What Your New Year's Resolutions Say About You

Happy New Year! We at Story Stage hope that you all had a restful, happy holiday. While we are thinking of lesson plans and new improv scenes, many of you may be thinking of your New Year’s Resolutions. Do you guys make them? I have to say, I’m not a big resolution-making kind of gal.

But resolutions do get me thinking about inferencing! (I’m sure that’s what you think when you hear the word resolutions too, right?:)

Inferencing is a big part of what we teach at Story Stage, so I am always thinking about new games and activities to help our kids learn this important skill. When you make an inference, you combine what you observe (usually fact-based information), with what you know from past experiences. These two things together lead you to a logical conclusion or assumption about what’s happening now. Prediction is also closely related to inferencing, but when we predict, we draw conclusions about what might happen in the future. Inference is about the here and now, the current state of affairs.

Try thinking through these New Year’s Resolutions to see what I mean:

Resolution: I would like to spend more time reading my Bible.

Facts: I must have a Bible. I already read it a little because I said “more time.”

Prior Knowledge: People who read the Bible are usually Christian.

Inference: You can assume that I am a Christian who likely attends church and didn’t spend a lot of time reading my Bible last year.

Resolution: I would like to actually make myself take my lunch break.

Facts: I must not usually stop what I am doing to eat lunch.

Prior Knowledge: When people are busy or stressed they often don’t take time to eat.

Inference: You can assume that I have a job. That job must be fairly demanding and probably pretty fast-paced. Last year, I skipped lunch all the time.

Resolution: I would like to delegate more chores.

Facts: Delegate implies that there are other people involved. Chores are usually referring to work that people do around the house.

Prior Knowledge: I did chores as a child in my household. My mother was the one who told me what my chores were.

Inference: You can assume that I am a parent, and that I have one or more children. Last year, I did most of the housework myself, and I’m tired of it. (Ha! This may be a resolution I could make!)

You could easily play a New Year’s Resolution game with your students by guiding them through the process above, and then creating a matching game for them to match resolutions to inferences. We can’t wait to use some resolution-inspired improv games with our Story Stage students this semester, because understanding this skill is so very important across the curriculum, not just in reading. In math, for example, students are expected to evaluate inferences based on data in word problems; and in science students hone their observation skills, but then need to make inferences to form hypotheses and offer explanations of their data.

So in this post, I want to share with you some ways to teach inferencing using games. (Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you won’t miss the next two weeks when we’ll look at ways to use wordless picture books and Pixar short films.)

On a recent visit to see my son, Sam, at college I had a couple of days to wander around the city while he was in class. Poor me, I have to go visit Sam in New York City every once in awhile. Thank you, Sam and NYU.

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I wandered over to the Whitney Museum, which may not be at the top of your list when you visit NYC, but it totally should be! Right on the Hudson River tucked between Chelsea and Greenwich Village, the Whitney is full of wonderful contemporary American art and offers great views from its outdoor terraces. You really have to go...and if you do, you have to stop at some of the toy stores I found along the way! (Oh yes, there are lots of high-fashion stops you could make as well...shoes, clothes, purses, make-up. Totally. There’s all that.) But that’s kind of not my jam. I like toy stores. You might be thinking, “Aren’t your kids a little old for toys?” Yes, yes they are; but I’m not. I love toys, particularly those that inspire creative, meaningful play. My favorite on this trip was Teich Toys in the West Village.

It was there that I found this great little card game for inferencing, GUESS WHO? SPOT THE BAD GUY. You can find it on Amazon, but I’ve not seen it before in another store. Let me know if you do!

I’ve played this game with kids as young as 7 up to age 15, and they all ask to play again. There are 25 character cards, each depicting a detailed drawing of a potential “crook.” To play, all cards are placed on the table to be examined as the host reads a crime from the case files. An example case file reads, “Who nibbled on the chocolate cake?” Players must examine the character cards for clues, and can ask the host for more facts if needed. The first clue in this case is, “Some strands of animal fur were found near the cake.” Ah-ha! Well, we must infer that the crook may have a pet! This narrows the search! It’s great fun, and easy to point out the factual details in each character drawing that might contribute to drawing an inference.

Check out these other online resources for helping your kids with inferencing:

  1. If you are a classroom teacher, check out this lesson plan for inferencing from The Teachers’ Cafe. There’s a fun matching game that would be great to use with 3rd - 5th graders.

  2. I absolutely love this Detective’s Notebook Game from PBS. It includes inferencing and predicting, so make sure your student or child understands the difference before you play.

  3. Love, love, love this Jeopardy Game! You can play with one player or several; in teams or as individuals. Great for classrooms or one-on-one with your child at home.

  4. Riddles are great for inferencing, and I love the way this web-based game allows you to scaffold the clues that your child needs. The graphics aren’t fancy, but the concept is strong.

  5. Okay...this might be my favorite thing ever. You MUST check this out for your students who are 13 and older. Every week, the New York Times posts pictures for students to draw inferences from, and they ask the good questions: 1)What’s going on in this picture? 2)What do you see that makes you say that? 3)And what more can you find? To see this week’s photo, click here! There’s also this great article on how teachers and others have used these prompts.

One last note...be sure to guide your child to understand what an inference is and what it isn’t. First and foremost, an inference is NOT a guess. When we make a guess, we are not paying attention to any facts, observations, or past experiences. A guess is a shot in the dark. An inference is also NOT a prediction, although they are closely related. Predictions and inferences are BOTH based on observations + past experience. They both use logic and reason to come to an assumption or conclusion. The biggest difference is that when we predict, we are thinking about what might happen next; when we infer, we are thinking about what is happening now.

Come back next week, when I’ll share my favorite wordless picture books and tell you how I use them to help children conquer inferencing.