Reading Comprehension: Literal, Inferential & Evaluative

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  • 0:01 Reading for Comphrehension
  • 0:47 Literal Meaning
  • 1:29 Inferential Meaning
  • 2:23 Evaluative Meaning
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Reading comprehension involves three levels of understanding: literal meaning, inferential meaning, and evaluative meaning. This lesson will differentiate and define these three levels.

Reading for Comprehension

Imagine a boy named Billy. He is sitting alone in a corner and building a tower out of blocks. He places one block on top of another as his tower becomes higher and higher. The more blocks he adds, the more intricate his design becomes.

We can compare Billy's intricate tower design to the process of reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is the ability to process information that we have read and to understand its meaning. This is a complex process where skills are built upon one another like the blocks used to make Billy's tower. There are three levels of understanding in reading comprehension: literal meaning, inferential meaning, and evaluative meaning.

Let's take a closer look at each of these different meanings.

Literal Meaning

Literal meaning is simply what the text says. It is what actually happens in the story. This is a very important level of understanding because it provides the foundation for more advanced comprehension. Without understanding the material on this level, you could not go any farther.

Let's use our story about Billy to provide an example. The literal meaning of the story was that Billy built a tower out of blocks. The answers to questions based on literal meaning will always be found in the text. For example: Who was building the tower? The answer is Billy.

Here are examples of the type of information that could be identified as literal meaning:

  • The main idea
  • Stated facts
  • The sequence of events
  • Characters in the story

Inferential Meaning

Inferential meaning involves determining what the text means. You start with the stated information. This information is then used to determine deeper meaning that is not explicitly stated. Determining inferential meaning requires you to think about the text and draw a conclusion.

Getting back to Billy again, what inferential meaning could we get from our story? We could infer that Billy is good at building towers! A question about inferential meaning will typically make you provide examples from the text that back up your thinking. For example: Why could you assume that Billy is good at building towers? You assume this is true because the story says that Billy's tower got higher and higher, and the design became more intricate with each block.

Examples of the type of information that could be identified as inferential meaning include:

  • Generalizations
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Future predictions
  • An unstated main idea

Evaluative Meaning

Evaluative meaning is what the text is telling us about the world outside the story. Readers must analyze what they have read. Then, they must form an opinion based on the information.

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