We tend to think of cause and effect as a reading skill, but it’s useful in all the content areas. Science is a great subject to practice this skill in so that students learn to identify the causes and effects of different events in nature. This will help them better understand why things happen and what can result.
There are lots of easy ways to integrate this critical thinking skill into your science lessons.
Tips for Teaching Cause and Effect
By 3rd and 4th grade, students have likely had lots of practice with cause and effect in their reading instruction. They can probably name some signal words like because, so, since, when, due to, as a result of, force, therefore, etc. A cause and effect anchor chart is a great visual aid to use to support this vocabulary.
However, sometimes an example isn’t presented as an obvious “this caused that” relationship. Sometimes it requires a bit more thinking to connect the dots. For that reason, it’s a good idea for students to practice with examples where inferencing is needed, or where the effect is presented before the cause.
It’s also helpful to use examples that have multiple causes and/or effects. For instance, a plant died because it didn’t get water and sunlight, or a storm caused flooding, downed trees, and displaced animals. Using a variety of graphic organizers can help with this!
Let’s check out some of my favorite activities to explore cause and effect examples in science.
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Photos are an easy place to start practicing this skill, especially since they often involve some inferring. You can use a single photo or a paired set that shows a clear cause and effect relationship.
Using an “I see, so I think…” or “X caused Y” sentence frame is an excellent way for students to get started.
Another activity is to have them write a caption for the photo that explains the cause(s) and the effect(s). You can modify this into a matching photos and captions activity for students who need more support.
Read Nonfiction Text
Reading a nonfiction text is another way to work on identifying the causes and effects of different scientific phenomena. Even just a headline or paragraph can be enough!
One helpful strategy is to underline or highlight signal words in the text. But again, it may take a little inferencing or synthesizing.
Some comprehension questions to ask include “What happened when…”, “Why did…”, and “How did changing X affect Y?”
Complete Cause and Effect Sorting Activities
I can never resist a good sorting activity! Matching the causes and effects for different scientific topics is great practice. I love to use sorts as a pre-test, review activity, and assessment, too. And since the statements are already prepared, it takes some of the pressure off having to come up with it on their own.
These science cause/effect sorting activities on weather, electricity, and plants are already done for you!
And finally, do some hands-on experiments! After all, cause and effect is what science is all about, right? Having opportunities to manipulate variables to create different results is the perfect way to practice this skill.
There are tons of simple investigations students can do with household and classroom items! And as they experiment, they can complete cause and effect graphic organizers to show the relationships they observed.
More and more states are requiring teachers to teach critical thinking skills in the content areas. By teaching students to identify cause and effect relationships in science, they’ll not only work on that higher-order thinking, but they’ll better understand the world around them. I hope this post gave you some ideas to get started with this strategy in your science units!