If you have ever struggled to teach cause and effect in your classroom, watch the video above or read on! I’m sharing one of my very favorite teaching techniques step-by-step. You won’t believe how much it helps students link events in a story with their outcomes quickly and easily, forward and back, every single time. It’s so fun to teach, too!
What is Going to Happen
When I tell my students we are going to read our story of the day, “Bobo the Barracuda,” one little boy is sure right from the start that our story will have an unhappy ending. “There are two different types of animals,” he observes, “and I think the barracuda will eat the fish!”
Not everyone agrees, though. One little girl believes “they will become best friends.” I go around the group and ask everyone to make their prediction (everyone fervently hopes they become friends!) knowing this will get all the children even more invested in the story’s outcome.
Our first task is to take a quick picture walk through the book and see if we can get a sense of the story from just its visuals. The children’s conception of the story gets richer right away—one student thinks a friendship is still the most likely outcome, but now believes the barracuda will have a hard time convincing other animals it is a friendly creature!
Before we begin reading, I pass out Decoding Bookmarks that will help children sound out unfamiliar words. As the children begin reading silently (or whisper-reading) the story, the Decoding Bookmark will let them begin to learn to problem solve difficult vocabulary they encounter in different texts . I check in, so quietly, with each child, asking them to whisper-read a passage from the story to me to gauge their progress.
Using hand gestures and repetition, we ask ourselves “What happened?” I ask the children for one, short-and-sweet sentence summarizing the story. “Bobo the Barracuda made a new friend,” one little girl offers. The children agree that yes, this is what happened, and we write the summary sentence on the board. I explain that this is the effect, the result of the events that have transpired in the story. The summary is what happened. But why did it happen?
When We Think “Why”, We Say “Because” “
I ask the children to think about WHY Bobo made a new friend. “Bobo started to be nice,” one little girl explains, and up that goes on the board under “Cause.” Suddenly, students can see the relationship between actions and events and their results!
I show them that “because” and “so” both connect causes and effects in different directions. “Bobo started to be nice so he made a new friend” makes just as much sense as Bobo made a new friend BECAUSE he started to be nice. It’s a WOW moment, right? Causes and effects can be connected in more than one way!
I ask for more events from the story to demonstrate the cause-and-event connection again, from both directions. They have grasped the concept and are delighted to see it work perfectly every time! As the children talk about Bobo’s actions and their outcomes, they use wonderful describing words that we incorporate into our “so” and “because” constructions. I use the children’s writing journals to continue discussing Bobo’s choices and the reactions to them. Students read the sentences aloud to me and correctly identify the cause portion of each sentence as well as its effect.
When We Ask About Cause & Effect, WE Ask “What Happened”
When the children are asked to write a cause-and-effect sentence using either “so” or “because” they immediately know they must ask themselves What happened? As I go around the circle asking each child to share their sentence I can tell that is exactly what they’ve done.
I really hope this helps you in your classroom! Let me know if your kids make the cause-and-effect connection—I can’t wait to find out “what happened” when you try this great teaching method.
Cause & Effect Reviews
“I have to say…teaching cause and effect is a HUGE struggle for me! But after watching your video…I think I can do it now! Just like kids…we need to see good modeling!” – Angela B.
“I’m super excited to implement guided reading into my classroom next year where I know myself and more importantly my kiddos will love this time of the day.” – David C.
“Finally, a rigorous resource that I can utilize with my guided reading groups. I am amazed at the depth of the lessons and the relevant materials provided in the unit.” – Christina J.