Where in the World: Using Inference in the Social Studies Classroom

Around the Region XIII water cooler, we have been recently talking about inference and how it applies to different content areas.  We were asked, “Which one of these Merriam-Webster definitions relates to your subject area?”


  1. to derive as a conclusion from facts or premises
  2. imply, guess, surmise
  3. (a) to involve as a normal outcome of thought (b) to point out: indicate
  4. suggest, hint

Although an argument could be made for all definitions, the first definition applies best to Social Studies.  The definition was selected after carefully exploring the Social Studies Skills K-12. The skills explicitly outline inference in grades 4-8 and high school U.S. History, World History, Government, and Economics courses.  The following is a student expectation from the Grade 6 Social Studies course, Contemporary World Cultures:

Grade 6 (21)B: analyze information by sequencing, categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing, contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations and predictions, and drawing inferences and conclusions. 

Next we were asked, “So what does infer look like in your subject area?”  One example that comes to mind is picture and text analysis.  For grade 6, you could introduce the study of a country by presenting a Where in the World assignment where you provide the students with pictures, text, and factual information to infer the country in question.  The objective of this assignment is to give students evidence and time to analyze (This is the verb in the student expectation.) in order to make inferences and draw conclusions.

Picture A

Picture B



What exactly do you seein the photographs?What people and objects do you see?


Students could be asked additional questions such as:

  1. What clues does Picture A contain that help to determine this man’s general location in the world?
  2. What clues does Picture B contain that help to determine the general location of this McDonald’s?
  3. What role does economics play in Picture A?
  4. What role does economics play in Picture B?
  5. How does Picture B indicate the influence of globalization?
  6. How does Picture B indicate the influence of the U.S. free enterprise system?
  7. Taking it to another level, you could present students with text and factual information such as:

(…) women in my country wear a black cloak which completely covers their bodies.  This is called an abaya.  They also wear a headscarf.  Some women cover their faces and some do not.  Men wear thobes, ghutras, and sandals or shoes.  (…) are Muslims.  We believe in one God.  We pray five times a day.  All shops and businesses close at prayer time so it is easy for people to go to the mosque to pray.  We follow a lunar calendar.  Traditional (…) diets centered around coffee, dates, bread, meat and rice.  We even have a type of traditional chewing gum.  You have to have strong teeth and jaws to chew it.  Some people eat fast food like hamburgers, pizza, french fries, and donuts.  We have restaurants like McDonald’s, Hardees, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and many more.

Most of us speak both Arabic and English.  Women don’t drive in my country.  Our money is called the Riyal.  The Kingdom earns most of its money by selling oil to other countries.  Our king is King Fahad.

(…) is a beautiful country.  Thank you for taking an interest in it.

     –Grade 4 student, 1994

  • Extensive coastlines provide great leverage for shipping
  • Arable land is at 1.67%
  • North of Yemen
  • Official language is Arabic
  • Harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes
  • Only males 21 years of age have voting privileges
  • Natural resources are petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, and copper
  • Geographic coordinates for the capital city: 24° 38′N 46°43′E

 -CIA, The World Factbook, 2011

You may consider providing students with a map or giving them supplementary pictures and vocabulary explanations to help them further in this deduction method.  Ultimately, the students should infer from the material provided that the country of focus is…drum roll please…Saudi Arabia.   If that was your conclusion, then you inferred correctly.


Central Intelligence Agency.  (2011). Saudi ArabiaThe World Factbook.  Retrieved November 29, 2011, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sa.html

Hernandez, R. (2006). Picture A: Man with Honey and Picture B: McDonald’s in Riyahd.  Saudi Arabia.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (2011). Infer. Retrieved November 25, 2011, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infer

Voices of Saudi children. (1996, October). Middle East Resources, 18, 3-4.  Retrieved November 29, 2011, from http://www.outreachworld.org/Files/cmes_harvard/Voices_of_Saudi_Children.pdf

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