Newton's Third Law states: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." While this law is applicable in physics class, it also applies to everyday life. Not only is cause and effect included in reading curricula across the country, it is vital to teaching children there are consequences for every action. Finding a way to teach cause and effect in an engaging manner can be a struggle for teachers and parents alike. However, there are several games that can jazz up the lesson, helping students grasp the concept of cause and effect in a stimulating way.
Young children are amazed by the world around them. Simple games can illustrate cause and effect while delighting their senses and sparking creativity. Blowing bubbles is a fun way to demonstrate cause and effect that appears almost magical to young children. Dunking the bubble wand into a solution, blowing through the circular section of the wand and watching bubbles form, float freely away and pop entices children to want more. Teaching cause and effect with bubble blowing can be as easy as explaining the process with age-appropriate vocabulary. "Dunking the wand into the soap solution and blowing into it caused a bubble to form. When the bubble touched the grass, the effect was that the bubble popped." Add a little food coloring to the bubble solution for more cause and effect teaching opportunities.
Elementary School-Aged Children
While elementary-aged children are able to grasp more abstract concepts than very young children, visual illustrations are still extremely powerful. Children in primary school also learn best when lessons activate many different centers of the brain. Laura Joffe Numeroff's story "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" provides a fun, whimsical look at cause and effect by illustrating exactly what happens when you give a moose a muffin. Using a large poster board, create a game board that leads children through the cause and effect sequences described in the book. The start block would be a picture of a muffin. Draw three blank squares and then a picture of jam that the moose will want to go with the muffin. Create the game board to follow the sequence of cause and effect events in the story. For added suspense in the game, make sure to add spaces marked "Go back 2 spaces" or "Move ahead 2 spaces." Erasers can be used as game pieces, and almost every classroom is equipped with dice or number cubes that can be employed for this game. Children will enjoy wending their way across the game board, all the while empathizing with the child in the story who is trying his best to please the demands of a hungry moose. Upon completion of the game, simply ask questions like, "What was the effect when the boy gave the moose some jam?" This lesson will stick in children's memories for many years to come, especially if the teacher summarizes the lesson by making and serving muffins.
Middle School-Aged Children
Teaching middle school children is especially challenging because their bodies and brains are rapidly changing. However, developing an understanding of cause and effect is probably more important for this group of young people due to the impulsive nature of middle-schoolers. Card games are fun for students and provide an alternative to spur-of-the-moment decision making practices. Make cards labeled with causes and effects. These cards can reinforce concepts from other subject areas or be created with social skills lessons in mind. For example, a card could read "Cause: The boy left the metal robot in the rain" and be matched with "Effect: Oxidation of the metal occurred resulting in rust." Or, "Cause: The boy made rude comments to the girl when he was with a group of friends. Effect: The girl refused his invitation to the dance when he asked." Have students deal cards and play a "Go Fish" type of card game, finding matches with the various causes and effects listed on the cards. Learning to think through actions and reactions not only improves reading comprehension and understanding of scientific concepts, but critical thinking in terms of cause and effect provides the necessary skills so that students can make positive life decisions.
High School-Aged Children
Learning through play need not be left behind in younger grades. Students young and old learn better when the lesson is entertaining and engaging. Cause and effect concepts can be reinforced for older students with games as well. Scavenger hunts are fun for older students and involve higher order thinking skills, working in collaborative groups and problem solving. Provide cause and effect graphic organizers for students. Fishbone charts, or graphs with a column on either side, are both effective for illustrating findings. Prior to introducing the lesson, create various stations with charts, maps and graphs around the classroom or school, illustrating concepts from a variety of subject areas; for example, a map of the gulf coast region of the United States, a chart describing storm surge and rainfall during Hurricane Katrina and a poster describing economics and demographics of the region. Develop a rotation system for each group so that students are dispersed throughout the stations evenly, or create several of the same type of station to avoid a "traffic jam." At each station, issue a slip of paper with a cause or effect, asking students to find the related element using the map or chart displayed at that station. Time the scavenger hunt so that students have ample time to return to class for discussion of findings. Older students appreciate independent lessons while collaborating with peers.
- Beacon Lesson Plan Library; Cause and Effect Scavenger Hunt; Kim Forgione
- The Beacon Learning Center; Cause or Effect Teacher Introductory Lesson; Feb. 11, 2004
- "If You Give a Moose a Muffin"; Laura Numeroff; HarperCollins; Sept. 30, 1991
- PBS NewsHour Extra; Lesson Plan: The Gulf Coast Region: Geography, Demographics and the Effects of Hurricane Katrina; Lisa Prososki
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images