Why did the dog run away? Because the owner left the gate open. The boy cried because he fell off his bike. Cause and effect can be a challenging concept for kids. While it may seem intuitive to adults, understanding why an action happened can be difficult for students to understand and communicate. But don’t worry, we’ve got you. Here are cause-and-effect lesson plans, starter ideas, and classroom activities that are simple but effective to help your students master this reading concept.
Scroll through these cause-and-effect lesson plans to get inspiration and grab some freebies too!
1. Make an anchor chart.
As you introduce cause and effect, an anchor chart can help reinforce the concept. They’re great to refer back to when reviewing and are helpful for kids to look at when working independently.
One thing to emphasize is that the cause is why something happened. The cause always happens first, even if it isn’t mentioned first. The effect is what happened, and it occurs after the cause.
Image source: Literacy Ideas for Teachers and Students
2. Show concrete examples.
Gather a few items to use as cause-and-effect examples ahead of time. You could push a row of dominoes, turn a light switch on, pop a balloon, roll a ball, drop a Hot Wheel car down a ramp, and so on. As you (or, even better, a student) demonstrate these examples, ask your kids about the cause and the effect for each.
3. Play a cause-and-effect board game.
Create our own board game using our free templates. You can print the board and write on it to gamify your cause-and-effect lesson. Just grab some dice and you are ready to roll!
Image source: @teachingtidbitswithjamie
4. Discuss real-life examples.
Give your class real scenarios and ask what would happen. You might say, If you left an ice cube on the hot sidewalk during the summer, what would happen? Then have students determine the cause and effect.
Continue asking similar questions, using the same frame of if (the cause) and what (the effect). For example, if you ate too much candy at one time, what would happen? If you practiced playing the piano every day, what would happen? If you never brushed your teeth, what would happen? To add some fun, you might even make it silly. Maybe, If an elephant jumped into a tiny pool, what would happen? Or If you saw an alien, what would happen?
5. Create an interactive anchor chart.
Have you tried an interactive anchor chart? They’re a fun way to get students involved by building the anchor chart together! As you teach the lesson, fill in the anchor chart with your students. They can even write their own sticky notes to add, or write on the chart itself.
Image source: @myclassbloom
6. Act out with role-play.
Prepare slips of paper ahead of time with ideas for students to act out. Tell the kids that they may make sound effects but may not use words. You can call for volunteers right away or, better yet, put the actors into small groups and give them 5 to 10 minutes to practice before showing the class.
The situations you include could be: You’re playing baseball, and a window breaks. You’re blowing a big chewing gum bubble, and it pops on your face. A football team makes a touchdown and the crowd cheers. You jump on the bed and get scolded. You run fast and earn a trophy. And so on. After every scenario is performed, the class can identify the cause and the effect.
7. Match sentence strips.
Ahead of time, write causes on sentence strips and matching effects on other sentence strips. Make sure there are enough for your whole class. Pass out a sentence strip to each child with either a cause or an effect.
When you say “go,” have the kids walk around until they find a match. When they’re done, they can quickly share out their answers. This cause-and-effect lesson is a great way to get kids out of their seats and moving.
Image source: @ms_meganclark
8. Create a paper chain.
Similar to the sentence-matching strips, write causes and effects on separate pieces of foldable paper to hand out to the class. Students can then create a paper chain where they loop together a cause and an effect, incorporating a fun and artsy element to keep them engaged in the lesson. Students can either work in pairs, alone, or have to swap papers and work together to find the correct causes and effects.
Image source: Teaching With a Mountain View
9. Play cause-and-effect cards in pairs.
Cut 3-by-4-inch cards from two different colors of construction paper. Once kids are in pairs, give each child two cards of each color. One color is for the causes (write a “C” on the back of these to help kids remember), and the other color cards are for the effects (write an “E” on the back of these).
Next, the pairs work together to come up with four different cause-and-effect events to record on their cards. For example, on one cause card, it might say: The mother bird sat on her nest. The effect card that matches it might say: The baby birds hatched out of their eggs. Or cause: It started to rain. Effect: We took out our umbrellas. Once the pair has finished their cards, they mix them up, place them in an envelope, and write their names on the front.
The next day, set the envelopes around the room, like you’re having a scavenger hunt. Have pairs travel around the room with their partners to open envelopes, match causes and effects, mix the cards back up, put them back in the envelope, and move to the next open set. An alternative is to use the envelopes as a cause-and-effect center.
Image source: Rockin Resources
10. Produce cause-and-effect flip-books.
These little books can be used in cause-and-effect lesson plans and much more! You might want to prep them for little ones, but older kids can usually make their own. Fold a 9-by-12-inch paper lengthwise (hot dog–style). Keep it folded and use a ruler to mark off the 3-, 6-, and 9-inch spots near the top and bottom.
Draw a line from the top to the bottom at each marked spot. Unfold the page and cut on the three lines from the bottom to the fold. Once the flip-book is created, kids draw four causes on the front and then lift each flap and draw four effects underneath. Need enrichment for higher-level kids? Have them draw or write several effects for each cause.
Image source: Upper Elementary Snapshots
11. Fill out Mad Libs.
Use fill-in-the-blank worksheets where the blank spaces are either the cause or effect of an action. Students can make up their own story while determining the cause and effect of their creation. See these downloadable Mad Lib worksheets to get started.
12. Make cause-and-effect pictures.
Take 9 x 12 construction paper (landscape format) and have kids fold it in half and then unfold it. Write “Cause” at the top of the left side and “Effect” at the top of the right side. Kids use crayons, markers, Sharpies, or watercolors to create a picture that shows a cause-and-effect relationship.
Image source: Creative Learning
13. Create cause-and-effect cards.
Similar to the above cause-and-effect lesson plan, but instead of unfolding the paper, just leave it folded like a greeting card. I actually like to make the cards fairly small, then they can be grouped together in a little cause-and-effect museum for a fun display. The cards just have to be big enough for the kids to draw or write on them.
14. Use nursery rhymes.
Have students pick out cause-and-effect scenarios from nursery rhymes. Maybe a familiar story will help them identify the concept. Whether it’s a familiar tale or a new story, the simple layout of nursery rhymes serves as a great starting point to recognizing cause and effect.
Image source: Rockin Resources
15. Use pictures for students to infer cause and effect.
This cause-and-effect lesson plan could be done after kids have mastered the basics. Gather some interesting pictures from classroom magazines (Scholastic, Weekly Reader, etc.) and regular magazines, or find them online on free-to-use sites like Pixabay. Look for pictures that have a lot going on in them because kids are going to be looking for several causes and effects, not just one. I would suggest NOT letting the kids search for pictures. Not everything is classroom friendly, and even if it were, it could be a distraction.
Glue the picture to the top of a piece of construction paper (portrait format) or a piece of chart paper. Underneath the picture, divide the space in half and write “Cause” at the top of the left side and “Effect” at the top of the right side. Kids brainstorm and write down lots of different causes and effects for the same picture by looking at it in many ways.
16. Try a graphic organizer.
Grab this free cause-and-effect graphic organizer template to get you started. It’s a great way to add extra practice and reinforce the topic.
17. Read a picture book or two.
There are several great picture books, such as If You Swallow a Mouse, that demonstrate cause and effect well. Some of them are a bit outlandish, but kids will enjoy and find memorable the wild scenarios. Here’s a great list to get you started. The Children’s Library Lady has also recommended several good picture books as well as resources for lessons on cause and effect.
18. Teach students to locate clues.
Teach upper elementary students that certain words like because, since, due to, and if … then, or words that help sequence events like first and then, are signals that can help them find the cause or effect as they read. Use this handout to help them and then have them practice by making up their own cause-and-effect sentences or by doing a version of the sentence-strips activity outlined above.
19. Play a game.
Games are a great tool to use for cause-and-effect lesson plans. As an added bonus, games can be played independently. When a student finishes early or has some free time, have them test their mastery of cause and effect by having them play free online games that will both challenge them and reiterate what you taught. Ice cream lovers in your class? Have them “scoop” the cause (the ice cream) and put in on the effect (the cone) with this game. Or group students in teams and have them test their mettle in this game of cause-and-effect Jeopardy!
20. Use a digital worksheet.
Switch it up a bit! Grab this free digital worksheet template to add a new way of teaching cause and effect. It’ll pair perfectly with whatever you have planned for your cause-and-effect lesson.
Image source: @simplyskilledinsecond
21. Print on sticky notes!
Printing on sticky notes is so fun! Check our our how-to video here. Your students will love using them to learn. Plus, they can easily be pasted into their notebooks or stay on desks as a reminder.
Image source: Alyssa Teaches
22. Use interactive notebook pages.
Make your students’ notebooks come to life! Interactive notebooks help students study and retain information with foldable flaps and more. You can get the template of the one pictured here.
Image source: Teaching With a Mountain View
23. Do a scavenger hunt.
Scavenger hunts make cause-and-effect lesson plans fun! The idea here is that student have to work together to find the cause of each clue. This will lead them to find the next scavenger hunt clue to keep going.
Image source: Miss Decarbo
24. Set up small group centers.
Choose a handful of cause-and-effect lesson plans from this list and build centers. Students will enjoy learning the concept in a variety of ways. Plus, it ensures that there are multiple ways to learn and grasp this concept.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies fun and exciting cause-and-effect lesson plans better than an experiment. Come up with a list of quick, simple experiments to do, such as putting lots of air in a balloon or putting pennies on the wings of a paper airplane. Then, as a class or in small groups, work together to come up with a simple hypothesis, using the words highlighted above. For example: The plant will grow because we watered it consistently. Or: If we mix the colors yellow and blue, then we will make green. Help students see that the setup of the experiment is the cause and what happens (the result) is the effect.