Reading Between the Lines

Typically my teaching takes place in a small group format.  That is the life of a Title I teacher...and I love it!  But there are a couple weeks within the school year that my teammate, Karen and I, co-teach together.  This past week was one of them.

We LOVE Tanny McGregor's book, Comprehension Connections and many of the lessons that we co-teach begin with her ideas.  Tanny's chapter on inferring sparked the most recent lessons with our first graders.  She lays out some great ideas about bringing in trash and shoes to infer.  The anchor charts that are recommended are great visuals.  We found great success when we used these lessons last year.

To put these new inferring skills to work, we ended each lesson with a book.  Since we teach first graders, we wanted to choose books that would help them to feel successful with inferring.  Wordless books by Lita Judge, as well as, some alphabet books were both used this year.

My focus today is on the alphabet books because they can be a great place to start when inference, evidence, and schema are first being introduced.

reading between the lines

These four titles: A Is for Salad, Q is for Duck, Tomorrow's Alphabet, and A is for...? all encourage students to "read between the lines" in order to understand what the author is trying to say.  For each of these books the students need to use their schema and evidence from the letters/text or pictures to determine what the alphabet letter actually stands for.  Our questions for each page:
What can you infer?
What is your evidence to support that?
Our first graders would also include schema or background knowledge into their answers and we would point that out immediately as we referred to the evidence within the book.

Tomorrow's Alphabet by George Shannon

This text is really interesting because the students have to think about what the object will become in the future.  For students that do not have a lot of schema on that particular object, they have to rely heavily on the evidence within the pictures.  Here is an example:

I would show only the page that states "C is for milk--."  My question was, "What can you infer the author means by C is for milk?"  I loved this because some students wanted to immediately answer, "Cow-milk comes from a cow and cow starts with c."  Then I would remind them that the title is "Tomorrow's Alphabet" and that piece of evidence tells me that this milk will turn into something.  This prompted more inferences about cake, cookies, or cupcakes because the milk may be part of the batter.  

Yes! Yes!  The evidence is there and so is their schema!

But then I show them that the author actually decided upon the word cheese.

The book continues on in this manner.  Some answers require more thinking, schema, and evidence than others.  It is interesting to see what they come up with for some of the letters.

Q Is for Duck by Mary Elting and Michael Folsom

This text relies on the schema of students but there is evidence with the pictures to help them infer what the letter ACTUALLY stands for.

On this particular page, my classes inferred that the "F" actually stood for feathers, feed, fly, and flamingo.  Each of these inferences were backed up by evidence from this page and their schema on what they know about birds.

When we showed the next page, we covered up the answer just to see if they would change their inference based on the new evidence shown.

And the new evidence led them to infer that "F" actually stood for fly.  They were correct!

A is For Salad by Mike Lester

This text provides the evidence for what the author is inferring on one page, where the two books above use two pages.  For this reason, I believe this book is a bit easier and would be perfect to use with kindergarten students or beginning of the year first graders.

As you can see from this illustration, the author is not talking about pajamas.  We can infer that the E really stands of an elephant because we see an elephant in the illustration.

A is for ...? A Photographer's Alphabet of Animals by Henry Horenstein

This text has even less text for students to use as evidence.  They must use a lot of schema, the beginning letter, and the photograph to help them infer what the author is really trying to show them.

Students must look at the photograph (such as the one above) and try to figure out what animal it is.  That is it.  I have to admit...I fell in love with this book the moment I saw it.  The photos are beautiful.

Reading between the lines or inferring is a skill that students do everyday.  They do it when they see your "teacher look" or when they get dressed in the morning.  The tricky part for us as teachers is getting them to understand that they also do this when they read.  AND that they use evidence throughout the book to make those inferences.

My hope is that some of these alphabet books can help our youngest readers begin  to infer and provide evidence when reading.


  1. I have Q is for Duck, but I have not heard of the others. This looks like so much fun! I think my kiddos would like it, and I can see a few of them trying to write their own books in this style!

    1. I think a writing actuvity would be a great follow up for so many of these books. I used to do one for the photograph book and it was a real challenge for them to zoom in to one part of the animal.