions about the subject, are ambiguous, or are indicative of students' prior knowledge. Write statements on the chalkboard, or photocopy and distribute them.

  3. Give students plenty of opportunities to agree or disagree with each statement. Whole group or paired discussions would be appropriate. After discussions, let each student record a positive or negative response to each statement. Initiate discussions focusing on reasons for individual responses.

  4. Invite students to read the text, keeping in mind the statements and their individual or group reactions to those statements.

  5. After reading the selection, engage the group in a discussion on how the textual information may have changed their opinions. Provide students with an opportunity to record their reactions to each statement based upon what they have read in the text.

Anticipation guides are appropriate for use with any subject area (reading, English, language arts, science, social studies, math) and at all grade levels. They encourage and stimulate hypothesis formation and open new avenues of learning for students.

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