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Ways to Scaffold Finding Text Evidence

Text evidence.  If you’re an English/Language Arts teacher, it’s been the work of your life.  If not, with literacy skills being integrated into all content areas, it is likely your new challenge.  The concept is simple: we want students to make logical conclusions in their lives – conclusions that will lead to rational and well-informed decision-making.  Students recognize that it is unlikely they will be at a job interview where their potential employer will ask them to show them a quote from Lord of the Flies that shows the impact of human nature.  But practicing the search for facts and data within the four corners of a text in order to validate your thoughts – this is invaluable.

book with letters on top

Below, Education World has broken down a few ways educators can scaffold the use of evidence to support inferences in their daily lessons, no matter what they teach.  These strategies can be used as a way to introduce text evidence in your classroom, scaffold up to more complicated use of text evidence, or as a one-off to simply support the skill being taught throughout your school.  Each of these strategies are easily differentiated to all ability levels in K-12 and all strategies support the following Common Core Standards: Writing 1, 8, 9Reading Literature 1; and Reading Informational Text 1.

The Basics

When we’re talking about the use of text evidence in the classroom, we are usually talking about three separate, yet interrelated skills: 

1. Making an inference/conclusion. 

2. Supporting that inference/conclusion with direct evidence from a text. 

3. Explaining, in your own words, how that evidence you chose supports the inference/conclusion you made. 

It can feel difficult to separate the skills here, as the text evidence is where the inference comes from, and the explanation connects those two ideas together into a logical statement.  Still, before hitting those writing standards hard, students need to be able to find the text evidence to support their thinking – or at least know that they need evidence in the first place!  The following quick strategies might give you an idea on how to work with students on that text evidence hunt, from visuals and small texts to complete articles and larger texts.

Using Images to Point to Evidence

We know that some of our students are visual learners.  Don’t forget that images and videos are texts, too!  We scan them, “read” them, and make conclusions – sometimes within a single moment, not realizing that we’re doing it!  Give students an image to work with, and have them make inferences.  These inferences could be cued by the teacher through specific investigative questions. 

For example, a social studies teacher might use Palmer C. Hayden’s painting, Midsummer Night in Harlem as an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, identifying it as representative of what was happening in Harlem at the time period.  A teacher might ask:  What can you infer about the people of Harlem, based on this painting?  Students might respond, “they’re religious” or “they’re friendly” or “they’re formal”.  However, the key question to ask students is:  “How do you know this?”  In other words, students should be able to explain how they figured out their inference by placing their finger on the evidence.  They should be able to point at the church, the groups of smiling faces, and the suits they’re wearing and say, “this is my evidence”.  Using images to introduce evidence to support inferences is a great way to make it less scary.  Students begin to realize that this is something they do every day, and applying the same process to their reading is actually quite a small step.

Using Short Short Stories

Steve Moss’ collection of The World’s Shortest Stories is a phenomenal way to bridge text evidence hunters into the written word.  Yes, the narrative begins to lean directly upon Language Arts skills, but for an introduction to working with written text, it might be worth the diversion.  This collection of short, short stories is an invaluable resource for the teacher interested in quick narratives that beg for student inferences.  Each story, organized by subject, leaves something to the imagination of the reader for complete understanding, but it is also a great way to introduce students to the idea of using written text to support their thinking.  Using the 55 words provided for each story, students will need to make inferences to understand each story’s resolution.  For example, the short selection by Tina Milburn, titled “Moment of Decision” makes the reader think that the protagonist is reflecting upon an upcoming prison sentence.  However, the last two lines reveal she is simply getting married!  Ouch!  Teachers might prompt students with guiding questions that ask them to make inferences about what’s going on for each of these tiny tales.  Teachers might also choose to leave out the last line or so of each story, in order to push students to make inferences before revealing the truth.

Again, the key connection happens when you ask students, “How do you know that?”  This time, students can underline, highlight, point to, or simply state the words that led them to their conclusion.  These stories are particularly unintimidating for struggling students, because they only have 55 words of text evidence to sort through.  Some of the stories are easier to “figure out” than others, and some really take some strong inferences and a minute or two of thought.  Here, students begin to identify words, phrases, and combinations of evidence to prove their inferences, and many with a shocking, humorous, but always engaging resolution.

Murder Mystery and Small Texts

This worksheet was created to have students look at “text evidence” as if it were the evidence for a murder case.  Television and movies make this sort of process more familiar to our modern readers, as there’s very little difference between collecting evidence at a crime scene and collecting evidence in a text.  fingerprintDue to the “murder” content and reading level, it is likely more appropriate for readers grade 9 and up, but could certainly be edited for content by a creative, ambitious educator.  The premise of this text is that it was written based upon an actual police report, cataloging the interviews of suspects in a murder case (this is a false premise; as it is a complete work of fiction…but for engagement’s sake, students might not need to know that).  Each suspect could easily be accused of this murder; there is certainly no clear perpetrator of this crime, which makes discussion of the incident both lively and passionate.

Assign students to be prosecutors against each of the suspects.  This can be groupwork, or an individual assignment.  Have students read through the report (or read it with them, aloud).  As they do, they should be encouraged to underline or highlight text evidence – words directly from the police report – that they think could be used to accuse their suspect of the murder.  Once all evidence is compiled, let students duke it out to try to prove why their suspect is more likely to be the murderer.  The teacher can play the role of judge, but the accusation should be based solely upon the amount of text evidence that has been collected.  Sometimes it’s fun to choose an “actual” murderer (from the alleged “real” case) and let students know whether or not they were “right”.  This activity allows students to compile and evaluate the credibility of multiple sources of information in order to make their case, and, without their knowing, can bridge them from working with a shorter text to a larger text.

Strategies for Working with Larger Texts

We eventually want our students to be making inferences and finding text evidence to support those inferences using larger texts, whether they are online articles, novels, or primary sources.  However, you can still scaffold up to the big document when working on the skill of finding text evidence.  If you’ve reviewed some of the activities above, you might want to remind students that this is no different from working with the images, the short stories, or the murder mystery.  It is all about observing the evidence and making strong inferences that can be logically supported. 

One way to start students off with a larger text might be to give them the inferences.  Create a worksheet consisting of a list of inferences one might make, based on the text you are giving them.  Underneath those inferences, give students space to write the text evidence they think best proves that conclusion.  For example, if students are reading an article on “natural selection”, you might supply them with the statement that “beak variations in bird depend upon their dietary preferences.”  This statement might not be stated directly in the article, but might be inferred, based on the text.  Students would be charged with the task of finding that text.  Depending upon the ability of your students, you might make inferences that could be gathered from multiple examples of evidence in the text, but you might also write inferences where students have to hunt for one particular piece of text evidence.

If you’d like to put more emphasis on logical inferences and model what finding good text evidence looks like, you could also flip the activity.  Find the text evidence for students, and ask them to discover what could be inferred from it.  This allows students to see what implicit text evidence looks like and helps them focus in on their inference building.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Contributor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher leader in Connecticut.