Use details to ask and answer literal and inferential questions about a text (Inclusive Big Idea #1)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 4: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #1: Use details to ask and answer literal and inferential questions about a text

Standard: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. RL.4.1

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Story Elements Chart: During and after reading or listening to a text or other media, create a story elements chart with the class to answer questions about and make relationships between key details in the text.
  • Sequencing: Use an event sequencing graphic organizer to match or sequence pictures and/or sentences representing the key events in a story using details and examples. Then, have students answer questions about the story (e.g., What happened first? What happened last?), either verbally or by pointing to the correct picture in the graphic organizer.
  • Freytag’s Pyramid, Plot Outline, or Problem/Solution: Use a story map to match or sequence pictures and/or sentences representing the key details from events, problems, and solutions in a story. Then, students answer questions about the story either in writing, verbally or by pointing to the correct picture in the graphic organizer. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • 5W Questions: Before, during, and after reading the text, ask students 5W Questions to help identify important details:
    • Who are the characters in the story?
    • Where does the story take place?
    • When does this story take place?
    • What happened in the story?
    • Why do you think this happened?
  • Think, Pair, Share: Ask students to think individually about a question then meet with a peer to discuss their answers. Then, after they have had time to discuss with a peer they can share their thoughts with the rest of the class. Learn more about Think, Pair, Share in this TIP Sheet.
  • Discussion Webs: Write a question about the story in the middle of a web. Draw lines extending from the web and ask students to provide responses for the question. For example, you may write “Who are the characters?” in the middle of the web. Then, on extended lines students can offer responses to the question that include key details. During the discussion, ask students to draw relationships and make inferences between the various elements. Learn more about making inferences in this TIP Sheet.
  • Sketch-to-Stretch: Sketch-to-Stretch is a way for students to capture author’s inferences through drawing. After the students have completed reading a story, they can craft a visual representation either on paper or using digital tools about what the story was really They can use examples and details from the text to inform their drawings
  • Graphic Organizers:
    • Create a graphic organizer (digital or paper version) that includes these prompts to help students refer to details when making inferences:
      • The text says…
      • and I know…
      • so I can infer…
    • Learn more about making inferences in this TIP Sheet.
  • Making Inferences:
    • As students are reading or listening to particular sections of the text, ask a series of questions that encourage students to refer to details and examples in the text to draw basic inferences. Help facilitate this by asking questions or having sentence prompts such as:
      • In the story, we infer that ______________. Can you find a place in the story that helps support the inference that ___________?
    • Learn more about making inferences in this TIP Sheet.
  • Think Aloud: Model drawing basic inferences by referring to details and examples in a text or other media, read aloud a story or have students access digital media. As you read aloud, describe inferences you are making or highlight the steps on a handout. As you make inferences, support them by going back into the story and showing details and examples that support each inference. By watching you model this and by having the steps highlighted on a document students can reference, students can begin to do this themselves when they independently read. 

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is the amount of information that the lesson requires a student to hold in mind.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • be aware of how much sensory input occurs at once, perhaps offer the option to use headphones
  • show examples and provide answers to check along the way
  • provide templates or graphic organizers
  • allow use of calculators, spell checks, and other tools

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • What are Question-Answer Relationships?
    • In order to answer a question correctly, students have to know where they can find the key details necessary to learn the answers.
      • Right There questions: Answers to this type of question are explicitly mentioned in the text.
      • Think and Search questions: Answers to these questions require students to pull key details from multiple parts of a text to draw a conclusion.
      • Author and Me questions: Answers to these questions require students to make connections between key details from the story and their own experiences.
      • On my Own questions: While prompts such as these are aligned with the text, answers to this type of question require the students to pull key details exclusively from their own experiences and thoughts.
  • What Vocabulary Should I Teach and Know?
    • summary- containing the key points or big idea
    • main idea- the most important idea in the text
    • details- specific smaller elements that are part of a larger work
    • key word- essential or significant words related to the text
    • relevant- has significant importance
    • irrelevant- not important or related
    • characters- person/persons in a story
    • setting- place where the story happens
    • plot- sequence of events involving characters in conflict situations
    • point of view- perspective from which the story is told
    • theme- moral or big idea of the story
    • inference- a conclusion or opinion that is formed based on facts or evidence
    • context clues- words and sentences within a text that provides additional information
  • What is Summarizing?
    • When summarizing, readers reduce larger selections of text to their bare essentials: the gist, the key ideas and details, the main points that are worth noting and remembering.
  • Why Summarize?
    • important skill for readers of all levels and abilities
    • goes beyond retelling to demonstrate strong understanding of the text
    • requires readers to comprehend, analyze, and synthesize ideas
    • requires a higher level of thinking
    • whether reading a story, a content area textbook, a comic, or poem, the ability to summarize a text and infer to read between the lines is a lifelong skill readers use to foster higher level thinking and deeper comprehension
  • How Do Readers Summarize Key Ideas?
    • Good readers…
      • reduce the extraneous verbiage and examples
      • focus on the most relevant facts
      • find key words/phrases that capture the main idea of what was read
      • find the main ideas and the essential details that support the main idea
  • What is Inferencing?
    • Inferential thinking is a complex skill that requires readers to merge their prior knowledge with clues from the text to draw conclusions, predict an outcome, and find emerging themes. Learn more about inference with this TIP Sheet.
  • Why Teach Inferencing?
    • Helping students understand when information is implied, or not directly stated, will improve their skills in drawing conclusions and making inferences.
    • Inference is a complex skill that can be taught through explicit instruction.
    • Inferring requires higher order thinking skills, which makes it a difficult skill for many students.
  • How do I Teach inferencing?
    • Provide explicit instruction and encourage students to…
      • find clues in the text to get answers
      • add those clues to prior knowledge
      • realize there may be more than one correct answer
      • support inferences with evidence from the text
    • Use a concept map:

Concept Map: Clues from the text + My background knowledge = Inference


Looking for more suggestions?  Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Go beyond the specific standard! These examples can spark ideas to generalize related skills from the content to real-world experiences for all students.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Not all answers can be found in the text; some answers rely on the reader to incorporate personal experience and perspective.
  • There can be more than one acceptable answer.
  • Often, being taught how to make inferences is overlooked and thought to be implicitly learned. Also, teachers often assume that all students have the same or similar prior knowledge. Teachers must be diligent to provide examples and background understanding.

Everyday Connections

  • In the Kitchen: Find real-world examples to engage students in how important details are to help describe something. For example, you could highlight how important details are for explaining to someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • After School: Gather information to figure out the key details for how to play a game or to join a club or team at school or in the community.

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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