Inferring meaning from texts

Rodney Biddle, Gunma Prefectural Women's University

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Reading strategy, reading skill, inferring meaning from texts
  • Learner English Level: Pre-intermediate
  • Learner Maturity Level: University, first and second year students
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes
  • Activity Time: 40-60 minutes
  • Materials: Two worksheets. Cut worksheet 2 into Student A/Student B halves prior to the lesson

This lesson can be used to accompany a lesson on inferring meaning (e.g. Reading Keys, Craven, 2003), or it can be used independently. As a unified lesson the first section provides strategy training, and the second part provides the students with practice. The suggested extension activities allow the students to use the strategies covered, with different text types. The example text here is similar to one in Reading Power (Mikulecky & Jefferies, 1998), where further examples can be found, or these can be made up before the lesson.


Step 1: Prepare Worksheet 1. Select or invent three short conversations, e.g. the one appearing in Appendix 1. Use the names of two students in the class for each conversation. Include two questions about the conversations and a task to follow the conversations (see Appendix 2), as well as a definition of inferring meaning (e.g. Appendix 3). Please note that the definition will vary according to the level of the class.

Step 2: Prepare Worksheet 2, which contains a gap activity (see Appendix 4). This worksheet should be cut into halves prior to the class, providing one worksheet for Student A, and a different one for Student B.


Strategy Training

Step 1: Give one copy of Worksheet 1 to each student in the class. Ask the students to listen and follow the dialogue on the worksheet.

Step 2: The two students whose names were used in the conversation read Dialogue 1 aloud so that the rest of the class can listen to them.

Step 3: Elicit the answer to question 1 on worksheet 1, i.e. what they were talking about (a cinema, tickets etc.).

Step 4: Students read the conversation individually and silently, and write the answers to the questions on worksheet 1.

Step 5: Elicit students' answers to questions.

Step 6: Students complete the task on the worksheet.

Step 7: Elicit answers to the task.

Step 8: Students read the other two conversations individually, and complete the same questions and task as before.

Step 9: Elicit answers from students.

Step 10: Students read the definition of inferring meaning on the worksheet (Appendix 3).

As the students have looked at what the strategy of inferring meaning is, they can now practice how to use this strategy in order to be able to use it when reading other English texts.


Step 1: Put the students in pairs.

Step 2: Hand out Worksheet 2a and 2b to students. Ensure that each student in a pair has either A or B.

Step 3: Students read their respective papers.

Step 4: After reading, student A asks student B "What should I think about to infer meaning?" The student then writes the answers dictated by their partner on their worksheet. Students then reverse roles.

Step 5: Student pairs write a conversation similar to the three they have listened to and read during the strategy training section. Monitor groups, checking that students do not overtly refer to the location of their conversations.

Step 6: Group pairs together with another pair.

Step 7: One pair reads their conversation to the other pair, who try to infer where the conversation may be taking place.

Step 8: Pairs change roles.

Extension: Students try and understand the inferences in other English texts, for example poems, stories, or other texts, using the information on Worksheet 2.

Conclusion: This lesson was integrated into a strategy-based reading course, and the students enjoyed it very much. It was designed to help the students develop the skill of inferring, or reading between the lines, when they read English texts. In particular, by allowing the students to write their own conversations they were able to write about Japanese topics which were of direct relevance to them. One pair, for example, wrote about an athletic man dressed in red, who appears on the frontof a box of well known caramel sweets. Their partners were able to guess this was the Glico-Man, the logo for the Glico Company. The students were also able to integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, and additionally to exchange information on how to use the strategy of inferring. This gave them an understanding of the process of inferring meaning.

Appendix 1

Example conversation on Worksheet 1

  • Kahori: Look at all the people. Do you think we'll get in?
  • Megumi: I think so. Some of the people already have tickets.
  • Kahori: How much are the tickets?
  • Megumi: They're 2500 yen, but don't worry, I'll pay.
  • Kahori: Thanks, I'll buy the popcorn.

Appendix 2

Questions for Worksheet 1

  1. What are they talking about?
  2. Where are they?

Task: Underline or circle the words which helped you answer.

Appendix 3

Example definition to be included on Worksheet 1

Inferring meaning: finding extra meaning with no extra words, or understanding information that is not in the text by reading between the lines.

Appendix 4

Worksheet 2A

Student A

Read the following information, and when you have finished ask your partner this question: "What should I think about to infer meaning?" Write your partner's answer below.

  1. How can I infer meaning?
    • Look for positive and negative meanings. Look at the verbs and ask, "What impression does this give me?"
    • Try and imagine what is happening.
  2. What should I think about to infer meaning?

Appendix 5

Worksheet 2B

Student B

Read the following information, and when you have finished ask your partner this question "How can I infer meaning?" Write your partner's answer below.

  1. How can I infer meaning?
  2. What should I think about to infer meaning?
    • What is happening or what the people are saying, doing or feeling.
    • The images the words give me.


Craven, M. (2003). Reading Keys Silver. Book B. London: Macmillan.
Mikulecky, B.A., & Jefferies, L. (1998). Reading Power. New York: Longman. p. 133.