Throwback (2015): How and when do kids learn to make inferences?

Making an inference is a pretty involved process, cognitively speaking. It requires a person to tap into language and memory skills and tie a bunch of elements together to make a reasonable guess as to what is going to happen next, or how someone is feeling, or suggest a solution to a problem. No wonder it’s a tough skill to master! 

These authors combed the literature to help us better understand the developmental trajectory of inferencing skills. As clinicians, it’s important for us to know how typical children develop skills so we know how our students compare (and what we need to address). This paper is a scoping review, which means that the authors did an extensive search of the literature looking for patterns. They specifically focused on causal inferences within story grammar, since researchers often use dialogic reading to study how children infer, and story grammar follows a causal chain (This happened, so this happened, so she felt this way, so she did this). For the super rigid EBPers out there, brace yourselves: no stats in this one. But what this study does offer is a great summary on what we know about inferencing skills in typically developing children.  

Check out the full paper for more details (especially tables 4 & 5), but here’s the part you’ll want to flag for later—the authors highlight 6 types of causal inferences in story grammar, and discuss the order in which they develop:


 The authors also offer thoughts on how to assess and target children’s inferential comprehension during reading:

  • Use both auditory and visual modalities

  • Ask inferential questions while reading, since asking them afterwards requires memory skills

  • Consider grading answers on a scale, rather than +/- (see here or here), or using the think-aloud protocol.

This is a great paper to add to your file—we bet you’ll find yourself reaching for it during an upcoming assessment, or whenever you need a refresher or some inspiration on how to look at inferences!

Filiatrault-Veilleux, P., Bouchard, C., Trudeau, N., & Desmarais, C. (2015). Inferential comprehension of 3-6 year olds within the context of story grammar: A scoping review. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 50(6), 737–749.