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Making inferences in literary texts | Reading

What does it look like to make inferences from a story? Sherlock Bones, the legendary dogtective, will show us!

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello, readers. I'm here in the legendary study of the famous fictional dogtective Sherlock Bones of 221 B Barker Street. Mr. Bones, you're here to teach me about using details from a text to make inferences, aren't you? - [Sherlock Bones] Yes, my boy! It's simplicity itself. But first, let me deduce a few things about you, shall I? - [David] Well, Mr. Bones, we're trying to do this about writing, not about people, so... - [Bones] Give me your hand. - [David] Waugh! - [Bones] Ah, you like to cook, you have a nervous disposition and you work for Khan Academy. - [David] Now how did you know that? - [Bones] You have a callus on your finger from how you hold a knife, your fingernails are bitten, not clipped and your messenger bag says Khan Academy. - [David] Well and I told you who I was before I showed up. - [Bones] That too. - [David] But what does this have to do with reading a book? - [Bones] I correctly deduced several truths about your person based on clues, my good David. Indeed, all inference is making sense of clues. When you read a story, you are constantly making inferences. - [David] I see. Okay, I'll read a passage and then see what I can make of it. An hour later, thick smoke poured up the stairs. The smoke detector screamed and I could hear Uncle Paleo stumbling around with the fire extinguisher. When he came upstairs afterward, his footsteps sounded slow and heavy. He was a wreck, broken glasses, black smudges on his face and singed hair. Okay, so I can surmise that there was some kind of fire or explosion downstairs, where the character Uncle Paleo was. - [Bones] Hm, how do you know? - [David] Well his hair was singed, that's another word for burned and his face was covered in black smudges like you get from soot from a fire and there was all the smoke and the smoke detector went off. - [Bones] And there is also the matter of the fire extinguisher. - [David] Also that. - [Bones] I see something else in that passage too. - [David] What's that, Mr. Bones? - [Bones] Uncle Paleo was exhausted by putting out the fire. - [David] How can you tell? Where does it say that? - [Bones] Well, it doesn't. That's inference, my lad. Note here how it said his footsteps sounded slow and heavy. Why might that be? - [David] He stepped in something sticky. No, oo, he's wearing shoes made of lead. - [Bones] Well, those are indeed possible explanations but you want to think of the most likely option. - [David] He was running around to put the fire out and it made him tired. - [Bones] So, you were reading between the lines, were you? Drawing conclusions from the text? - [David] I was. So we know for sure Uncle Paleo was tired, right? - [Bones] WE DO NOT, SIR. - [David] Oh!! - [Bones] An inference is only one possible conclusion but is not the only conclusion. - [David] So what are we to do? - [Bones] The more clues you discover, the stronger your inferences will become. You have to look at what you already know about a character, about the setting of the story, the events of a story's plot and piece it together from there. You know that fires create lots of black dust or soot so it strengthens your argument in favor of a fire. And it's background knowledge like that, about the way the world works that will serve you as a reader and as a maker of inferences. Apply what you know to the world of the story and make inferences based on that. - [David] And then, I can become the world's greatest consulting detective? - [Bones] You can become like the world's 50th greatest consulting detective, top of the heap's rather full, I'm afraid. - [David] Well, thank you for your time today, Mr. Bones. Best of luck with your case work. - [Bones] Thank you; I shan't need it. (barks) - [David] You can learn anything. David out.