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  1. Teaching Inference With Trash and Mystery Objects
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  • Anchor chart:  T-chart entitles "Trash Talks" with columns labeled OBJECT  and SAYS
  • A selection of interesting trash items, such as a vitamin water bottle, a sugar packet, an empty Starbucks instant coffee packet, an empty breath mint box, gum wrapper, empty almond tin, empty soda can
  • A selection of interesting and uncommon objects such as a brayer, a tuning fork, a saxophone reed, a furniture slide, a garlic press, sculpting tools.


  • The learner will use inference skills to determine characteristics or qualities of a mystery person by analyzing their trash.
  • The learner will use schema + evidence = inference to determine the uses of mystery objects.

Resource Instructions

Introduce the lesson by producing a bag of trash and telling your kids that trash talks! What does it have to say? What can we determine about a person based on what they discard? Show them the SCHEMA + EVIDENCE = INFERENCE poster and review the definition of schema. Select an item and ask the students to brainstorm what the trash tells us. An example might be: This empty coffee packet tells me that this person was in too much of a hurry to wait in line at Starbucks, he/she likes to have coffee handy and portable, he/she might be tired and need caffeine. Add these to the T-chart. The next item could be the sugar packet. If it is empty, ask them if they think it might be connected to the coffee. If it is full, what does that tell us?

Do this with 2-3 items. Then tell them that they can use these same steps to analyze a mystery object and determine its use.

To each group of 4-5 students, hand out an object. Give them time to pass it around and look it over. Allow 3-5 minutes for discussion. Then ask if anyone wants to make a guess. If not, then give each table one more clue. For example: "I got this from the art teacher."  "This was in my son's room. He is off at college. He is a music major."  "This came from the kitchen."

As they add more evidence, they should get closer to determining the object's use. One of the best discussions my class ever had was about a furniture slide, a plastic disc placed under furniture legs to make it easier to move.

Once the objects have been solved, close the discussion with questions like:

"Can you think of anyone who might do this sort of thing at his or her job?"

Responses have included: detective, archeologist, doctor.

So inference is a skill we use when we are reading, and it is also a skill we use in life.



I have used this to lead into a social studies lesson about archeology. I use a simulated shipwreck taped on my floor with photos of artifacts in different senctions. The kids work in teams to identify the objects based on reading from our text and their inference skills. They determine what the artifacts are and what they tell us about European motivation for exploration in the New World.


I have used the Trash Talks T-chart as an opportunity to assess. I have the kids draw the chart themselves and complete it with a partner.

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