Reading Strategies: Two Mini-Lessons on Cause and Effect

Reading Strategies: Two Mini-Lessons on Cause and Effect
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It was the day before grades were due and Joseph Missthetest walked into my room.

“Hi Joe, what can I do for you?” I asked.

“Is there anything I can do to bring my grade up?” he asked.

“You could build a time machine and undo all the bad decisions you made this semester,” I answered.

“Why did I get an ‘F’? Is it because I did zero homework assignments, missed 23 days, and didn’t take four tests? I don’t understand! That’s not fair!” he replied.

I told him to leave.

This scene repeated itself several times before I realized I needed to teach my students about cause and effect. These two mini lessons should do the trick for your class as well.

The Levels of Learning

Level 1: Define cause and effect. Most students understand the concept, at least superficially, already.

Level 2: Identify cause and effect. This can be done while reading or discussing.

Level 3: Analyze and explain cause and effect.

Level 4: Apply cause and effect in their own lives, for example, understanding that attending class leads to better grades.

Once a student achieves level four learning, he or she is equipped with a skill that will reap dividends for a lifetime.

#1: Graphic Organizers

The easiest method for teaching cause and effect in reading is to use graphic organizers. You can either write cause in the main box and effect in the other boxes or you can write effect in the main box and causes in the others. Here are some short stories with suggestions.

  1. “The Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant - The effect is madame Loisel’s ten years of poverty. The causes include materialism, borrowing beyond one’s means, carelessness and dishonesty.
  2. “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connel - The effect is Rainsford defeats Zaroff. Causes may include Rainsford’s expertise, Rainsford’s cunning, Zaroff’s overconfidence, Zaroff’s death wish, Zaroff’s boredom.
  3. “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury -The effect is a new president. The causes are the protagonist stepping on a butterfly millions of years in the past and everything that happens in between.
  4. Romeo and Juliet - The effect is Romeo and Juliet’s death. The causes are many. This Romeo and Juliet cause and effect lesson plan is fantastic.
  5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - The effect is George’s inability to achieve his dream. Causes include the Great Depression, George’s habitual visitations to cat houses, economic inequality, mean people, Lennie’s mental handicap.

#2: Applying Cause and Effect to Current Events

US Unemployment 1890-2008

High unemployment rates are bad for the country but make a good subject for teaching. This particular lesson goes well with National College Awareness Day and makes a good wrap up to any literature unit that emphasizes cause and effect.

  1. Write the following statistics on the board:
    • The national unemployment rate (just below 10% at the time this was written1).
    • The unemployment rate for college graduates (4.7% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for December 20101).
    • The unemployment rate for high school dropouts (15% according to National Public Radio2).
  2. Using the statistics provided (reading charts, graphs and statistics, by the way, is a component of most high school proficiency reading and math exams) make a cause and effect statement.
    • Example: Cause: Education; Effect: Employment; Statement: Although obtaining a college degree doesn’t guarantee you a job (just ask the 4.7% of degree holders who are unemployed), it gives you a much greater chance of staying employed.
  3. Add more statistics (optional). In Nevada, for example, the unemployment rate as of October 2010, is 14.2%, highest in the nation3. According to the 2000 Census, Nevada is 50th in percentage of students who graduate high school4.

Even if these mini-lessons don’t end stupid end-of-the-semester questions about grades, they will help your students better understand cause and effect.


  1. “Unemployment Rate for College Grads is Highest Since 1970,” USA Today, December 6, 2010, Paul Davidson
  2. “Jobless Rate Less Scary for College Grads,” National Public Radio, November 24, 2010, Adam Davidson
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nov. 23, 2010
  4. Civic Report. November, 2001
  5. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

This post is part of the series: Mini-lessons to Improve Reading Skills

Emphasize skills with these reading skills mini-lessons.

  1. Two Mini Lessons on Cause and Effect in Reading
  2. A Mini Lesson on Making Predictions in Reading
  3. High School Reading Activities
  4. Lesson Plan on Using Context Clues to Understand Nonsense Words