Making Inferences with Poetry

Most of us probably start off with the same few examples when we are describing to our students what it means to "make inferences"...or "to infer" something...

If Johnny walks inside with a heavy coat on...what can you infer?
Kids: "It's cold outside!"

If Jane has chocolate between her teeth...what can you infer?
Kids: "She just ate something chocolatey!"

Then we move on and ask our kids to infer on a deeper level...but what text should we use? Most stories or reading passages do not require kids to infer very much, if at all. Details are usually given away in the setting or the things the characters say/do. This is where poetry becomes my favorite way to teach inferences! 


I start with the poem called "January" by John Updike.
Click the photo below to download the PDF version of the poem.

To begin, I cover each stanza of the poem separately with a post-it note. I do this because this poem is on the difficult side, and I want the students to focus on one stanza at a time. When you receive a poem, it is super hard not to read the whole thing at once! "Chunking" is best when you are introducing something new or difficult to your students. We've all heard about putting the information into "digestible bites", right?! 
;) Too much professional development for me...

I also hand out this "Making Inferences with Poetry" sheet. We will use this throughout this entire lesson. I start by modeling with the first stanza, and the kids follow my lead. They become more independent and willing to share their ideas as the lesson continues. I model using the document camera or by creating an anchor chart with them while they write on their own paper.

Click the photo to download the PDF version of this worksheet.
In the first column, the students will write the exact line from the poem that they are going to think about; for example, "Fat snowy footsteps track the floor" (from the second stanza). In the second column, the students explain their prior knowledge on the topic...what do YOU know about snowy footsteps tracking the floor? Example answer: I know that if you walk through snow outside, you will bring it in on your shoes when you come inside. Last, the students fill out their inference column. What can they infer based on that line? Example answer: There is snow on the ground outside!

This is a WHOLE GROUP lesson, and is definitely difficult for students to try on their own. Some of the lines of the poem could be trick (especially for my South Floridian students who don't experience winter at all!) A fun extension to this activity would be to have had the title missing from the poem before the students receive the copy - have a contest to see if any group can get close to guessing the name of the poem! I had a group guess "December" this year...pretty close!


For the partnered activity I choose a "fun" poem. A poem that uses imagery to set a scene in the students' minds is a great one for inferencing. This year I used "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser and the students LOVED it! Super spooky and they loved the extension activity I had them do after we inferred!
You can find "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser by clicking here.

Students went line-by-line making inferences about what the author was trying to say in the poem. What does that mean? Who are they talking about? What can you infer about the setting or the character? They had to write their thoughts next to each line of the poem as they read. This was fun for them because the poem has a spooky side...which all kids love! When I was walking around during this portion of the lesson, the students were even arguing (in a friendly way!) a little bit about what they inferred from each line! I actually LOVED it because they were voicing their opinions and felt confident in their thoughts/ideas.

I extended the activity the next day by having the students write the last stanza to the poem. We called this the "missing stanza" because it seems Ted Kooser's poem does not have an ending. The students created their own ending stanza and then illustrated it! It was super fun! We were able to talk about mood and tone as well, because the students had to try to stay in the same mood/tone as the author in order for their stanza to "fit in" well with Ted's poem! 

At the end of this lesson, we learned that sometimes different people infer different things based on their prior knowledge. It is important to listen to other's ideas so that you can see their perspective and how it is different from yours. 

Thanks for reading :)
I hope you find this useful!