Teaching cause and effect shows up in the Common Core State States in third grade. As you can see from the standards listed below, text structure skills grow in complexity as students become older.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8 Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.5 Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
How To Teach Cause and Effect
Teaching cause and effect can be both fun and a little challenging. Students catch on pretty quickly when I tell them the effect is what happened and the cause is why it happened. After a few times of repeating this, I shorten the statement to “what and why.” I follow this with several everyday examples:
Effect – What happened? The boy fell.
Cause – Why did it happen? Water was on the floor.
Effect – What happened? Students left the school.
Cause – Why did it happen? The fire alarm sounded.
Effect – What happened? School closed.
Cause – Why did it happen? A large amount of snow fell.
Students can soon parrot back that cause and effect is the “what and why.” Most students can even give examples of cause and effect from everyday experiences; however, finding cause and effect relationships in the text is much more challenging. Due to this, I teach students to look for signal words such as:
- as a result of
- due to
Learning signal words helps students locate cause and effect relationships in a text.
Building in Complexity
After students have a basic understanding of cause and effect, additional concepts can be introduced.
- One cause can have many effects. For example, a blizzard can blow through a city. The blizzard causes many effects.
- power outages
- increased possibilities of hypothermia and frostbite
- impedes travel
- property damage from roof cave-ins, trees falling, and so on
2. One effect can have multiple causes. For example, a city has a lot of air pollution. This is caused from:
- automobile emissions
- electricity generation
- household and farming chemicals
3. Cause and effect can also come in a chain reaction or domino series where one effect becomes the cause of the next event.
Here is an example.
Grandma comes to visit. >> Susie gives up her bed, so Grandma will have a place to sleep. >> Beth, Susie’s older sister, shares her bed, so Susie will have a place to sleep. >> Susie is not used to sleeping with Beth, so she tosses and turns during the night. >> Beth wakes up grouchy because she doesn’t get enough sleep.
I find that students just need to practice to master this skill.
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