Teaching Literal vs Inferential Questions in Speech Therapy

Do you have students who are able to answer wh questions but are still unable to answer questions related to a text that they’re using in the classroom or speech room?

I know it can be a struggle to know how to work on relevant goals for your speech students yet also find a different way to teach them that isn’t already being taught in the classroom. Our students in grades 4-12 are expected to do basic inferential thinking and they have to learn how to read between the lines and how to think about things that are not explicitly stated in the text. But many of our students don’t even know how to answer literal questions. We have to meet them where they are and explicitly teach them these skills.



One of my go-to strategies is using a visual! This picture below is one of my favorite visuals to use with my students and you can grab it for free by clicking here. I put this visual on a binder ring along with some other visuals so I can easily pull it out and utilize it with my students so that they can visually see the difference between a literal question and an inferential question.

When students look at this visual, they will be able to see what a literal question normally will look like (Who? What? Where? When? How Much? Which?) and they will be able to see that these answers can be found right there in the text. They will also be able to see what an inferential question will look like (What if? How did? Probably? Assume?) and these types of questions make us look a little deeper than what is explicitly stated in the text. When students know what key terms to look for it will make their job of answering the question easier because it takes away some of the cognitive overwhelm of having to remember all the things. If they aren’t sure they can always look back at the chart.



This is another great tool to use. I like to use this to give my students a picture with prefilled sentences about the picture and then the students practice sorting if the sentence is literal or inferential. Literal is something you can see right there in the picture with your eyes whereas inferential is something you might have to think about a little more.


Once your students grasp that there are some things that they can see and some things they have to put together the clues to guess at, I love to take it a step further and use an Edpuzzle video. I love using Edpuzzles so you can stop after various points and ask a question about if that was something right there in the video or did you have to think about it. I especially love using the video called Snack Attack – it's so fun and entertaining for older students and we are able to get a lot of practice in! And the nice thing about Edpuzzle is you can find lots of videos that others have already made or you can make your own.


Once you practice with pictures and videos, then you can take any text such as something you may find on NewsELA, Wonderopolos, readworks.org, Tween Tribune, or others, and put these skills to practice. I like to start by making up some questions about the reading passage and have my students sort out if they are literal or inferential questions before we dive into answering them. And make sure to have your visual ready so that if they get stuck they can always refer back to it.


Hopefully, these ideas will give your students tons of practice and will show them that they can be successful with this. You can check out the video below and grab the free visual here.