The Difference Between Inference & Prediction

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reading-childReading comprehension is a core tenet of schooling. The new Common Core Standards in the United States pace an increasing emphasis on reading, requiring for it to be taught across content areas, rather than simply in English-Language Arts classes. (Or through Reading comprehension apps, for example.)

This means math, science, social studies, and even technology teachers will soon be in on the challenging–and rewarding–task of helping students better understand what they’re reading.

Which made the following anchor chart from pinterest user teachingwithamountainview immediately relevant to almost any K-12 teacher.

The Difference Between Inference & Prediction

Understanding the difference between inference and prediction is one of classic challenges in literacy instruction, in addition to the difference between main idea and theme, mood and tone, and reading versus deep reading, and so on. Some of it is a mater of jargon. An argument could be made that, like main idea and theme, that distinguishing between the two is more trouble than it’s worth.

But if we are truly teaching students to close read a variety of texts and digital media, understanding the nuance of reading ourselves as teachers of all content areas is important.

So what’s the distinction? Ultimately, the difference between inference and prediction is one of fulfillment: while itself a kind of inference, a prediction is an educated guess (often about explicit details) that can be confirmed or denied, an inference is more concerned with the implicit.

In general, if it’s discussing a future event or something that can be explicitly verified within the “natural course of things,” it’s a prediction.

If it’s a theory formed around implicit analysis based on evidence and clues, it’s an inference.

Both inferences and predictions require students to combine clues, evidence, and background knowledge to form a theory.

This has always been our understanding of things anyway. Let us know in the comments section if you think of it differently.

difference-between-inferences-and-predictions
  • Second grade teacher

    Two main things that stand out for me- one aspect I see differently and the other I really appreciate. First, I do not agree with the title of the chart ‘Making Inferences, Not Predictions’. It is misleading and I actually followed a pin on pinterest because i didn’t understand what that meant at first. I didn’t feel that the point should be about pitting the two comprehension strategies against each other, but rather comparing them for ourselves to better understand them, in order to be more effective teachers of reading, especially in light of Common Core. After the title, the chart continues to define and sort of compare them, which does not correspond with the title (i suppose it is telling students that inferring is a more preferential tool?) I feel that prediction is a natural part of life as well as a valuable and engaging way to get early readers (and listeners) involved. When reading aloud to young children, they find it so very exciting and they feel empowered to talk about their ideas of where the story will go. They use clues, background knowledge and common sense to make these predictions (some of which are the same as inferring). I do feel that inferences are deeper, more difficult to attend to, but also I feel that children are naturally inclined to make inferences as well (they are well aware of when their teacher is upset even without the verbal communication).

    The other item that I am walking away with is a better understanding of the differences between the two . . . Prediction is about actions in a story or the plot (or life); What will happen next? What will the girl do now that her mom left her dad, etc. Inference is about filling in between the lines where the author did not explicitly communicate things such as a character’s feelings, personality traits, reasons for their actions, etc. I think the last three sentence starters are the most effective in hitting home what an inference is ‘How the character acts (feels, says). Making inferences is much more about nuances and that is where the richness in a story lies. Overly simplified chapter books designed for early readers, aside from being void of descriptive language, do not have character development, which is often made through reading between the lines.

    Overall, I would use a version of the chart to help teach both of the tools and to help differentiate them, of course, adding some of my own wording to help. Perhaps two separate lists of sentence starters after prediction as well, would aide in student understanding.

    • terryheick

      Great suggestions!

  • Melissa

    Nice article – however, we also need to be sure that we are using the term “theory” correctly. An inference made by an individual student can not be a theory.

  • misk

    really didn’t help she gave me some stuff that I already knew