Inferring is something we do naturally. We pick up clues from what people say and do and we make educated guesses all the time. It is an important skill because rarely are we given every single piece of information we need directly, some things we just need to understand without being told.
Students are often asked to infer on standardized texts, so much so that it is an entire question type in the TOEFL exam. Yet students often fail to infer in a second language the same way they do in a first language.
How can we as teachers help our students infer better? Well, we can show them that they already do it all the time visually. For example, if you look at someone’s shoes, you can make all kinds of inferences about that person’s age, gender, job, interests, and where they are going or where they have just been. One fun exercise is to show students slides of people’s feet and ask them to create a whole story about them in small groups. Then have them explain why they thought that person fit the story.