Making Observations and Inferences with Lady Gaga

By Kathy Reeves
20 July, 2016


An important critical thinking skill is the ability to make observations then use the observations, along with what you already know, to make inferences.  Marzano says that making inferences is a "foundational skill" and a prerequisite for higher-order thinking and 21st century skills.

The science classroom is a great place for teaching students to differentiate between an observation and an inference, but what is the best way to accomplish this? One of the first things I observed as an educator is that repetition is critical to the process of learning.  Aristotle said that "it is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency" (De Memoria, Ross Trans., 113).  We can't teach the difference between observation and inference one year, say fourth grade, and then check it off the list and call it done. This concept, like all foundational concepts, must be introduced in the classroom many times to provide the varied experiences and neural connections that lead to long-term learning.  At Scientific Minds, we build repetition into our Science Starters and Science Sidekicks with a spiraling process.

There are many ways that teachers can reinforce the concepts of observation and inference from the early elementary grades through high school.  One of the simplest is to show the students a picture, such as the one below, and ask them to create a T-chart.   On one side they will list their observations and on the other side their inferences.

Observations Inferences
The active use of the senses to notice the environment A possible explanation or guess about an observation
The gas stove is on The fire is producing heat
The kettle is on top of the fire The kettle is hot
Steam is coming out of the kettle Water inside the kettle is boiling
The kettle is made of metal except for the handle The handle is made of a substance that is an insulator
Another activity is Scholastic's Mystery Bags.  This is a fun way to teach the process of making observations and forming inferences.  It reminds me of a similar activity that my students enjoyed and I had fun preparing.

To prepare for this activity, pack one bag per group with items that could belong to a person who would be familiar to the students.  This person could be a well-known teacher, administrator, community person, super hero or celebrity (think Lady Gaga).  Pack the bags before class with items that are a clue to the identity of the individual.  Number each bag and create a key to the identity of the “owner” of each bag.

 Students will discuss with group members the items in the bag and how these items can be used to infer the identity of the owner.  Each group will record the person whom they have inferred as the bag’s owner.  When the teacher gives the signal, each group will pass its bag to the next group. Repeat until all groups have inferred the owner of each bag.  Finally, the teacher will reveal the identity of the each bag’s owner.  

What are some strategies you have used to teach observations and inferences?

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I currently work with ESL students in Colombia and am working on observation skills. I enjoyed this activity.

Michael Dargan

22 September, 2016 11:05 AM


What a great reminder! I plan to incorporate more inferring into my science lessons this fall.

Lulu C

20 July, 2016 08:49 AM


Thanks Lulu! Have fun with the inference activities.


20 July, 2016 09:31 AM

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