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Making inferences in literary texts | Reading

In the video, Sherlock Bones, legendary dog-tective, teaches David about making inferences. Inferences are more than just guesses—they are what we figure out by combining clues from the text with our own knowledge. Remember, inferences are possible conclusions, but not the only ones.

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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.