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 making a whole lot of inferences...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 flipbook, 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 make inferences 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 a 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 textbook. 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 classwork, 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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