The dog ran away because its owner left the gate open. The driver got into an accident because they were texting. Ben cried because he got a Batman costume. While it may seem intuitive to adults, cause and effect can be a really challenging concept for kids. But don’t worry, we’ve got you. Here are 15 cause-and-effect lesson plans and starter ideas that are simple but effective to help your students master this reading concept.
1. Make an anchor chart.
As you introduce cause and effect, an anchor chart can help reinforce the concept. They’re great to refer back to when reviewing and are helpful for kids to look at when working independently.
One thing to emphasize is that the cause is why something happened. The cause always happens first, even if it isn’t mentioned first. The effect is what happened, and it occurs after the cause.
2. Show concrete examples.
Gather a few items to use as cause-and-effect examples ahead of time. You could push a row of dominoes, turn a light switch on, pop a balloon, roll a ball, drop a Hot Wheel car down a ramp, and so on. As you (or, even better, a student) demonstrate these examples, ask your kids the cause and the effect for each.
3. Discuss real-life examples.
Give your class real scenarios and ask what would happen. You might say, If you left an ice cube on the hot sidewalk during the summer, what would happen? Then have students determine the cause and effect.
Continue asking similar questions, using the same frame of if (the cause) and what (the effect). For example, if you ate too much candy at one time, what would happen? If you practiced playing the piano every day, what would happen? If you never brushed your teeth, what would happen? To add some fun, you might even make it silly. Maybe, If an elephant jumped into a tiny pool, what would happen? Or If you saw an alien, what would happen?
4. Act out with role-play.
Prepare slips of paper ahead of time with ideas for students to act out. Tell the kids that they may make sound effects but may not use words. You can call for volunteers right away or better yet, put the actors into small groups and give them five to 10 minutes to practice before showing the class.
The situations you include could be: You’re playing baseball, and a window breaks. You’re blowing a big chewing gum bubble, and it pops on your face. A football team makes a touchdown, and the crowd cheers. You jump on the bed and get scolded. You fall down while ice skating and break your arm. You run fast and earn a trophy. And so on. After every scenario is performed, the class can identify the cause and the effect.
5. Match sentence strips.
Ahead of time, write causes on sentence strips and matching effects on other sentence strips. Make sure there are enough for your whole class. Pass out a sentence strip to each child with either a cause or an effect.
When you say “go,” have the kids walk around until they find a match. When they’re done, they can quickly share out their answers. This cause-and-effect lesson is a great way to get kids out of their seats and moving.
6. Play cause-and-effect cards in pairs.
Cut three- by four-inch cards from two different colors of construction paper. Once kids are in pairs, give each child two cards of each color. One color is for the causes (write a “C” on the back of these to help kids remember), and the other color cards are for the effects (write an “E” on the back of these).
Next, the pairs work together to come up with four different cause-and-effect events to record on their cards. For example, on one cause card, it might say: The mother bird sat on her nest. The effect card that matches it might say: The baby birds hatched out of their eggs. Or cause: It started to rain. Effect: We took out our umbrellas. Once the pair has finished their cards, they mix them up, place them in an envelope, and write their names on the front.
The next day, set the envelopes around the room, like you’re having a scavenger hunt, and have pairs travel around the room with their partners to open envelopes, match causes and effects, mix the cards back up, put them back in the envelope, and move to the next open set. An alternative is to use the envelopes as a cause-and-effect center.
7. Produce flip books.
These little books can be used in cause-and-effect lesson plans and much more! You might want to prep them for little ones, but older kids can usually make their own. Fold a nine- by 12-inch paper lengthwise (hot dog style). Keep it folded and use a ruler to mark off the three-, six-, and 9-inch spots near the top and bottom.
Draw a line from the top to the bottom at each marked spot. Unfold the page and cut on the three lines from the bottom to the fold. Once the flip book is created, kids draw four causes on the front and then lift each flap and draw four effects underneath. Need enrichment for higher-level kids? Have them draw or write several effects for each cause!
8. Make cause-and-effect pictures.
Take 9×12 construction paper (landscape format) and have kids fold it in half and then unfold it. Write “Cause” at the top of the left side and “Effect” at the top of the right side. Kids use crayons, markers, Sharpies, or watercolors to create a picture that shows a cause-and-effect relationship.
9. Create cause-and-effect cards.
Similar to the above cause-and-effect lesson plan, but instead of unfolding the paper, just leave it folded like a greeting card. I actually like to make the cards fairly small, then they can be grouped together in a little cause-and-effect museum for a fun display. The cards just have to be big enough that the kids can draw or write on them.
10. Use pictures for students to infer cause and effect.
This cause-and-effect lesson plan could be done after kids have mastered the basics. Gather some interesting pictures from classroom magazines (Scholastic, Weekly Reader, etc.) and regular magazines, or find them online on free-to-use sites like Pixabay. Look for pictures that have a lot going on in them because kids are going to be looking for several causes and effects, not just one. I would suggest NOT letting the kids search for pictures. Not everything is classroom friendly, and even if it were, it could be a distraction.
Glue the picture to the top of a piece of construction paper (portrait format) or a piece of chart paper. Underneath the picture, divide the space in half and write “Cause” at the top of the left side and “Effect” at the top of the right side. Kids brainstorm and write down lots of different causes and effects for the same picture by looking at it in many ways.
11. Try a graphic organizer.
For this activity, find pictures as before, but this time, glue the picture to the center of the paper. Write “Cause” above the picture, as well as a word or two explaining the cause. Then kids draw arrows away from the picture and write possible effects.
For example, if the picture is of a sunny beach, the cause is the hot sun. Some possible effects might be that the sand is hot, people get sunburned, kids jump in the water to cool off, people sit under umbrellas to stay cool, people put on sunscreen, and so on.
Another day, use different pictures and repeat the activity but switch it so the word “Effect” is above the picture, as well as a word or two explaining the effect. The arrows this time point toward the effect and demonstrate causes. For example, if the picture was of spilled milk, the effect is the milk spilled. The causes might be a cat bumped into it, a baby tried to drink from it, it was too close to the edge of the table, a mom poured too much by mistake, kids were playing ball in the house, and the ball hit it, etc.
12. Read a picture book or two.
There are several great picture books, such as If You Swallow a Mouse, that demonstrate cause and effect well. Some of them are a bit outlandish, but kids will enjoy and find memorable the wild scenarios. Here’s a great list to get you started. The Children’s Library Lady has also recommended several good picture books as well as resources for lessons on cause and effect.
13. Teach students to locate clues.
Teach upper elementary students that certain words, like because, since, due to, and if … then, or words that help sequence events, like first and then, are signals that can help them find the cause or effect as they read. Use this handout to help them and then have them practice by making up their own cause-and-effect sentences or by doing a version of the sentence-strips activity outlined above.
14. Play a game.
Games are always a great way to reinforce lessons. As an added bonus, games can be played independently. When a student or two finishes early or has some free time, have them test their mastery of cause and effect by having them play free online games that will both challenge them and reiterate what you taught. Ice cream lovers in your class? Have them “scoop” the cause (the ice cream) and put in on the effect (the cone) with this game. Or, put students in teams and have them test their mettle in this game of cause-and-effect Jeopardy!.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies cause and effect better than an experiment. Come up with a list of quick, simple experiments to do, such as putting lots of air in a balloon or putting pennies on the wings of a paper airplane. Then, as a class or in small groups, work together to come up with a simple hypothesis, using the words highlighted above. For example: The plant will grow because we watered it consistently. Or: If we mix the colors yellow and blue, then we will make green. Help students see that the setup of the experiment is the cause and what happens (the result) is the effect.
How do you help your students understand cause and effect? We’d love to hear in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.