Beyond the Words: Making Inferences

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Making inferences is the cornerstone of social discourse and reading competence. Many students who are English learners or students with autism spectrum disorders, specific language impairment or hearing loss become fluent text decoders but they have significant difficulty “reading between the lines” or making appropriate inferences from texts.

A variety of factors are essential for making inferences. Students must be aware of the need to make inferences – that not all the necessary information is in the text. They must have world knowledge involving an understanding of the physical and psychological temporal and cause-effect relations between people, objects, and events; they must be able to access this knowledge and integrate it with what is in the text; they must have the linguistic skills to follow references and comprehend the connective words and syntactic structures that signal relationships; and they must have sufficient working memory to integrate all these elements. This presentation will describe (1) the linguistic and cognitive skills involved in making text inferences; (2) types of inferences; (3) the nature of difficulties in making inferences exhibited by students with a variety of cognitive and language impairments; and (4) evidence-based strategies to promote the ability to make inferences from texts.

Outcomes: Participants will be able to:

  • explain the cognitive and linguistic underpinnings for making inferences
  • describe and analyze the inferencing abilities of students with language impairments
  • employ strategies to develop students' abilities to make inferences


This professional development webinar was presented by Dr. Carol Westby for speech-language pathologists in Virginia. It was funded by the Virginia Department of Education and hosted by Dr. Kimberly Murphy, Old Dominion University.

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