Teaching Now: Predicting & Inferring with Primary Sources & Literature

Mrs. Heckart Next to the Predict and Infer Board

This is a guest post from elementary teacher and adjunct university instructor Kimberly Heckart, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I developed the Predict and Infer strategy to help students develop historical comprehension skills while comparing, contrasting, and evaluating information from primary sources related to a particular time period. This strategy motivates students to predict the relevance and meanings of sources and then discover information that will help them make sense of the sources while allowing them to confirm or alter their initial predictions. It also engages learners in contextualizing new information encountered through reading. Through close reading of texts, students identify connections between these secondary sources and the primary sources they analyzed.”

Below is a general outline of how to implement the Predict and Infer strategy. The outline suggests using images at first to help scaffold primary source analysis (see Connecting to the Common Core: Analyzing Primary Source Images) but you may use a variety of primary source types if that better fits your curricular goals.

Focus Question
  • Guides students through a process of analyzing primary sources, gathering evidence and drawing conclusions based on an essential question.
Content goal
  • Students learn how to predict and infer to build contextual historical knowledge.
Process goals
  • Students focus their learning to consider a topic-based question.
  • Students analyze and predict the relationship between primary sources, historical fiction, and non-fiction texts.
  • Students synthesize information using a reading free-response strategy.
  • Students make inferences based on close reading and primary source analyses.
  • Students answer a focus question in writing.
  • Primary Source Analysis
  • Literature Reading Connections
  • Literature Writing Connections
Primary Source Analysis Activity

Teacher Prep

  • Review each of the primary sources yourself and select one to analyze as a class and enough others to have groups of three analyze one each.

Activity Prep

  • Write the Focus Question on the board or a piece of chart paper and read it aloud.

Primary Source Analysis

  • Tell students that they will be analyzing primary sources and reading books to help answer the focus question.
  • Review with students the definition of a primary source: Primary sources are the raw materials of history and include original images, maps, documents, interviews, recordings and artifacts which were created at a particular time under study. Emphasize that examining primary sources will help students build connections to people and events of the past.
  • Hand out an Image Analysis KWL worksheet to each student.
  • Display one primary source image and lead a class analysis of this primary source, allowing time for students to fill in their worksheets.
  • Divide students into groups of three and give each group one image and another Image Analysis KWL worksheet.
  • Say to the students: You will be analyzing images that will help you to make connections to some books we will be reading about the quest of women in the United States to gain the right to vote in political elections. Each group will complete an Image Analysis KWL chart for the image they received. You will notice that there isn’t any source information for these primary source images so use your detective skills to figure out as much as you can.
  • Allow 10-15 minutes for student groups to complete the Image Analysis KWL worksheet.


  • While students are working, post copies of the primary source images students are analyzing on a bulletin board or around the room and hand each group four notecards labeled with Prediction.
  • When the groups have completed the worksheets, instruct them to take 2-3 minutes to write their predictions about how the primary source images they analyzed relate to the focus question.
  • Conduct a gallery walk or display the primary sources, one by one, as each group shares its prediction about how the primary source image relates to the focus question. After sharing the prediction, have one group member affix the prediction notecard next to the corresponding primary source.
Literature Reading Connections

Teacher Prep

  • You will be reading aloud one or more books related to the set of primary sources. These may be picture books or short chapter books.
  • Before starting the lesson, choose the books and places in the book that relate to the primary sources; while reading you will stop at these predetermined points to allow students time to create free responses.

Free Response Prep

  • Direct students to divide one or more sheets of paper into fourths (by folding the paper or drawing lines) and to label the sections on each paper with numbers 1-4.
    • The total number of boxes needed will be determined by the number of stopping points in the book.
  • While students create their free-response sheets, write the different types of response choices on the board or a sheet of chart paper.
    • a  connection to one of the primary sources
    • a question related to the text or a primary source
    • a comment or opinion about the part just read
    • text to text, text to self, text to world connection
    • a clue about a prediction or that may lead to an inference (write clues on post-it notes next to the related prediction notecard)

Free Response Activity

  • Begin reading. When you reach a predetermined stopping point say, “Free response”. You may instruct students to create a particular type of response or allow them to choose from the list. Give students 1-2 minutes to write/draw in a single box.
  • Continue until you have finished the text.
  • If you have chosen more than one text to read, repeat the process with the next text.


  • Once all texts have been read, hand each group four notecards labeled with Inference.
  • In their groups, direct students to review their original prediction and to create an inference based on the new knowledge they have gained through reading. Allow 2-3 minutes for students to create their inferences about each primary source.
  • Conduct another gallery walk or display the primary sources, one by one, as each group reviews its original prediction about how the primary source image relates to the focus question and then the inference they just created. After sharing the inference, have one group member affix the inference notecard next to the corresponding primary source.
  • Then give other groups 1-2 minutes to consider if they have an inference about that same primary source to add; tell students that each individual may add an inference to one other primary source. Affix any new inferences under the first.
Literature Writing Connections
  • In their groups, direct students to take 5 minutes to discuss how they would answer the focus question and to consider which primary sources are most helpful as they explain their responses to the focus question.
  • While students are holding discussions, pass out one Number Notes Planner for each student.
  • When students have finished their discussions, review the Number Notes Planner, which they will use this to organize their thoughts. Inform students that they will then write a response to the focus question in one or more paragraphs.
Example Lesson

Literature Links: Predicting & Inferring about Woman Suffrage