Ladder of Inference

English/Humanities #2

Show students a video clip of a conflict between two characters in a well-known movie or TV show and ask them to reproduce the dialogue inside the ladder of inference. Where did most of the dialogue fall (i.e. conclusions? Assumptions? Factual info?). Ask students to analyze the impact the language had on the outcome of the conflict.



As students are developing their hypothesis for an experiment, ask students to explain how they arrived at their hypothesis by explicitly identifying the information they are relying on predict the outcome of the experiment. Ask them to lay out their reasoning on the ladder of inference.

English/Humanities #1

Give students the ladder of inference framework as a tool for helping them build an argument for an essay they are writing. How explicitly are they backing up conclusions with specific data? More importantly, to what extent are they sharing the reasoning that led them from the data they collected to their final conclusions? Use the ladder explicitly on your marking rubric to assess how clearly a student has expressed his or her logic.

History/Social Sciences

Find a strongly worded opinion/editorial piece in the newspaper. Ask students to examine to what extent the writer is using assumptions, rather than data, to support his/her conclusions. What kind of data would the writer need to find to make the argument stronger?

Download the Ladder of Inference Cheat Sheet here. 

Causal Model

History/Social Sciences

Using a significant event in history, have students outline the cause of the event by building a causal model. For example, ‘what caused the American Revolution?. Another possibility is to have students create a causal model of what causes push and pull factors for immigrants. To ensure that the model is robust, be sure to explore actors, contexts and events leading up to the event under exploration.

Cross-Curricular Activities

Identify a topic or theme that can be explored in a number of different curriculum materials. For example, ‘How do we create a pedestrian friendly city?’ might include exploration of geography, science and history.


Identifying a common theme across two different sources (e.g. Jane Eyre and Romeo and Juliet) and explore the theme by building a causal model. Students can explore the arc of the characters based on the theme and then reflect on their own model of the theme by comparing the two causal models.


Utilize the activity of building a causal model as a tool to develop a hypothesis of how a scientific phenomenon occurs. For example, ‘what caused El Nino?’ involves an understanding of ocean ecology but also of human behaviour in contributing to global warming. Focus on identifying the underlying assumptions of the models to understand the hypothesis that should be tested.

Download the Causal Model Cheat Sheet here.