Sunday, March 24, 2013

Causes, Effects, and Chronology

This week, we have been working on cause and effect text structure. Cause and effect is deceptively difficult for young readers. On the surface, it seems simple--cause and effect text structure just shows causes and effects. Easy, right?

In text, however, causes and effects are often more difficult. Cause and effect text structure often has a strong chronological aspect. Causes always come before effects. However, many authors of cause and effect texts state the effects first.

Why do writers do this? In many cases, the effect is more interesting than the cause. Authors start with the cause to get the readers' attention. In other texts, the causes are somewhat mysterious or counterintuitive. The author puts the effect first in order to build some suspense and show how the causes were discovered.

Texts that are organized like this present a problem for the standard cause and effect graphic organizer. Where to put the cause? Where to put the effect? Should an organizer reflect the way that the text is organized? Or should it reflect the way that the causes and effects happen in real life? I lean toward representing ideas as they actually happened instead of how they appear in the text, and this is what I've done with my fourth graders this week. (I generally try not to mess with the rules of causality.) A clever reader could probably play around with an interesting way of representing these ideas in a way that shows both the order in the text and the order in real life.

Tips for teaching cause and effect text structure

Look for causes and effects in real life: There are many opportunities throughout the school day to reinforce cause and effect. When the announcement came on Thursday morning regarding indoor recess for the millionth day, I said, "The cause is cold weather. What is the effect?" and the students groaned, "Indoor recess." Sometimes you can create chains of causes and effects.

Have students think forward about possible effects: People are notoriously bad with this forward thinking. However, considering possible effects of events is an important life skill. Trying this with normal, everyday events helps students to think about effects. "What if tomorrow were 60 degrees? What would be an effect of that?" Students: "We would be happy! We could play outside! We could have recess!" (You may notice a theme of cold weather has been an unusually cold March. Sunshine and a high of 25 degrees on the second day of spring is no fun.)

Look for causes and effects in read aloud: With my struggling readers, I read aloud Face to Face with Lions this week. There are examples of causes and effects on just about every page. We made charts of these causes and effects. We also watched this video about chinstrap penguins, which has some interesting causes and effects. (Cause: Penguins eat krill. Effect: They have pink droppings.)

If you are looking for cause and effect texts, you may want to look at these resources:
Text Structure Pinterest board
Cause and Effect Texts
Introduction to Text Structure

Notes from this week
-The revised Figurative Language pack is available. Lots of standardized test practice if that is on your mind right now!
-Links to videos are on my Reading Videos Pinterest board, along with indications for which texts or activities they go accompany.
-I'm working on materials for comparing texts...write to me at if you'd like to field test some comparison charts and texts!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas! I seem to always be mirroring your lessons in my classroom with the scope and sequence my district follows. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas!