The concept of cause and effect is both simple and complex at the same time. As adults, we understand that actions tend to have consequences, and events tend to have causes rather than everything happening independently.
The complexity comes in when you stop to think about how you know that. A proficient understanding of cause and effect requires you to interpret a connection between two different things and understand that one thing happening is dependent on another thing happening first. That can be a lot to comprehend for young kiddos!
Cause and effect is often communicated to children in the form of rewards (“If you finish your homework, you can go outside and play,” or “You can have dessert after you finish your vegetables”) and expectations (“If you jump on the furniture, you could fall off” or “Take off your shoes in the house so you don’t spread dirt”).
This is a great place to start, but lots of practice is the key to children fully embracing this concept, and the best way to practice is with these 13 cause and effect activities your students will love.
1. Start with an Anchor Chart
Anchor charts can be incredibly helpful for introducing new information by having students create their own infographic about a topic to which they can refer back. All you need to do to create an anchor chart is hand out the paper and markers! As you teach the lesson, you draw a chart on the whiteboard or overhead projector, and your students follow along copying your chart and adding their own details.
An anchor chart for cause and effect would include the main concept (cause is why something happened; effect is the thing that happened), any mnemonics or other tricks to help remember the concept and an illustration of the concept.
Something to point out when teaching cause and effect is that sometimes the cause is mentioned after the effect, but it always happens before the effect. This might seem obvious, but it can be helpful to point this out explicitly to improve understanding and increase retention of the concept.
2. Cause and Effect Brainstorming
Another good way to start teaching about cause and effect is to break it down into its component parts! Create a worksheet for your class with 5-10 ‘causes’ and have your students fill in the effects.
Examples of causes include the following:
- Hester did a handstand.
- David climbed up a tree.
- Jessica forgot to set her alarm.
- Brad played video games instead of doing homework.
- Aislinn ran down the hall.
- Joaquin studied for the math test.
- Melba joined a soccer team.
- Cam got a new bike.
Ask students to share their effects with the class and lead a discussion about the most likely effects, the most entertaining effects and the differences between those two types of effects. You’re generally looking for answers that display an understanding of the situation and a logical assumption about what might happen.
3. Don’t Skip the Ads
Commercials often include a short, scripted story that emphasizes the need for their product or service, either by showing their product as a solution for a problem or by showing the problems that can result from not using their product. This makes them ideal examples of cause and effect. Students can take notes of the cause and effect they see in ads, either on their own at home or after viewing some ads in class.
This can also be a good activity to add a mini-lesson on media literacy by asking students what they think about the ads, whether the ads are honest and what reasons the ads might have to lie. Advertising is part of modern life, and students benefit from learning to think critically about ads at an early age.
Are you Enjoying this Content?
4. Find Reason in the Rhymes
Nursery rhymes are full of cause and effect scenarios, and because they’re short works of fiction, the causes and effects are generally the bulk of the narrative.
From “Humpty Dumpty” to “Five Little Monkeys,” you can make a game of having students identify the causes and effects throughout the narrative—and there are as many ways to do that as there are teaching styles! Your students can write down causes and effects as they happen, or they can raise their hands to identify a cause or effect (or signal you in any other way your class has decided upon).
5. Concrete Examples
Demonstrating cause and effect can be a lot of fun! You can do something as simple as turning the lights off and on again and watching the lightbulbs come on above your students’ heads when you ask them to identify the cause and effect.
Other concrete examples of cause and effect include the following:
- Popping a balloon with a thumbtack
- Rolling a toy car down a ramp
- Throwing a beach ball around the classroom (this can demonstrate a whole cause and effect chain as your class tosses the ball)
- Setting up a row of dominos
Suggest a scenario and ask your students to predict what would happen. Try something like, “If you put a bottle of soda in the freezer, what would happen?” After your students have answered and come to a consensus, ask them to decide what was the cause and what was the effect.
Ask more similar questions using the same format of if (the cause), what would happen?
- If you practiced your hobby every day, what would happen?
- If you never cut your hair, what would happen?
- If you always did your homework, what would happen?
Don’t be afraid to get silly with it!
- If a dinosaur came to school, what would happen?
- If you saw Bigfoot, what would happen?
7. Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer
Make a worksheet that has two boxes, one labeled “cause” and the other labeled “effect.” Have your students write and illustrate both a cause and effect in the boxes on the worksheet.
You can have students portray an event from a story, a movie, a TV show, their own lives or the news. Identifying cause and effect in fictional media is usually easier since written and scripted media tends to rely on established story conventions. Identifying cause and effect in real life can be more difficult since real life involves a lot of random elements, and the cause of any given situation might not be obvious.
8. Plot Your Way Through
As you read a story or watch a video, ask students to note every major event that occurs. Depending on the type of story and how long it is, there might only be a handful of events (like in a fairy tale) or there might be a whole lot more!
After the story is over, go through the list of events with the class to make sure everyone got all the major events and understands their causes. This can be a good opportunity for students to teach each other, with more observant students giving hints on how to identify cause and effect in practice.
It can be helpful to tell children to visualize cause and effect like a chain—A causes B, B causes C, C causes D, etc. If they don’t understand why something in a story happened, remind them it could be because they overlooked a “link” in the “chain.”
9. Act It Out: Role Play
Before the activity, you’ll want to make slips of paper that have ideas written on them for students to act out. Tell your class that they can’t speak while acting out their scenes. Put students into small groups, have each group choose a slip of paper and give them about 10 minutes to decide how to act out the scene. Have each group take turns pantomiming their scenario. Then, have the class identify the cause and effect.
Here are some cause and effect role play ideas:
- The band plays, and the audience cheers.
- The baseball player misses the ball and strikes out.
- Someone jumps on the bed and falls off.
- The track runner runs fast and gets first place.
- It rains, and flowers grow.
10. Sentence Matching
Before class, write causes and effects (separately) on enough pieces of paper for everyone in your class to get one piece of paper. Pass out the pieces of paper.
Then, have everyone walk around the room until they find a classmate with a sentence fragment that works with theirs. Once they’ve found a match, ask them both to read it out loud and then get back into the group and try to find another match. See who can come up with the wackiest combination!
Besides being a lot of silly fun, this is also a good way to incorporate more movement into your classroom!
11. Mad Libs
Filling out Mad Libs to help learn language arts concepts is a time-honored tradition in all levels of academia, and learning cause and effect is no exception! Most Mad Libs include good examples of cause and effect, and you can add your own flair by calling on students to fill in the blanks!
12. Infer Cause and Effect from Photos
This is a more advanced activity and is best used as a capstone for your lesson on cause and effect once students have the basics down pat and a solid understanding of the concept. Spend a bit of time gathering interesting pictures that have a lot going on. You can use pictures from magazines or online.
Next, put one of the pictures on your overhead projector and have students take turns identifying either a cause or an effect. Then, ask a different student to name the matching effect or cause.
13. Busy Photo Graphic Organizer
This is a variation on the above activity (if you want a solo option instead of a group activity). Similar to above, find interesting pictures with a lot going on. Instead of displaying the pictures to the class, let each student select a picture they want to work with individually.
Glue each picture to the center of a piece of construction paper. Have your students write “Cause” above the picture and a few words explaining what they think was the cause of the events leading to this picture. Then, they write different events that they can infer from the picture.
Create a Classbook!
Another way for your students to learn about cause and effect is by helping them become published authors using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll turn your young learners into published authors. Classbooks are a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom. Your students’ parents can order copies, too!
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you have some fun cause and effect activities, get ready to introduce—or reintroduce—your class to thinking about this important reading concept!