Rockford — Inspiration can come from anywhere. But what does a second-grade lesson on inferring have to do with the band Electric Light Orchestra*?
“When we looked at the data from this group of readers, we saw that they need a little extra help with reading between the lines,” said teacher Robinn VanFleet of her Meadow Ridge Elementary students. “And poetry lends itself really well to inferring — reading between the lines to figure out what the author is trying to say. Then we had our first sunny day in a long time, and I heard the song and thought it had some great lines for inferring…”
‘I think (the author) means it used to be like a weird, kind of damp kind of day. But now it’s sun-shiny.’– Wyatt Blasen, word detective
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
First, what does it mean to infer? second-grader Charlotte Norton helped fill in the blanks as they began the lesson:
“It’s like, you read a book and you have some knowledge from that reading, and then you read a new book and you have the information to figure out what the new book is about,” she reminded her classmates.
Exactly, VanFleet affirmed. “Inferring is when you use your background knowledge, you gather new evidence from the text, and then use that all to find the meaning of what you’re reading,” she told the second-graders.
To demonstrate how it works, VanFleet unveiled the first few stanzas of a lyrical poem and read the lines out loud:
Sun is shinin’ in the sky
There isn’t a cloud in sight
It stopped rainin’ everybody’s in the play
And don’t you know
It’s a beautiful new day
Runnin’ down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mr. Blue Sky is living here today
“Reading involves thinking; we have to read between the lines, because the author is showing us, not telling us,” VanFleet said. “What do you think this poem is about? Let’s try to find out.”
Together the class went line by line, sometimes word by word, to determine the answer. In the first stanza, they were able to infer that the poem was probably about the day after a rainstorm, because of the words “new day.”
In the second stanza, Wyatt Blasen used his detective skills to figure out the line, On the streets where once was pity.
“I think (the author) means it used to be like a weird, kind of damp kind of day” because of the aforementioned rainstorm, Wyatt said. “But now it’s sun-shiny.”
Students also used their knowledge of synonyms: Because “avenue” is a synonym for “street,” and because the author mentioned a city, they can infer that the scene is set on a busy street and not a quiet country road.
VanFleet said the ability to infer will serve young readers well as they tackle their next reading unit: nonfiction. Inferring also helps readers notice patterns in a text, whether that’s in how characters are described or how a math problem is explained.
As he worked through each line of the poem, Easten Ritsema noted, “The words are making me feel happy, but it’s also making me think.”
From this, Easten, we’re inferring that you’ve learned a lot.
*Where does Electric Light Orchestra factor in? Hopefully, this story has given you enough clues to infer that the poem VanFleet used is actually the lyrics to the ELO song, “Mr. Blue Sky.”