Cause and Effect, Part 1

Cause and Effect Pictures: Slides (Free)
Cause and Effect Cover Up Game: Paper
Cause and Effect Cover Up Game: Digital

It seems as though every semester I have to teach cause and effect. It’s a recurring theme because it’s important, but all of the time spent on one skill can get a little boring for students. Over the years I’ve developed a few activities that are fun, and today I’d like to share two of them with you.

Teaching older learners, I don’t have to teach the concept of cause and effect as much as the vocabulary surrounding it. They generally already know what a cause and an effect are, and how they are related, these concepts don’t change from language to language. What my older learners struggle with is identifying which part of a sentence or story is the cause vs. the effect, because the language can be unfamiliar. It would be easier if there were set patterns, and while there are some clue words, there are no rules for when to state the cause or effect in your communication.

Cause and Effect Pictures

Similar to when I teach inferences, I like to start with pictures. As explained in the video, “Importance of Modeling and Guided Practice” by IRLe Instructional Solutions Team, giving students examples and opportunities to practice under controlled conditions is important. One way to do this with cause and effect is to give students pictures and have them come up with two possible causes and effects for each. (Once again, this activity practices more than one skill because students need to make inferences in order to do this.) In order to facilitate this activity, I’ve put together a set of pictures and provided students with boxes in which to place possible causes and effects. The picture set includes ten different images, and we’ll typically do one or two together as a class before students complete the others on their own or in small groups. The activity is available for free as either a Google Slides (easily downloads to PowerPoint) or PDF file.

Childhood Troubles Cover Up

As with nearly all skills, I have a game that we like to play to help us practice a little more. Cover Up is a popular game in my classes. The students like it because there are a variety of ways to play, and I like it because it is easy and cheap to create, set up, and use. The goal of the game can vary, but popular goals in my classroom include getting three in a row, covering up a group of four, four corners, and covering your entire board. Covering the entire board is the most popular goal by far, and students really like it when we play with the additional rule that allows them to remove their opponent’s covers under certain conditions (explained further in the game’s directions).

When I was developing this game, I was trying to think of a theme for the sentences, and about how effects are similar to consequences. That lead me to thinking about all of the effects/consequences in life, especially as a child, and how all children have some type of trouble in their life. I decided to theme the game around problems kids face as they grow up, such as not getting dessert because they didn’t eat their vegetables, or getting in trouble for not doing their chores. Having spent nearly two decades teaching in the inner-city, as well as having many refuge students in my ESL classes, I am well aware that some children face very serious problems in their lives, but I wanted this game to be fun, and so chose not to include such situations. Instead I focused on sentences that dealt with things that are relatable to children in many different countries, from all different backgrounds, and that seem like huge problems to kids who are experiencing them. My older learners (especially my adults) LOVE the sentences. They say it brings back a lot of memories, and it often prompts them to tell one another stories of the various “troubles” from their own lives (authentic speaking practice!).

The paper version of the game is played using some type of cover (popular covers in my class include: milk jug lids, counters, and mini erasers) and a twelve-sided die for each pair of students. I highly recommend laminating the game boards (I prefer cold lamination because it doesn’t peel, even after you cut through it.) so they last longer, and you can clean/disinfect them easily. The digital version includes and “infinite” pile of covers for students to use (created by drawing an X, copying and pasting it about 30 times, selecting all of the X’s, aligning them center and middle) and a modified dice script that randomly generates numbers between one and twelve. As with all of my digital activities, the only moveable or editable parts are the covers, everything else is part of the background image.

Of course one picture activity and one game are not nearly enough practice for cause and effect, but they are a place to start. We do many other activities, readings, and play several other games over the course of the semester, but these are the two I like to start with. On Thursday I’ll share with you an activity I like to use with my advanced students that always starts with them rolling their eyes and ends with them admitting that cause and effect may not be as easy as they’d assumed. Until then, happy teaching, everyone!