Teaching Observation, Inference, and Prediction to Develop Critical Thinkers

We all know that teaching isn’t just imparting The Three Rs anymore.  Teachers are expected to teach life skills, to monitor behavioral issues, and even to watch for signs of abuse.  In addition to “reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic” (Wow.  Whoever decided to call them the “three Rs” should probably not have been teaching children), teachers are tasked with giving students real life skills.

I think that’s why this idea from Science Notebooking really resonated for me.  It’s something that is not just great for building science skills, but for developing life skills, as well.  In a time when it seems that critical thinking skills are lacking, even in adults, this exercise helps kids to learn the differences between observation, inference, and prediction.

Using Pictures to Teach Observation, Inference, and Prediction to Develop Critical Thinkers

Using Pictures to Teach Observation, Inference, and Prediction to Develop Critical Thinkers

Picture of the Day Activity

Each day, the teacher puts up a different picture and asks the students to make five observations, five inferences, and five predictions about it.  What a great skill to teach to your students!  For younger kids, I would consider asking for fewer of each category—maybe two observations, inferences, and predictions.

This activity could easily lend itself to subjects other than science, too.  For example, you could use an interesting book cover as your photo of the day.  After students have shared their predictions, you could collect them to review after you’ve read the book.  This could help to drive home the fact that not all predictions are accurate.  I can think of ways to extend this to math, history, geography, and several other subjects.

With older kids, I would also consider taking this a step farther by looking for ways (perhaps in the media) where people were confusing observations with inferences.  The goal, of course, would be to engage your students in critical thinking, teaching them the basics of creating logical thought processes and arguments.

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While you can use any photos you want, coming up with 180 for the year might be more work than you want to go through.  You might want to consider using National Geographic’s Photo of the Day to keep things fresh and minimize your effort.

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About the author

Lorna Doone Brewer is a freelance writer, also known as the Queen Bee. She lives in the beautiful Inland Northwest with three spirited daughters and a wildly outnumbered husband.

View all articles by Lorna Doone Brewer

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