Picture of graphic organizer and classroom magazine with title overlay: Five fantastic cause and effect lesson ideas for upper elementary.

Five unique cause and effect lesson ideas for upper elementary

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Cause and effect is one of those reading skills that I used to dread teaching when I first became a teacher. I honestly had a hard time understanding why my students struggled so much with it. No matter what I tried, or how many examples I gave them, they were still having a hard time identifying cause and effect relationships on their own. As a fourth-grade teacher, I knew the importance of understanding cause and effect, so they could identify how the events in a story worked together to create a cohesive plot. In my search for the best lesson on cause and effect, I realized what the problem really was. Cause and effect is a very abstract idea. I needed to find better ways to make it more concrete for my students. So I came up with some unique cause and effect lesson ideas that helped me do just that. 

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Why do you need these cause and effect lesson ideas?

If you are a brand new teacher, you may be wondering why we even have to teach cause and effect in reading. When reading fiction, understanding cause and effect relationships help students see how the events in a story go together. In order for the plot of a story to make sense, the events of the story need to be logically connected. 

In addition, we want students to recognize the relationship between two different things in nonfiction texts as well. Mastering this skill in reading allows students to apply it to other content areas, such as science and social studies. For example, when learning about the water cycle, students need to understand that the heat from the sun causes the water to evaporate. Without the heat from the sun, this phenomenon would not happen. 

Picture of a hand completing a cause and effect graphic organizer. Text overlay: Cause and effect lesson ideas for upper elementary.
These simple but effective cause and effect lesson ideas will help even your struggling learners master this difficult skill.

Best cause and effect lesson ideas 

Now that we have talked about why this skill is so important, it is time to talk about activities that can actually help our students master it. Over the years, I have come up with activities and strategies that have helped my students identify and understand cause and effect relationships. 

1. Introduce the domino mental model

This demonstration is easy to set up and very impactful. It is the perfect way to introduce cause and effect to your students. 

For this demonstration, simply set up some dominoes on a desk. Then, explain to students that in order for the dominoes to topple correctly, the domino that comes before it must topple first. Push the first domino and watch with your students as the other dominoes topple too. You can then reset your dominoes and remove some from the middle of your setup. Ask students what they think will happen. Hopefully, they will be able to tell you that not all dominoes will topple because there is a “gap” in the setup. Push the first domino to confirm their hypothesis. 

This demonstration will help students understand that, without that first domino being pushed forward, the other dominoes would not have fallen. Therefore, what caused the dominoes to fall was the fact that we pushed the first one. This is a great visual that will help students remember cause and effect in the future. 

2. Use pictures to sequence a story

After the domino demonstration, the next activity on my list of cause and effect lesson ideas is a picture sequencing activity. For this activity, I like to choose a movie I know my students have watched before (ideally, multiple times.) My favorite movie to use for this activity is Frozen. 

For this activity, I printed multiple still images from a section of the movie. I chose to focus on the beginning of the story all the way until the point when Elsa runs away. 

At the beginning of the lesson, I display all the images on the board and ask my students to help me organize them in the right order. Because they are familiar with the story, we are able to get this done very quickly. Then, I tell students that events in a story are like the dominoes we saw the day before. They are all connected together to create a plot that makes sense. If even one of these events is removed, the story can fall apart. 

I then remove one of the still images from the sequence and explain to students how the story would “crumble” if that event didn’t happen. Anything that was caused by this particular event would not happen anymore. We then practice this multiple times with different scenes in the movie. I like to give my students opportunities to discuss with a friend how the story would change whenever one of those key events was removed. 

This is such a powerful activity that my students refer back to it all throughout the school year. 

Picture of a hand completing a cause and effect graphic organizer. Title overlay: Cause and effect lesson plan elementary.
3. Use real-life pictures to infer cause and effect relationships 

No lesson on cause and effect is complete without a picture activity. I like to use pictures because they remove the burden of reading. They are magical for students who struggle with reading because they are able to practice and master the skill without getting bogged down by the mechanics of reading. It is a great way to isolate the skill and drive all of their focus to it. 

With this activity, I choose a picture that lends itself to establishing cause and effect relationships. First, we identify the event in the picture. For example, a picture of a dog chewing a bone. Then, we generate cause and effect relationships that go with that event. For example, because the puppy was teething, it needed to chew its bone. Kids can get as creative with their cause and effect statements as they want, as long as they make sense for the picture you selected. 

This is a great opportunity to use those cause and effect “keywords!” As my students tell me their cause and effect statements, I rewrite them next to the picture using different keywords. For example:

  • Because the puppy was teething, it needed to chew its bone. 
  • Since the puppy was teething, it was chewing its bone. 
  • If the puppy is teething, then it will want to chew its bone. 
  • The puppy was chewing its bone because it was teething. 
  • The puppy was teething, so it was chewing its bone. 

This is also a great way to demonstrate to students that sometimes the effect can be stated before the cause. 

4. Find cause and effect relationships in texts 

Now that students have practiced identifying cause and effect relationships without a text, it is time to practice it with a text. 

I love using classroom magazines in my classroom whenever I get a chance. I have written an entire blog post about my favorite classroom magazines in English and Spanish. You can check those out by clicking here. You can either choose the text you want your students to read or you can give them a list of options to choose from. 

 Then, I like to give my students graphic organizers that they can use to help them interact with the text. With a partner, students read the text and complete a graphic organizer that identifies cause and effect relationships in the text. 

I have created a bundle of FREE graphic organizers in English and Spanish, including graphic organizers for cause and effect. You can grab some of them for FREE by clicking here (including a graphic organizer for cause and effect!) 

Picture of a graphic organizer and classroom magazine with title overlay: Cause and effect relationship lesson plan
Create a cause and effect relationship lesson plan that will help students master this difficult skill using these five simple but effective activities.
5. Write a “choose your own adventure” story

This is a perfect culminating activity that combines fiction writing and cause and effect. In this activity, students will write a “choose your own adventure” story by applying what they know about cause and effect relationships. 

First, show students an example of a “choose your own adventure” story. A quick search on Amazon will turn up some great, cheap options. Once you have shown students what a “choose your own adventure” story looks like, they will begin working on their own stories. 

Students will use a storyboard to plan out their stories. As their characters face a situation where they must make a choice, students will write two possible outcomes. With each outcome, students will have to continue a plot line that aligns with the character’s decision.

This activity highlights cause and effect relationships because each event in a story must relate to the previous one. Once one event is changed, everything that follows must also change.  

There you have it!

I hope you have found at least some cause and effect lesson ideas that you can implement in your own classroom. Don’t forget to grab your FREE graphic organizers in English and Spanish by clicking here! 

Happy teaching!

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Hi, I'm Rebeca!

I help upper elementary dual language teachers with resources and ideas that promote bilingualism and biliteracy.  

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.

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