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Our year two teacher is doing an inspired project with her class at the moment.

The class are learning about inference.

Inference is: ‘A conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reading’.

It might sound rather dry, but what it basically means is that she is trying to teach the children to look at a written text or a picture, and infer from what they see, things which are not overtly stated or shown in that text or picture.

An example would be to show them a picture of a child shivering in the snow and to inspire them to come up with information about what the child feels like (cold, hungry, abandoned, silly for forgetting its coat, lonely, etc). It encourages the child to connect emotionally with the text or image, but also to connect logically text or images to create a feasible narrative. It allows teachers to then build on these foundations to explore empathy and sympathy, as well as pushing the children to use the texts/images as springboards into the world of their imagination.

All these skills are critical, both for literacy and for life.

Year two are currently doing a broader topic of nocturnal animals. Our teachers try to teach as holistically as possible, making the overarching topic relevant to other areas of study.  In this case, the teacher is working on inference using the book Foxly’s Feast by Owen Davey.

The book is a simple picture book with no accompanying text. It tells the story, in images, of Foxly’s hunt through the forest for things to eat. As he goes on his journey, all the animals he encounters are, understandably, nervous that he might want to eat them. Finally, Foxly turns out to be a vegetarian, and is actually preparing a delicious feast of fruit and vegetables which all the other animals are invited to share with him.

The images are bold and simple, but have enough character in the drawings to show the animals’ emotions and give the children clues to build inference skills and connect the disparate images to create a coherent narrative.

The children have been sharing the book with their teacher in class, building up the story and using the picture clues to enrich the world they encounter in the book.

The next step was that the teacher created booklets of the images in the story. The children were given Post It notes in the shape of speech bubbles and encouraged to storyboard the narrative, creating dialogue for the animals on each page.

The results have been brilliant. The children have been really caught up in the story, and their work, filling in the speech bubbles has been inspired. They have shown, through their writing that they understand nuance and character. They are displaying different voices for the different animals, and creating dialogue which is witty, and funny, sometimes poignant, and always relevant to pushing the narrative forward.

Their work has been hugely successful and demonstrates how powerful a text can be in aiding literacy, even when it has no words.

If you wanted to build on work like this, you could expand it, by allowing the children to storyboard their own texts, and even push this further by getting them to dramatise those storyboards and film them.  There are lots of different directions you could take work like this in, in both a classroom situation and at home.

There is a commonly held misconception that images, although more universally understood (we have become increasingly sophisticated at reading and understanding images, particularly since the birth of television. This can be seen in the complexity of the modern day advertisements, both on television and in magazines if you compare the  adverts of the fifties with those of today), are somehow inferior to text, and that children can only learn literacy skills from the written word. This, simple exercise proves that nothing can be further from the truth.

There is an increasingly wide range of non text based children’s picture books, which can be used for teaching inference, or just for enjoyment. Two others, apart from Foxly’s Feast which stand out, are: Tuesday by David Wiesner, and Slam by Adam Stower.

If you are interested in teaching, talking about a particular topic and there isn’t a picture  book available, you can always edit one that has text, by copying sections with the words blanked out.

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