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Comprehending Cause & Effect
April 25, 2013
When students struggle to comprehend cause and effect in their reading, here are some specific instructional strategies to move them forward.
1. Define the characteristics of cause and effect.
- The cause is why or the reason something happened. It answers the question Why or How. Authors often identify the cause using signal words: Because… Since… Cause… Reason… So that… Unless… The main reason… Due to… For the simple reason that…
- The effect is the result of what happened. It answers the questions: What happened? What was the result? Authors typically indicate the effect using these signal words: As a result of… If… Consequently… Effect… Therefore… Thus… So… Because of this… So that… For this reason…
2. Help students envision the cause-effect relationship with 2-step, before-and-after photo boxes. Reveal a photograph in the left box (e.g., someone crossing their snow skis, an egg being tossed, a soccer player diving for a ball, etc.). Ask students to predict What will happen? (e.g., the skier will fall, the egg will break, the soccer player will get injured, etc.). Identify their answers as the effect, the after, the end of the process. Reveal the effect photos in the right-side boxes to determine if their predictions were correct.
3. Repeat this same concept, but start with the effect and ask students to predict the cause. Reveal a photograph in the right box. Ask students Why or how did it happen? The answer shows the cause of the event, the before, or the beginning of the 2-step process.
4. Have students create captions for each photo combination, explaining their cause-effect relationship.
5. Explain to students that nothing happens without a reason or without some kind of consequence. Effects always have causes and causes always lead to effects; we rarely see one without the other. After reading a text in its entirety, reread paragraphs closely to identify stated cause-effect sentences. Encourage students to look for any signal words stated within the excerpt. If there are no signal words, readers have to visualize what’s happening to determine what came first (before/cause) and what came second (after/effect).
6. For more resources, check out The Literacy Store and search “cause effect.”