Teaching Cause and Effect: 11 Tips for Student Practice
The Classroom

Teaching Cause and Effect: 11 Tips for Student Practice

Tara Shanley
Jun 7, 2024

Cause and effect is a type of text structure authors use to create articles, stories, and other content. It can appear in both fiction and nonfiction texts. Learning to identify this text structure also helps readers discover the relationships among elements in a text. 

Students need to understand the connections between cause and effect to make meaning from what they read. In this article, we'll look at 11 ways you can try teaching cause and effect so students understand the relationships between them to boost reading comprehension:

Why teach cause and effect in the classroom?

Understanding cause and effect relationships in texts helps students follow the author's train of thought and understand their purpose. Learning this skill also helps students understand relationships between events, identify text structure, and make meaning from the text.

In fiction, understanding cause-and-effect relationships helps students rationalize and accept that the plot is believable. In nonfiction, learning this skill helps students understand the sequence or process that led to an outcome. 

The nonfiction piece is critical. Understanding these relationships gives students a better chance of comprehending texts in science and social studies classes. Cause and effect is a frequent text structure that authors use when writing about science concepts and social studies events.

11 ways to teach students about cause-and-effect relationships

Explore these 11 ways you can structure your lessons to help teach students about cause-and-effect relationships in a text:

1. Define the terms

A cause is why something happens, a reason or action that comes before the effect. An effect is what happens, a result or reaction that comes after the cause. Students should also know multiple causes can lead to the same effect and one cause can have multiple effects. 

Students can get confused when they always hear the terms mentioned together. Sharing the vocabulary words and definitions is the perfect place to start.

2. Use anchor charts

Creating an anchor chart helps students learn about causes and effects with visuals and text. On the left side of the chart, list the definition of a cause, an example, and an image that illustrates the example. On the right side, list the definition of an effect, an example, and a visual.

You can create anchor charts before a lesson and reference them throughout. You can also create the anchor chart during a lesson and have students contribute by thinking of examples to show. After it’s created, display your anchor chart in the classroom and allow students to reference it in future lessons and activities.

3. Teach cause-and-effect signal words

Certain words signal cause-and-effect relationships in a text. Teach students to look for those words to help them more easily identify these relationships while they read. Some of the signal words include:

  • If or then

  • Because

  • So or since

  • Due to or as a result of

  • Therefore

4. Dissect sentences

After students learn about signal words, have them find and dissect cause-and-effect sentences in a text. Students must remember the definitions to determine which part of a sentence tells what happened, and which part tells why it happened. This activity shows students that the cause won't always come first in a sentence even if the action always happens first in the pair. It also helps students see that signal words can come at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence depending on its construction.

Model how to underline the signal word and then highlight the cause in one color and the effect in another. You can use Newsela ELA's annotation feature while modeling this strategy and when students read independently. Assign one color to highlight signal words, one for causes, and one for effects.

5. Do a demonstration

To make a literacy skill stick, sometimes you have to take it off the page. Show students how cause and effect works in real life with in-class demonstrations. Pose questions like "What will happen if I poke a balloon with a pencil?" Depending on the texts or stories you're reading in class, you may use experiments pulled right from your lesson content.

For example, you could use an article on bringing snow to Florida from our Analyzing People, Events, and Ideas text set. Ask students a question like, "What would happen if we put snow in a bucket and left it out in the sun?" Your students might give different answers depending on your location and the time of year!

6. Pick specific mentor texts

Choose texts with explicit cause-and-effect relationships or structures to make it easier for students to identify them. You can use books like "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Numeroff or "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst. Other options include nursery rhymes, which usually have clear examples of cause-and-effect relationships.

Take "Hey Diddle Diddle," for example. The cow jumps over the moon and the little dog laughs in this nursery rhyme. The cause or action is the cow jumping over the moon. The effect or reaction is the little dog laughing.

You can also pick nonfiction mentor texts. The one in the "Hey Diddle Diddle" text set shows the cause-and-effect relationships between boy band music and dancing birds.

7. Play matching games

Create a matching activity for students to pair causes and effects together. On slips of paper, take sentences that show cause-and-effect relationships and split them up before or after the signal words. Or use a digital format, like using Formative by Newsela's match mode in the student practice center.

Use sentences from texts your students are familiar with the first time you do this activity. To make it more difficult, use new sentences that describe relationships they're unfamiliar with for more practice.

8. Predict with pictures

Use images that show one side of a cause-and-effect relationship to get students thinking about the other. If you show students a picture of flowers in bloom you could ask: "What do you think happened to make the flowers grow?" Students can share their potential causes, with answers like, "It rained and the seeds sprouted."

You can do this activity the other way too. For example, you could show students a picture of a basketball player taking a jump shot. You could then ask them, "What do you think happens next?" They may answer something like, "I think they'll make a basket," or "I think the player misses."

The goal of this activity isn't to get the "right" answer. It's to get students thinking about one scenario's potential causes and effects.

9. Use graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are great visual tools to help students understand information. Cause and effect graphic organizers split the paper in two. On one side, students can write the causes they find in a text and put the effects on the other. They can draw arrows from the causes to the effects to match them up.

With Newsela ELA, you can pair interactive graphic organizers with any article. Edit and customize them with Formative by Newsela. If you prefer printed, paper, organizers, you can download those too.

Download your printable: Newsela's Cause and Effect Worksheet

10. Get creative with captions

Practice writing by getting students to create captions for cause-and-effect images. Find images that show both sides of the relationship and put them side by side. Do this on the board, on a worksheet, on task cards, or in student journals. Then, prompt students to write a caption for each picture.

11. Analyze advertisements

Many advertisements show cause and effect to help sell their products. Bring media analysis into your cause-and-effect lessons and have students determine how products solve problems. For example, you could use the "Finding Dory" Coppertone ad from 2016 to show what happens when you do (or don't) use sunscreen.

You may ask students questions like, "What problem does sunscreen solve?" They could respond with, "It stops your skin from getting red," or "It stops sunburn."

Teaching cause and effect with Newsela

With Newsela ELA, you can teach students about cause-and-effect relationships in text using relevant, real-world content. Plus, it's easy to check students' progress to discover if they're learning and can use this skill independently.

Our standards and skill-aligned multiple-choice quizzes make it easy to get the right data to adjust your lessons in real-time. Research shows that students who read and take quizzes on Newsela ELA twice weekly see about three additional months of growth in literacy skills.

Not a Newsela customer yet? Sign up for Newsela Lite for free and get access to the scaffolds you need to teach cause and effect in your classroom.

If you liked this article...

Browse more great content from Newsela.


What Is Text Structure and How To Teach It Effectively

Discover what text structure is and resources to teach your students about it to boost their reading comprehension and promote learning other ELA skills.

Read more

9 Ways To Make Teaching Text Structure Fun for Students

Discover 9 ways to make teaching text structure fun for your students that will help them learn and retain this literacy skill.

Read more

10 Ways To Help Students Make Text Connections

Discover why it’s important for students to learn how to connect ideas in a text and tips to help them master this literacy skill.

Read more

Inspire the desire to learn.

Ready to engage, support, and grow every learner?

Contact us