Teaching Inferential Reading in High School

This is the third of a 4-part series of posts taken from a popular workshop I’ve offered over the years to homeschoolers.

If you would like to have the full text of the workshop (this series of posts will share about 1/3 of the information in the workshop), you can download a .pdf of the whole thing from our ebookstore for just $1.99. Click here to purchase.

In case you missed Part 1, click here to read Teaching Literature – Helping Students Form Relationships with Books

or click here to read Part 2, Teaching Literature Interpretation in High School.


Teaching Inferential Reading

 Teaching Inferential Reading

How about Inferential Reading? When we read for inference, we gain knowledge from the book, then reach a conclusion based on that knowledge. The conclusion one person reaches may be vastly different from the conclusion reached by another reader…..and this is a place where we can quickly frustrate our students when we are teaching literature.

When I went to college, I went as an English major. I had always loved books, but after 4 years of high school reading lists and a year of college classes, I reached a conclusion – I was tired of being told what to get out of the books I was reading. I felt like every book I was assigned came with a foregone conclusion. It was as if the teacher told us, “In this book you will see that blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.”

I wanted to read the book and then tell the TEACHER what I saw in it!

Tests and writing assignments only added insult to injury. I was supposed to spit back the teacher’s conclusions about the book even if I didn’t agree with them. If I had reached a different conclusion and said so, I lost points. Apparently I was only allowed to learn from the book the same thing my teacher had learned.

Truth be told, I quit reading for much a decade because of this. When I began teaching my own kids and their co-op and day-school friends in high school literature classes, I vowed that I would never do to them what I felt teachers had done to me back in the day! It had to be okay to learn something different from the book than what I’d learned, and as long as you could take a reasonable stab at sharing with me HOW you reached that conclusion, you should get full credit for using your brain as you read.

Here’s an example:

In our homeschool World Lit. class this year we read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This cautionary tale is full of ideas that led to fascinating class discussions. Now, when I read this book, I become angry with the character of Lord Henry Wotton. Harry proves to have a profound influence on Dorian and encourages the young man in irresponsible and selfish pursuits, pouring ever more and more fuel on the fires of Dorian’s passions…and those fires eventually consume Dorian completely. I wanted to have a discussion with the kids about the responsibility of personal influence, but I didn’t want to “lead” the discussion too much. So instead of saying, “Lord Henry fails to take responsibility for the charismatic influence he seems to have on Dorian, and he leads him into all kinds of selfish ways of thinking. How did those selfish ways contribute to Dorian’s downfall?” I said, “Lord Henry is a charismatic guy, yes? What do you think about his power over Dorian?”

I was astounded to see the class of 20+ kids almost evenly split as to whether or not Lord Henry even HAD any responsibility for his influence on Dorian! We had a spirited discussion about the fact that while Lord Henry was a magnetic person, Dorian still had the responsibility for choosing his own mind-set and behaviors, and many of the students felt that Dorian alone was to blame for his bad choices. Others thought, as I did, that Harry should have recognized the influence he had and been more careful with his young protege. But if I had launched the discussion with blame on the older character as he corrupted the younger, imagine how frustrated fully half of my class would have been! They read the same book I did, but reached an entirely different conclusion about this question.


Up Next: Part 4 – Teaching Reading for Evaluation


For ideas on the effective use of focused Literature Study Guides, watch this short video:



Teaching Inferential Reading

Sabrina Justison

20+ year homeschool mom and curriculum developer for 7SistersHomeschool.com. Fred's wife. Writing, drama, music, blogs, kids, shoes, coffee, & books in varying orders on various days. He is God, He is good & He loves me.

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