What is Cause and Effect?
When you begin teaching cause and effect, read students a simple cause and effect sentence, such as “I went outside in the rain, so I got wet.” Explain to students that this phrase shows a cause and an effect. Define a cause as “the reason why something happens,” and an effect as “what happens because of the cause.” Ask students to identify the cause and effect in the given sentence, and have them explain their answers.
Identify Signal Words
The most basic way to teach cause and effect structure in a text is to help students identify the proper signal words. Write the phrases “because,” “so,” “therefore,” “as a result of,” “due to,” and any other appropriate signal words on the board. Have students break into pairs and practice using these signal words in a sentence. When they finish, encourage them to share their sentences with the class. As a class, identify the cause and effect in each sentence. Emphasize the importance of identifying the key phrases that let the reader know that the text is expressing cause and effect.
Use Graphic Organizers
Draw a basic cause-and-effect graphic organizer on the board, consisting of two large circles connected by an arrow. Label one circle “cause” and the other “effect.” Have a student insert one of the sentences that you have already discussed into the organizer, and explain how the organizer can help students to visualize the relationship between the two facts.
Then draw three more complex cause-and-effect organizers on the board. One should be a cause and effect chain, in which a string of circles is linked together by arrows. Have students explain that this graphic organizer should be used to describe a series of causes and effects, and have them give an example. The second organizer should consist of several circles all pointing at one larger circle, showing visually several causes combining to create one effect. The third organizer should consist of one large circle pointing at several larger circles, showing visually one cause creating several effects. In small groups, have students come up with real-life examples that could fit into these organizers (e.g., several factors that caused a war, the many results of global warming), and encourage them to fill out one organizer of each type.
Connect to Real Life
Have students connect the idea of cause and effect to their own lives. For example, have them list several of the factors that might cause two people to become friends. Have them list several effects of staying up too late at night. Most importantly, help them to see how identifying the cause and effect structure of a text can help them decipher the text. If possible, have them take out their science or social studies textbooks, find examples of cause and effect, and explain how identifying the cause and effect can help them understand what they’re reading.
Teaching cause and effect as an idea that they can connect to their experiences –in life both inside and outside of the classroom – will help them to apply the concept of cause and effect often and well.
This post is part of the series: Reading Strategy Activities and Lesson Plans
Reading strategies such as identifying cause and effect, noticing the main idea and details, or comparing and contrasting, can help students read more effectively. This series of articles discusses activities and lesson plans you can use to teach your students these skills.