Cause and Effect Using Informational Text

Teaching cause and effect using informational text in the upper grade classroom can be tough. It takes a bit of logical thinking, a touch of common sense, and a whole lot of inferencing...which can be a tall order for kids this age. We can make it easier though, by giving the kids lots of opportunities to practice in a variety of ways. 

Here's my game plan:

1. Review the Concept of Cause and Effect
My kids are 4th and 5th graders, so by the time they get to me, they should (hopefully) have somewhat of a handle on cause and least the idea of it. It's always good though to start with a review, so I like to have an anchor chart handy (always a great visual reference) and have the kids play a matching game. 

To do this, I pass out sentence strips with either a cause or an effect on them and have the kids walk around until they find their match. When we're done, we quickly share out our answers. Great way to add some movement in the classroom and it's a quick, effective way to start.

2. Make a Flip Book
I think I might be a little flip book crazy...I try to restrain myself but honestly, these little books have so many uses! To make the flip book, we fold the 9 x 12 inch paper hot dog style, use a ruler to mark off the 3 inch, 6 inch, and 9 inch spots near the top and near the bottom, connect these lines and then lift the top half to cut to the fold. Easily done for this age but might be a parent prep job for younger kids. The kids draw four causes on the front and then the four effects on the bottom. Need enrichment for higher kids? Have them draw two effects for each cause!

3. Use Task Cards
I like to use picture task cards at first because it's an easier way to review the cause and effect concept, before adding the pesky (but oh so important) text. The picture task cards ask the kids to do a lot of inferencing too, which is cause and effect's best friend.

Once we do the picture task cards, on another day, I like to use the animal task cards. Some of them are very straight forward, while others are a little tricky. The cards are written in such a way, that the cause is not always written first, although it occurs first. For example, the horse ate the carrot because he was hungry. This brings up a great point that kids need to they read, the cause may NOT be written first, even though it happened first...I feel an anchor chart coming on...

4. Use Pictures for More Practice
When I first started teaching, we used to use magazine pictures for so many projects, and that's still something that might work well for some people. I tend to find that the magazine hunting process is more tedious and time consuming than I'd like it to be (in other creates a bit of chaos...ugh!). I also had to worry about what exactly they'd find, even in a Good Housekeeping kind of magazine or worse, a National Geographic! 

So, instead of magazines, an alternative is to do a Google search for pictures and print out specific ones that you can use. When I put the pictures on a Word document, I size the pictures so the top half is picture and the bottom is blank (with room to write: two columns, with cause and effect). I like to put the kids into groups and give them a good cause and effect picture (look for ones that have a variety of things going on in them, so the kids can make a number of cause and effect statements). For example, if the kids have a picture of a child trying to hit a pinata at a birthday party, they would write Cause: The girl is blindfolded. Effect: She can't see the pinata.

5. Use Mentor Texts
Time to dig into the text. Since we're focusing on informational text, I make sure to pull lots of picture books that fit that category. It's surprising, but once you start looking for cause and effect relationships, you can find them in almost every informational text book. First we read a few together and I model some of my thinking out loud, making sure to hit the cause and effect with a heavy hand. Then I like to have the kids read a book in pairs with sticky notes in hand. This is great too for fluency practice. Once they find cause and effect relationships, we get together and discuss some of them. The next day, I like to do a second round of picture books, making sure not to have the kids repeat one they have already done. This time each child reads alone and are asked to find several cause and effect relationships from the text, which they record on a graphic organizer. Bingo people...It's assessment time!


6. Time for More Challenging Practice

As my kids are well-into the cause and effect process, I have them work on more challenging types of text, using a unit I've created for 4th and 5th for cause and effect (there's also one for 3rd). There are several ways we use these, as morning work, as class work, as homework, and as a formal assessment. They can also be used in a literacy center or for guided reading groups.

We keep reviewing these concepts as we wind our way through the year to keep them fresh and to keep the kids growing as readers.

Do you have a favorite cause and effect activity or strategy? I love to hear your ideas too!


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Top Ten Test-Taking Strategies

Prepare your students to be read for test day.  This will ease their anxieties and students will be able to take the test without added stress.  These are the TOP TEN TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES that have been effective for for TEST PREP for my kiddos over the years.  I hope you find a useful strategy to share with your class!  There is a prinatble download at the end if you would like to share these strategies with others.

Take the actual test directions and show them to your students so they get familiar with it.  Review words they will find in their test like STOP at the bottom of the page, the word EXCEPT, and also words like NEVER, NOT, ALL, and ALWAYS.  Also review important subject-area vocabulary that your students found difficult throughout the year.  This will not only help your students with answering questions, but also understanding the question!

Tell your students that it is ok to circle, underline, etc to help them find answers.  When reading the question, they should circle any key words or action words.  What is the question asking them to do?  This will help them understand exactly what they need to do.  Then remind them about the strategies from Text Evidence lessons.  If your state doesn't allow the use of highlighters during the test, then practice underlining important information for questions with a pencil.  This example was taken from a Text Evidence resource.

citing evidence

Studies show that if you predict an answer before you look at the choices, there is a high chance it is a correct answer!

Tell your students that a great strategy is to cross off answers they know are incorrect.  This will help them narrow down the correct answer.  Practice this strategy throughout the year with your students.  They will f

Students need to realize that on most state tests for upper elementary students, they need to answer all the questions.  THE TESTING POLICE are looking for the most correct answers and their score isn't affected as much by incorrect ones.  Research your test to see if this is the case in your state!

Studies show that in most cases, your initial gut feeling of an answer is usually the right one!

When a machine checks the multiple choice tests, it will mark it wrong if it can't determine which answer the test taker meant to bubble.  Practice bubbling correctly.  Be sure to erase thoroughly and try not to go out of the lines too much.  Any marks on other answer bubbles will confuse the machine.

This is the most difficult one for students.  They want to answer and move on.  Especially in math with multi-step problems, encourage students to write them out the problem to get the correct answer.  The test may throw some close answer choices in there!  "Don't let the test trick you!"

Practice this skill throughout the year especially in Social Studies.  Explain that charts and maps are on the test for a reason, so they need to look over it closely to see if there is a hidden meaning.  F

There is no rush.  Why are students always rushing?  Is that your biggest pet peeve?  Tell them:  There is nowhere to go and nothing to do when you are finished.  Make sure to answer every question.  This test reflects your hard work throughout the year.  Do your very best!

Click on the pic below for a freebie!  I place these inside study folders (not for the BIG TEST but throughout the year.)

Related Post: Fun Way to Review with Your Students

I hope you learned a new strategy or two to use with your class this year!  Click below for a FREE printed version to share with teachers and administrators.

Do you need to review reading skills or Social Studies?

These are fun, interactive games!

Come back and visit us for more amazing teaching ideas and tips!


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Upper Elementary Literature Circles: A Book List

Are you looking for books for your 4th or 5th grade literature circles? This blog post lists grade-specific titles that kids love!

"We are going to have literature circles next week!"

Making this announcement would always result in cheers in the 4th and 5th grade classrooms where I served as reading teacher a few years back.  They loved literature circles.  It was always an exciting 8-10 days when students were allowed to depart from their normal guided reading group in which they sat around a table with a teacher and often the same 5 other classmates.  (In my school district, teacher-directed guided reading groups had to be utilized nearly every day between kindergarten and fifth grade.)  During literature circle weeks, however, we mixed the kids up, let them sprawl out on the floor, and have their own discussions about the book they were reading.  The other teacher and I would rotate between groups and listen in, but would try to stay silent if the group was having an acceptable discussion.

Organizing the literature circles took some work.  I always tried to choose a theme, and then select books based on that theme.  Once, dogs was the theme, and some of the books included Because of Winn-Dixie, A Dog Called Kitty, and Shiloh.  Another time, we had a multicultural theme, and some of the books included The Watson's Go to Birmingham and Drita, My Homegirl.

The all-time favorite theme each year, however, was the grade-specific theme.  One year I applied for (and was awarded) a grant so that I could order grade-specific books for literature circles.  The students had a very difficult time deciding which of the five books presented was their first choice, second choice, and third choice.  However, that's a terrific problem to have... students were rarely disappointed by the book they were assigned!  An even greater outcome... students were eager to read some of the other books when the literature circles were over.  After hearing a "book advertisement", previewing the book themselves, and hearing their classmates discuss the book, they often decided to read these books independently!  What could be better than that?!

If your school operates like the school districts in my area, spring is book-ordering time! If you are able to forward book suggestions to the person/people responsible for ordering books for your school, you might want to consider asking for multiple copies of these books!  (The top shelf shows third grade books I found.  (I have never organized literature circles for third grade, but I wanted to give you third grade teachers some ideas in case you want to give them a try!) The middle shelf shows fourth grade titles, and the bottom shelf shows 5th grade titles.  (Incidentally, The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School was included because it was previously titled The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade.)

If you want to read about how I introduced the literature circle books to my students, hop over to my blog, Crafting Connections, to read more!


Perseverance, Pride, and "Math Behaviors"!

If any of you follow me on my blog over at The Teacher Studio, you know that math is one of my passions.  I love to teach math.  Do math.  Learn about math.  I take it very personally when my students come in NOT liking math--and I take it as my mission to change their minds!

One thing that I think is SO important about math is that students need to be explicitly taught some of the "behaviors" needed to be successful mathematicians!  Whether this be a willingness to persevere and "give it a try", an ability to organize one's work, the careful "proofreading" of their math, or even knowing when and what tools/resources to use--math "behaviors" can really open the door to success for students who, previously, didn't think they could do it.

One thing that I know to be true is that students will rise to the occasion if the expectations are reasonable, clear, and modeled.  I love to have my students begin to recognize quality work, effort, creative solutions, and organization--so I put them in situations to see other students' work all the time.  We work collaboratively DAILY, and we often pause to share out things we notice.  You will often hear me ask questions like...

"What impressed you with your group's work today?"

"What were some things that you noticed that you didn't think of doing yourself--but might in the future?"

"What did some of your group members do to organize their work?"

"How focused was your group?  How could you tell?"

"Did anyone in your group get stuck?  How did you handle it?"

What I love about focusing on these math "behaviors" is that ALL students can be successful--even if their math skills aren't the strongest.  In fact, some of my students with the BEST math behaviors are NOT the best math students...but as the year has gone on, their skills have improved for a few reasons.

1.  Their focus and effort contributes to learning.
2.  They recognize that in my class, I value these "Real World" skills as much as correct or "fast" answers.
3.  The positive affirmations from their peers are motivating.
4.  Having their work recognized for quality builds confidence and active participation.

So...I thought I'd share some snapshots from a few recent problem solving experiences!  

I have a few students who, when faced with tough problems--or problems with unclear "jumping in" points.  My advice?  "Just try something."  Sometimes, just the act of putting SOME math on their page can get them rolling.  This willingness to dig in is a part of the "perseverance" Standard for Mathematical Practice!
This is one of my strongest math students...but one who came to me as a rather scattered and impulsive mathematician.  As he has watched other students in the room try different techniques, he has begun to mature as a mathematician.  He was hard at work making a "learning poster"--something I encourage students to do when they solved a problem in a really unique way in their notebook; I give them a 12x18 piece of paper and let them do a "final copy" that I display so others can see their masterpiece!  What did he have in store?  He wouldn't show me...

He was SO proud that he discovered a pattern with one of our "perseverance problems"--problems I always have hanging in an anchor chart for math workshop.  He was SO proud of his poster--and the other students ooh'ed and aaah'ed appropriately!

Sometimes students just struggle knowing what a problem is asking.  I encourage my students to use some of the same strategies we use in literacy--we highlight, we underline, we jot down notes in the margins...all techniques to try to get us to really get at the heart of the problem.

Every so often, I ask my students to look back over work they have done and select work that they are particularly proud of for some reason...they struggled but persevered to get the  answer, they organized it particularly well, they tried something new,--anything that helped them realize some of these "non-math" math skills!

So there you have it!  Put your students in positions where they are challenged--but help them recognize that getting the right answer is only part of being a mathematician!  Interested in trying one of these problems with YOUR class?  I have one available in a freebie if you would like...or a much larger set if you want to really dig in!  Thanks for stopping by--and have a wonderful week!

The freebie!
The full resource...problems, poster headers, suggestions for use, and more!
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Getting Ready for the State Test

I moved from first grade to 3rd grade several years ago.  I have to say - I LOVE this grade level.  I still remember my first year - I loved how quickly students became independent.  I loved how easy it was to get math stations and guided reading going.  I enjoy many things about this grade level. One thing that I don't love so much is the 'Big Tests'.  Talk about stress!  I am going to share a few things that I do in my classroom to have my students prepare for the big math test.  They are little things, but they help to break away from paper and pencil practice.

--->  Making Small Group Review Fun
I dedicate two 20 minute math rotations three times a week in the afternoon to review for the big test.  One item that my school purchased for us is a Test Prep Math Book.  It is not the most attractive and 'fun' item that I have, but it's a must.  I saw on Pinterest (of course I did) a cute idea about using these circle dry-erase dots.  They are the coolest thing!  I  put them on my small group table and we use it for reading and math.  Instead of passing out dry erase board or working out problems on paper, we use these dots!  A little thing like this can make going over a Test Prep book fun :)

---> Use Math Games / Task Cards During Independent Practice
During independent practice, I have students work on a math review packet.  When they finish, they are able to complete a test prep math game.  This can be task cards or a board game.  I have seen some fun ideas on Pinterest about how you can use games like Jenga and Connect4 along with task cards.  Students look forward to playing a fun game and they are encouraged to (correctly & neatly) complete their math review pages.

---> Use Math Websites!
I'm a big fan of math rotations!  One of my rotation is 'computers'.  I have my students go to two different math sites:
Manga High is free and has some very fun games.  I used this a lot last year and the students LOVED it!  Sadly, our classroom computers are near the end and don't load the games fast enough anymore.  We have not used it as much this year :(  If you have nice computers, you should sign up!  The games are made so students compete with each other, other classrooms, and even other schools around the world!

IXLmath is not free, but my school has purchased this program for our school for a second year.  It is not as fun as Manga High, but it has very focused practice.  I write down the skills students are supposed to work on during math stations on our board.  Students can master skills and earn medals. 

I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my math test prep ideas.  Thank you for reading!

A Reading Strategies Lesson: Finding Details and Writing Summaries

Our teachers at my school have invested many hours in learning some of the best practices in teaching reading strategies. In fact, we just attended a workshop this week that helped us validate that the lessons we have been teaching and applying in our classrooms are exactly the type of lessons that we should be using with our students.

One of those lessons that my fourth graders had recently was a nonfiction reading strategies lesson on using details to write a summary of the text. What fourth grader does not love reading about animals? That is one reason this lesson began with the book Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons. Another reason was that it was also a great tie-in to the animal studies that the fourth grade had been doing in science.

I gave each student 3 sticky notes before I began reading Polar Bears.  The students were told to listen for and jot down information that they heard about what polar bears are, what polar bears have, and where they live. I color coded the sticky notes: pink for are, yellow for have, and blue for live. Students then shared what they learned with their partners. Then we charted the information that the students learned.

Next, it was time for the students to read. I found this great article on polar bears for free here. It was perfect for summarizing.
To read this article, we chunked the text (broke it into pieces). Students read the first paragraph with their partners. Then they looked for details that described how a polar bear looks and highlighted those details. We then discussed what they found. I chose to simply focus on finding details in the first paragraph. We did not discuss summarizing at this point.
Next, we chunked the second paragraph. Students read it with a partner, and then highlighted the information that told them how  polar bears keep warm. After discussing and sharing the details that were highlighted, we reviewed what we knew about summarizing.  I used this chart to help students remember the steps involved.
Although we have used summarizing before in class, many of my students still need support with this strategy. I felt that the students still needed modeling to be successful, so I modeled how to take the highlighted information about how a polar bear stays warm and write a summary using that information. I simply wrote this summary on the board as I put the highlighted information into my own words. I also referred to the chart as I explained my thoughts how to write a summary. This portion was the "I do."
The next step was for the students to chunk the third paragraph of the article by reading it with their partners. I then asked them to highlight information that they leaned about an adaptation that polar bears have that help to keep them warm. After sharing the information that was highlighted, we worked together to create a summary of the information from the third paragraph, and I wrote that summary on the board as well. "We do." The students actually helped me think of  the sentences for this summary.
Finally, the students chunked the last paragraph of the article. After reading it with their partners, students highlighted information about a polar bear's paws. They shared and we discussed this information. Then the students used the highlighted information and wrote a summary about the last paragraph. "You do." Throughout this process, students are given much support to use this strategy.
At the end of this lesson, students used a graphic organizer from Common Core Reading Graphic Organizers for Informational Text packet.

Students wrote six details that they learned about polar bears that they thought the most interesting and drew a picture.

Throughout this entire lesson, which took around 90 minutes, my students were completely engaged! Even my most reluctant readers were excited, participating, and learning from beginning to end! Now, if everyday could be like that!! ;)
I hope you can find one aspect of this lesson that might work for your students. I know that teaching summarizing can be a struggle at times, but by modeling and gradually releasing the strategy to the students, they have a greater understanding of this reading strategy.
Have a blessed day!