5 Fun Ways to Teach Inferencing at the Elementary Level in 2022

If you are looking for fun ways to teach inferencing at the elementary level, then you found the right place! This post shares 5 fun ways to teach inferencing. As you know, inferencing is such an important skill to develop in order to be effective readers and critical thinkers. That’s why it’s so essential to teach it in a way that is effective and meaningful to students. Read below to learn about all things inferencing!

kids listening to a picture book that lends itself to teaching making inferences

What is Inferencing in Reading?

Making inferences is a higher-level thinking strategy that readers use. When we make inferences, we are using details from the text and our personal experiences to draw a conclusion. Readers make inferences when something is not directly stated in a text. This strategy can be thought of as “reading between the lines” for being about to “read” people or a situation.

Why Is Making Inferences Important?

Students need to know how to make inferences and draw conclusions. Making inferences is a very important skill for them to acquire, but we seldom reflect on why it is such an important skill. Making inferences is important because it teaches students to critically combine the vastly different skill sets of empathy, experience, and observation. Read more about why it’s so important for elementary students to learn how to make inferences below.

1. Builds Higher Order Thinking Skills

Making an inference is a high order thinking skill. It helps students think deeper.

2. Develops Empathy

When children can make judgments based on past experiences, they are developing a sense of empathy. While empathy may fall outside of the realm of “academic skills,”  it will prove very valuable to them throughout life.

3. Strengthens Vocabulary

In order to make inferences about situations that children see or read about, they will need to acquire new words that are necessary in order to explain the inference.

4. Supports Math Skills Development

When it comes to making inferences we usually only consider how important it is with regard to reading comprehension, but the ability to make inferences and draw conclusions has many valuable applications for learning math as well. Being able to make an inference is also helpful in math class because students will need to be cognizant of patterns and sequencing in addition to understanding the text. These skills are very helpful when students are working with word problems.

5. Critical Thinking

Not only is making an inference a “high order thinking skill,” it’s also a practice in critical thinking. Students must combine at least two elements to form a conclusion: Schema (background knowledge) and observations. I always like to include empathy in that as well.

5 Fun Ways to Teach Inferencing

Below are 5 fun ways to teach inferencing at the elementary level.

1. Read Aloud Picture Books that Lend Themselves to Inferencing

The first on the list of fun ways to teach inferencing is to use read alouds. Read alouds are a great way to teach any reading comprehension skill. The following is a list of picture books that are phenomenal for helping children learn how to make inferences.

  1. Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
  2. Beaver is Lost by Elisha Cooper
  3. Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
  4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  5. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  6. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  7. Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

2. Play 20 Questions

The second on the list of fun ways to teach inferencing is to play 20 questions. 20 questions is a great game for practicing inferencing. Students gather information based on prior knowledge and make assumptions and guesses based on that. The best part is that students don’t even realize they are learning!

3. Use Props

The third on the list of fun ways to teach inferencing is to use props. Gather equipment for a certain activity and ask children to guess what it is you’re about to do. An example is you take out a soccer ball, whistle, and your sneakers. Students can infer that you are taking them outside for extra recess.

4. Tell a Short Story

The fourth on the list of fun ways to teach inferencing is to tell short stories. Without realizing it, students make inferences every day. To show them that they have an already-ingrained ability to make inferences, share one of the stories below.

A teacher returns a graded quiz, all of the students look happy except one, who quietly begins to cry. We would not need to ask why the student was crying. We can infer, based on our experiences and knowledge, that the quiz grade of the unhappy student was not a good one. 

All of the students in the class were given a new toy, except for one. That student began to cry. We would not need to ask why the student was crying. We can infer, based on our experiences and knowledge, that the student feels left out and wishes they could have a new toy, too.

5. Implement Mystery Mail

The last on the list of fun ways to teach inferencing is my absolute favorite! There are times when you spend hours upon hours trying to come up with “the perfect lesson” only to have it not live up to your expectations. And then there are the times when you randomly wake up at 3:30 a.m., an idea pops into your head and it turns out to be awesome! The latter was the case when I created, Mystery Mail. This is one of the most fun ways to teach inferencing I have ever thought of!

I should probably preface this with telling you that it tied in perfectly with our reading curriculum, but that it would totally stand alone as a fun and engaging way to teach inferencing regardless of what program you use.

During one week in Treasures, our main selection is a story called Dear Juno. It’s about a boy who sends and receives letters from his grandmother in Korea. There were a few objects enclosed in the envelopes like a leaf from a tree in Juno’s yard and a picture of his grandmother’s new cat. I had already planned to have my friends brainstorm items they would place into an envelope to tell about them, but my wee hours idea made it so much more exciting. Learn all about my Mystery Mail resource below!

What is Mystery Mail?

Making inferences can be one of the most challenging reading strategies for elementary students! These mystery mail inferencing activities are designed to make inferring fun for students and easier for you to teach! The printable activities included in this packet are sure to get your students excited about practicing making inferences and will really help them understand the reading concept.

Inferencing is such an important skill to develop in order to be effective readers and critical thinkers. This activity engages students, anchors their learning, provides them with a fun, interactive learning experience, and helps them build an understanding of what it means to infer. This helps them when inferring comes up in language arts lessons and when it’s needed during their independent reading. They can think back to that memorable experience, drawing on that prior knowledge, and applying it within texts.

mystery mail printables

What is Included in Mystery Mail?

Mystery Mail Includes the following resources:

  • teacher guide that includes information about the resource as well as step-by-step instructions
  • printables for preparing the envelopes including a mystery mail tracker, letter to participants, blank themed paper to write your own letter and stationery for your participants to write to your students
  • mystery mail display printables to help you create your own mystery mail bulletin board display
  • student activity pages to guide students through the process of making an inference about who sent the letter

Why Teacher Loves These Mystery Mail Activities

Below are 5 reasons why elementary teachers love these inferencing activities.

  • This resource includes everything you need to prepare, manage, and execute this project.
  • Students LOVE it! They will be highly engaged in their learning!
  • It is very quick and easy to prepare this printable resource.
  • It’s a great way to build relationships with your school administrators and colleagues.
  • It takes a challenging concept and teaches it in a way students understand and then apply to other academic areas.

How to Implement Mystery Mail

Below are directions for how to implement mystery mail in your classroom.

1. Download the resource.

The mystery mail resource is available in my Clutter-Free Classroom Teachers Pay Teachers store.

mystery mail printables
2. Make a list of participants.

Start by making a list of staff members you want to include. Consider inviting all of your students’ former teachers and classroom aides, the principal, specialist teachers and other staff members that they know well and come in contact with often to participate.

In my case, I started by making a list of staff members I wanted to include. I taught third and invited all of their former teachers and classroom aides, the principal, specialist teachers and other staff members that they know well and come in contact with often to participate.

3. Prep the materials for your participants.

Prepare a “packet” for each of the mystery writers by simply securing the blank letter template, the cover sheet and an envelope together with a paperclip. In my case, my fabulous classroom aide prepared a “packet” for each of those staff members by simply securing the blank letter template, the cover sheet and an envelope together with a paperclip. I included lots of people because I wanted to create stations at the end of the week, but you could just ask 3-4 and model this as a whole class lesson.

mystery mail printables
4. Distribute the materials to your participants.

Distribute the prepped materials to the people on your list. You could include lots of people if you want to create stations at the end of the week or you could just ask 3-4 and model this as a whole class lesson.

I sent each of them a letter explaining what I was doing along with an envelope and a piece of stationary for them to write on. The letter asked them to each write my class a note that told the students a few interesting things about themselves. I asked them to put the note in the envelope along with 3 objects that would give us clues about who had sent the envelope to us.

5. Create a visual display in your classroom.

Copy the header and the 3 object pages onto colored paper and create a visual display to record your students’ thoughts. Having a visual display in the classroom makes it so it can be used as a reference tool for students in the future.

mystery mail printables
6. Implement the learning experiences.

When the first few letters arrive, remove one object at a time and attach it to the display. Record students’ inferences with each object. After all three are displayed, students can conclude who the letter was using their inferring skills. Finally, read the letter and reveal the sender. So. Much. Fun!

Let me tell you more about what I did…

I created an envelope too. I tacked mine onto the white board. It was addressed to the class, but had a question mark in the upper left hand corner. One of my friends spotted it in the morning during math. I told them they would need to wait until after lunch to see what it was all about. While they were at lunch I set up a chart by using the templates from my packet and copying them onto construction paper. I’ve never seen them come in from recess so eager to get started. There excitement was elevated when they spotted a second letter on the board next to the first.

I opened the envelope and took out the first item… a receipt from Story Land (a small theme park for little kids about 2 hours away in NH, but a place they are familiar with). I asked, “What does this object tell us about the person who sent the letter?” They came up with things like:

  • the person has kids because adults don’t go there alone
  • they must have a car because you can’t walk to NH
  • maybe the person has 2 girls because the receipt was for 2 princess wands


The next object was a frequent shoppers reward card for the local grocery store. They inferred that:

  • the person lived in town
  • the person likes to cook
mystery mail printables

After the third clue I took out the letter…which was from me. I had written about how we would be working on inferencing, explained what inferencing was and promised that they would be getting more mystery mail throughout the week.

The excitement level in my classroom was through the roof when a new letter would appear. It was so fun for me to see how quickly their skills developed. By the third envelope the quality of their inferences was so much higher than when we opened the first (hello?… not lactose intolerant or allergic to nuts?… they crack me up).

After I modeled the first one whole class, I gave each student a recording sheet. I opened the second envelope and revealed the first object. They illustrated and labeled it onto their recording sheets. We repeated that and then they made their own written inferences. 

This was such a motivating activity. They were quickly throwing around the word “inference” and begging for more. The next morning I found 6 envelopes on my desk that some of the students had made at home. I hadn’t asked them to. I didn’t even suggest it. The 6 kids aren’t even from the same table or especially buddy buddy which shows me that they all came up with the idea on their own. I totally heart when learning is so exciting that the extend upon lessons on their own at home.

mystery mail printables
7. Engage in Additional Activities

Below are some additional steps you could take. They are more fun ways to teach inferencing.

  • Provide each student with a copy of the inferring page and as you reveal each item, they can illustrate and label the boxes at the top of the page. After all three items are revealed, they can record their own inferences, thoughts, and ideas about the sender based on the object and predict who sent it.
  • Create an “inference Workshop” by placing envelopes and recording sheets at different stations. Number each envelope. Students enjoy using their inferring skills independently. This also makes a great activity for early finishers.
  • As an added twist, continue the fun throughout the year by creating envelopes as if they were sent by celebrities or characters from books. You could also have the students create an envelope.
mystery mail printables

In closing, we hope these 5 fun ways to teach inferencing were helpful! If you liked it, then you may also be interested in these posts:

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