Inferential Thinking: Characteristics, Tools and Examples

He inferential thinking or inferential comprehension is a skill that corresponds to the second level of reading comprehension. It allows identifying implicit messages in the text based on the previous experiences of the subject. This way of understanding the new information (the text) starts from culturally given schemes, scripts and models.

Inferential thinking consists of reasoning beyond the text and differs from the literal understanding in that it refers to the explicit information contained in the text. This ability is what allows readers not only to understand the text, but to"fill in"the gaps in the text with their own experience or knowledge.

Inferential Thinking: Characteristics, Tools and Examples


  • 1 What is inferential thinking?
    • 1.1 Types of inferences
  • 2 Tools to develop inferential thinking
    • 2.1 Adequate texts
    • 2.2 Teachers as models
    • 2.3 Importance of vocabulary and lexicon
    • 2.4 Questions and observations
    • 2.5 Follow-up to reading
  • 3 Example
  • 4 References

What is inferential thinking?

The inferential is a kind of thinking that allows to combine different ideas, draw conclusions, identify morals and themes of the readings, interpret and discuss the information read.

It is about the understanding of information fed by the experiences and schemes of each individual.

The discipline that studies inferential comprehension is psycholinguistic, because the inferential capacities start from a cognitive component (prior knowledge) and a linguistic component (characteristics of the text as content, form, etc.).

Within this discipline, the constructivist theory is the one that has most studied inferential thinking, in relation to the understanding of Narrative texts (stories, stories, among others).

Types of inferences

Inferences are mental representations constructed by those who read or listen to a text after applying their own knowledge in the explicitness of the message. There are different types of inferences with different levels of complexity.

- Local or cohesive inferences

They work as ways to connect information and are given during the process of understanding. These can be referential inferences and causal inferences antecedents.

For example, in the text"Mary spoke with her grandmother, when suddenly she began to cry"the reader should understand that"this"refers to the grandmother.

- Global or coherent inferences

Organize or group the information in"packages"with themes and allow to connect the local data of the text with the data of the memory .

These inferences can be superordinate goals, thematic inferences, assessment of emotional reactions and inferences of subcategories.

An example of this type of inference is when the moral of a text is understood.

- Post-reading inferences

There are inferences that are given after having read the text and serve as a complement to the information read to understand why certain actions or events are mentioned.

These can be the causal consequences, instrumental inferences, pragmatic inferences and predictive inferences.

Main characteristics

Understanding a text is a fairly complex process that must result in a representation of the meaning of a text. However, the meaning of a text is not given from the written words but it is given in the mind of the reader.

- Inferential comprehension goes beyond simply understanding the information presented in the text. It requires the reader to start from the knowledge he had previously acquired.

- Inferential thinking is crucial because it allows us to predict and understand the reality that surrounds us, which allows us not to depend on what is given, but we can go further. In the case of a text, this ability allows us to read between the lines.

- This ability to infer the relationship between two or more events requires a complex reasoning that involves different mental processes.

This complex process is carried out through three components:

- The sensory system, which processes visual and auditory information.

- The work memory , where the information is processed live and the integration is given.

- The long-term memory , where the prior knowledge is stored with which the text information will be compared.

Development of inferential thinking

Like all abilities, inferential thinking develops as the natural evolutionary process in children occurs. Therefore, this capacity is seen in different levels according to the age of the children evaluated.

For example, in 3-year-old children, a better management of complementary inferences is observed, which are the inferences with a lower level of complexity.

By age 4, the ability to make inferences becomes easier for children and we can see that they can better make global inferences. At 5 years they can make global inferences with better performance.

Tools to develop inferential thinking

You can use and apply a series of strategies that help students to develop this ability of inferential comprehension, although the teacher must adapt it to the age and characteristics of the children.

The characteristics that have been shown to influence the acquisition of this skill are the motivation towards this type of reading tasks, having a wide vocabulary and having an adequate working memory.

Adequate texts

To promote the development of this skill, the first thing that must be taken into account is to choose texts that are appropriate, without being too easy or difficult.

Likewise, they must be texts that are not too explicit and that allow a certain level of inference.

Teachers as models

One of the most recommended strategies in which teachers serve as models for students. For example, they can say aloud the inferential mental process they are doing:"Surely that was an excuse for the wolf to eat pigs, because wolves usually hunt farm animals."

Importance of vocabulary and lexicon

It is also necessary to work on expanding the vocabulary, for example, by identifying and defining unknown words in the text. Similarly, students should be trained in the use of pronouns and connectors.

Questions and observations

The teacher can ask questions that provoke the inferential process. For example, you can ask how they know a certain datum, what are the relationships between characters, as well as their motivations.

You can also make observations, as you will see in the last section of this article.

Follow-up to reading

They can be trained in a way to follow up on reading by answering questions about who is participating, where it is being held, and why the events are taking place.


One way to develop inferential thinking is to make observations that incite students to draw possible inferences. For example:

Remark: the lawn in the playground is wet.

Possible inferences: it rained. The sprinkler was on. There is a dew on the grass.

Another example:

Observation: the tail for drinking in the water source is long.

Possible inferences: it's hot outside. The students have just arrived from recess.


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  9. Puche, R. (2001). Inferences and gravitational practices in the child in the second semester of life. Psychology from the Caribbean, 8, p.63-93.
  10. Zeithamova, D., Schlichting, M. and Preston, A. (2012). The hippocampus and inferential reasoning: building memories to navigate future decisions. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , 6, p.p. 1-14.

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