Chapter 6: The Role of Inferences in
Comprehension and Critical Reading
From this chapter, you’ll learn how to
• make connections between sentences.
• infer main ideas that are suggested but not
stated.
• add implied supporting details.
• draw conclusions that follow from information
supplied in the paragraph or reading.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Key Term: Chains of Repetition and Reference
• To indicate that a word or phrase is important and
worthy of your attention writers create chains of
repetition and reference.
• They introduce a word or phrase and either repeat
or, more likely, refer to it throughout a passage.
• To mentally construct chains of repetition and
reference, readers need to draw inferences.
• The inferences they draw lead them to the topic and
main idea.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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An Example of Repetition and Reference at Work
Note how the author uses chains of repetition and reference to
keep the words baby, cry and emotion at the forefront of the
reader’s consciousness and lead the way to the topic and
main idea:
“1Crying is another common way infants express emotion. 2Newborn babies cry for
a variety of reasons, but primarily because they are unhappy at being hungry, cold,
or wet, in pain, or deprived of sleep. 3The nature of the baby’s distress is often
reflected in the type of cry she makes.” Bukatko and Dahler. Child Development,
p.376
Note how the phrase “newborn babies” in sentence 2 stands in for “infants” in
sentence 1. Notice, as well, that it’s up to the reader to recognize that “newborn
babies” is a synonym for “infants.” The same is true for the pronoun “they” in
sentence 3, which is a stand in for “babies.” Look, too, at how the word “unhappy”
in sentence 2 and “distress” in 3 keep the theme of emotion front and center in
the passage. Based on these chains of repetition and reference, it makes sense to
infer that “infants crying” is the topic and “Infants cry to express distress is the
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
main idea.”
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Spot Quiz Part 1: How many references to Alicia Keys can
you find in the following passage?
When she was just barely out of her teens, singer, songwriter, and
classically trained pianist Alicia Keys climbed to the top of the pop charts
and has stayed there ever since. Helped by a stint on Oprah in 2001, the
young songwriter’s first release Songs in A Minor sold an astonishing
235,000 copies. By the end of the year, Keys had two top 10 singles from
the album, “Fallin” and “A Woman’s Worth.” Born Alicia Augello-Cook in
1981, Keys had started out as a child actress with a small role on the Cosby
show but had become serious about music and devoted herself to training
as a classical pianist. After dropping out of Columbia University to pursue a
career in music, the young musician inked a deal with So so Def Recods
and attracted the attention of powerful music-industry mogul Clive Davis,
who signed her to his company Arista Records. After Songs in A Minor was
released everyone in the music business new the gifted entertainer had a
bright future ahead of her, and nothing she has done since the album’s
release suggests those rosy predictions were either hasty or mistaken.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz 1:Did you notice all of these? Based on this chain of
repetition and reference what’s the topic of the passage?
When she was just barely out of her teens, singer, songwriter, and
classically trained pianist Alicia Keys climbed to the top of the pop charts
and has stayed there ever since. Helped by a stint on Oprah in 2001, the
young songwriter’s first release Songs in A Minor sold an astonishing
235,000 copies. By the end of the year, Keys had two top 10 singles from
the album, “Fallin” and “A Woman’s Worth.” Born Alicia Augello-Cook in
1981, Keys had started out as a child actress with a small role on the Cosby
show but had become serious about music and devoted herself to training
as a classical pianist. After dropping out of Columbia University to pursue a
career in music, the young musician inked a deal with So so Def Recods
and attracted the attention of powerful music-industry mogul Clive Davis,
who signed her to his company Arista Records. After Songs in A Minor was
released everyone in the music business knew the gifted entertainer had a
bright future ahead of her, and nothing she has done since that album’s
release suggests those rosy predictions were either hasty or mistaken.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz 2: What chain of repetition and reference
dominates the following passage?
•
1Jury
duty is an essential part of living in a democratic society. 2But you’d
never know it from the way some American citizens try to dodge it. 3
Some people just throw the summons into the waste basket. 4They figure
that if the state authorities come after them, it’s easy enough to claim the
notice never arrived. 5Should the authorities pursue the issue—and they
often don’t—it’s up to the state to prove that the notice actually got into
the potential juror’s hands, and that’s not easy to do. 6For those who lack
the nerve to just chuck the notice, there’s a second choice. 7During the
interview stage of jury selection, jury dodgers can twitch, roll their eyes,
stutter and shake, signaling that as a potential juror, they are overly
biased or mentally unbalanced. 8Both states of mind are reason for
dismissal, leaving the jury dodger free and clear for another few years
until, once again, the notice to appear for jury duty arrives in the mailbox,
forcing jury dodgers to come up with a new scheme for avoidance.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Key Term: Implied Main Idea
The implied main idea
• is suggested by or follows from the supporting details
in the passage.
• ties the supporting details together in the same way
that a stated main idea, or topic sentence, connects
supporting details.
• is based more heavily on statements made by the
writer than on the reader’s personal experience.
• never contradicts any statements in the paragraph.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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An Example of an Implied Main Idea
Born in 1907, Louis Zamperini grew into a wild, spirited teenager who many people
predicted would come to a bad end. But Zamperini surprised his critics and stopped
getting into trouble. Instead of gambling and hopping trains, he took up running at
the suggestion of his older brother, who had told young Leo that if he kept going the
way he was, he’d be dead sooner rather than later. Competitive running suited the
boy’s high-spirited nature, and he was good at it, so good, in fact, he was selected
for the 1936 Olympics, where Adolf Hitler took the time to congratulate him. But it
was also Hitler who ended Zamperini’s running career. When the U.S. entered
World War II to put a stop to Hitler’s domination of Europe, Zamperini joined the
armed forces. Promoted to second lieutenant, he was deployed as a pilot over the
Pacific, where his plane crashed in 1942, and he and two comrades were plunged
into shark-infested waters, where they floated on a rubber lifeboat for 47 days, living
on little more than determination. More dead than alive, Zamperini was finally
plucked out of the water by sailors on a Japanese harbor boat, and he ended up in a
prisoner of war camp. When his captors discovered he was a famous athlete, they
made an example of him. For two years, Zamperini endured horrific psychological
and physical abuse, but he survived and when the war ended, he returned home a
hero. Eventually he became a sought after inspirational speaker and was the subject
of a best-selling biography titled Unbroken.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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A Logical Implied Main Idea
The implied main idea of the previous paragraph is something
like this: “Louis Zamperini defied the expectations of his early
critics to become a heroic figure who inspired others. A
statement like this is the logical implied main idea because
• it is based on what’s said in the paragraph i.e. early in life
people expected Zamperini to fail and he became a hero
instead.
• it functions like a topic sentence and unifies the two threads
of the paragraph, the expectations of Zamperini’s bad end and
his return from World War II a hero.
• it’s not contradicted by anything said in the paragraph.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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An Illogical Implied Main Idea
The following would not be a logical implied main idea: “The stubborn nature
that had made Zamperini break all the rules as a kid is precisely what
made him a survivor in World War II. “ This implied main idea is not
logical because
• it’s not grounded in what the author actually says. The passage does not
say if Zamperini was stubborn or not.
• if anything, the paragraph contradicts the idea that throughout his life,
Zamperini remained, the kind of person he was when very young. Running
had already changed his behavior by the time he went to war.
• it doesn’t help connect or tie together the existing sentences; instead it
adds an element never addressed—Zamperini’s alleged stubborness and
leaves out his becoming a hero and later on an inspirational speaker.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Just a Suggestion
• Unbroken is the title of a wonderful biography
about Louis Zamperini. You might want to
check it out because his life was and is much
more extraordinary than one brief passage
can suggest.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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A Word to the Wise
•Drawing logical inferences based on what the writer actually
says—rather than illogical ones based more on your personal
experience than the author’s words—is profoundly important.
•An illogical inference--an implied main idea that does not follow
from the sentences in the paragraph--will encourage you to have
expectations that aren’t fulfilled by the text that follows your
inference. When that happens, you’ll feel confused.
•To make the author’s words make sense, you’ll have to re-read
the passage and come up with another implied main idea. Even
worse, you might just quit in frustration, and not master the
material you need for your course.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Questions to Ask When Inferring the Main idea
1. What chains of repetition and reference thread their way
through the paragraph?
2. How can I put the words or phrases repeated and referred
to into a complete sentence that makes a comment on the
topic?
3. Do most of the sentences within the paragraph explain or
prove the main idea I have inferred?
4. Does the sentence I have inferred unify or tie together the
majority of sentences in the paragraph?
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz: Recognizing Logical and Illogical Inferences
Read the following passage. Then decide which of the following implied main
ideas is logical and which one not.
Annamaria Lusardi, an economist at Dartmouth University, has conducted
several studies measuring what Americans know about practical finance,
and the studies suggest that far too many Americans know very little.
Almost half of Lusardi’s subjects could not answer basic questions about
interest rates or the effects of inflation. Many people also didn’t know the
terms of their mortgage or what interest rate they were paying for their
homes, automobiles, and credit cards. In his book Broke, U.S.A., Gary Rivlin
confirms what Lusardi’s studies suggest about American’s financial
knowledge. He also documents the awful consequences it produces. Rivlin’s
book is filled with stories about people ending up flat broke because they
didn’t know what they were signing when they took out mortgages and
loans. But the misery that awaits people who don’t understand the ins and
outs of practical finance isn’t evident just from Rivlin’s heartbreaking
stories. There are statistics making the same point. A study of mortgage
foreclosures in the Northeast, for instance, found that people with the least
amount of financial knowledge suffered the most home foreclosures.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Which one is the logical inference?
1. Americans don’t understand financial
matters because the people who make loans
or write mortgages try to make the terms as
confusing as possible, causing many people
to end up in bankruptcy court.
2. Many Americans have a low level of financial
literacy, and they pay a painful price for their
lack of knowledge.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Adding Supporting Details
Writers don’t rely on readers just for implied main ideas. They
also rely on them for supporting details. For instance, in these
two sentences, the second sentence illustrates the first, but
the writer doesn’t tell you that. It’s up to you to infer the
relationship or connection between the two: “Schools
sometimes encourage sexual stereotypes through the the
teaching materials used. One survey of children’s readers
found that although boys and girls were portrayed with
almost equal frequency, girls were more often the characters
in stories in need of rescue and boys were rarely shown doing
housework or displaying emotions.” Adapted from Bukatko and
Daehler, Child Development, p.469
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz: Adding Supporting Details
•What other supporting details does the reader need to infer to
make these two sentences make sense?
“Schools sometimes encourage
sexual stereotypes through the
the teaching materials used. One survey of children’s readers
found that although boys and girls were portrayed with almost
equal frequency, girls were more often the characters in stories
in need or rescue and boys were rarely shown doing housework
or displaying emotions.”
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz: Adding Supporting Details
What essential detail do readers need to supply for this
passage to make sense?
Anytime you wake up the morning after a snowstorm
to find 2 feet of fresh powder piled up in your
driveway, you can guarantee that traveling anywhere
outside your home is going to be a chore. Driving,
especially, is going to be dangerous.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Key Term: Drawing Conclusions
Conclusions are
• a type of inference.
• not directly stated but strongly suggested by
what’s said in the passage.
• not necessarily intended by the author.
• drawn about the author or someone
mentioned in the passage.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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A Word to the Wise
Like implied main ideas, conclusions can be considered logical or
illogical:
• Logical conclusions are based on what is actually said in the
passage.
•Illogical ones are based more on the reader’s past experience or
common sense. They might well be true statements but they
aren’t supported by what the writer says.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Illustration of a Conclusion that Follows From the
Passage But May Not Have Been Intended by the Author
Around 150 A.D., a fabulously wealthy patron of the arts,
Herodes Atticus, who built a theater in Athens that can still be
seen today, had a son who had trouble learning the alphabet
and thus could not read. To help his son, the father gave 24 of
his servants one specific task, to represent the name of a
single letter from the alphabet. On a daily basis, the servants
were to appear before Atticus’s son, call out their name and
hold up the symbols they represented. Although it may have
taken a while, the boy presumably learned the entire
alphabet and eventually became a reader.
Which of the conclusions that follow can logically be drawn
from the passage?
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Which conclusion follows from the paragraph?
a. The son of Herodes Atticus was pretending he
couldn’t read to spite his father.
b. Herodes Atticus placed a high value on being able to
read.
c. His son’s problems with reading taught Herodes
Atticus a hard lesson: money doesn’t buy
happiness.
d. Like all wealthy Greeks of the time, Herodes Atticus
considered slaves to be property rather than
people.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Spot Quiz: Drawing Conclusions
Read the following passage and decide which conclusion is
logical.
•
In September of 2010, Randy Barnett, a law professor from Georgetown
University, and William J. Howell, the Speaker of the Virginia House of
Delegates, wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, arguing in favor
of what’s called the Repeal Amendment. The Repeal Amendment would
give two-thirds of the states the power to repeal or revoke any federal law
or regulation. At the heart of Barnett’s and Howell’s argument was the
belief that the federal government has grown too powerful and has gone
too far in its attempt to solve social problems that should be left in the
hands of individuals. In their eyes, the Repeal Amendment would act as a
necessary corrective. It would give the states more power and the
government less.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Which one of the these conclusions follows from
statements made in the passage?
1. The authors of the editorial believe that there
should be prayer in the schools.
2. The authors believe that the states do not have the
right to impose a personal income tax; only the
federal government has the right to impose taxes.
3. The authors are unlikely to support the idea that
the federal government can penalize those citizens
who choose not to purchase health insurance.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in
Comprehension and Critical Reading
1. When you are trying to identify the topic and main
idea of the paragraph, looking for the
_____________ left by the author can help you
identify both.
2. What words or phrases do you think are significant
in the following paragraph and why have you
singled them out?
3. What is the main idea of the paragraph? Is that
main idea stated or implied?
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension
and Critical Reading
• For some scientists, being happy is a matter of genetics. As this group sees it,
people are genetically programmed to be up beat or depressed. A much
smaller group of scientists, however, disagrees. One of those who disagrees is
psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California. She and her
colleagues argue that certain kinds of thinking can encourage happiness in
people who might, otherwise, not feel so great. After reviewing 51 studies that
tested attempts to increase happiness through positive thinking, Lyubomirsky
argues that certain kinds of behavior or thinking can increase feelings of
happiness. Expressions of gratitude, for instance, seem to make feel people
better about the world. In one study, people who wrote letters of gratitude
generally felt better after doing so. The effect was felt even in those who did
not send the letters. Optimistic thinking also seems to increase happiness.
Participants in another study were asked to visualize themselves in a happy
situation and think about how they might make that rosy future a reality.
These subjects too reported a more positive outlook, as did those who
counted their blessings on a regular basis. Who knows? Maybe it’s true that
there is power in positive thinking.
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading
•
•
•
Read the following passage and then pick the conclusion you think you could safely draw
from the author’s words.
One of the best-known first pets was Fala, Franklin D. Roosevelt's black Scottish terrier. The
dog went everywhere with Roosevelt, once making the news when he was accidentally left
behind on a trip to the Aleutian Islands. Roosevelt's Republican opponents accused him of
spending $8 million to send a destroyer back to fetch the dog. The president's humorous
defense of his dog only increased his popularity and probably helped Roosevelt win his
historic fourth term. But Fala is not the only famous first pet. President Richard Nixon's dog
Checkers has been credited with saving Nixon’s political career. In a 1952 speech on national
television, Nixon defended accusations of financial irregularities by acknowledging the
receipt of just one personal gift, Checkers. Nixon also tearfully claimed he would never give
up Checkers. Gerald Ford's dog Liberty was so popular, the cast of the TV comedy show
Saturday Night Live often included Liberty in their skits about the president. Millie, the
springer spaniel belonging to George and Barbara Bush, appeared as the author of a New
York Times bestselling book. Then First Lady Hillary Clinton increased the fame of first pets
with her book "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets." President Obama
encouraged interest in the first family’s pet by making the search for their dog a public
event. Eventually the family settled on Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, who has become one of
the most photographed pooches of all time.
From this passage, readers could draw which of the following conclusions?
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in
Comprehension and Critical Reading
a. Democrats like dogs more than Republicans
do.
b. Presidents may love their dogs, but they also
use them for public relations.
c. How presidents treat their dogs can reveal a
lot about their presidential character.
d. Many presidential dogs have become more
famous then their owners.
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What Do You Think
• Do you think happiness can be developed by
the right mental habits? Can you explain what
in your experience or reading makes you think
that is true (or not)?
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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Chapter 6: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical