​​Game Ideas: Cause and Effect Games

Visual illustrations and games help present cause and effect lessons more effectively.

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. Learning this important concept does not have to take place in the form of a worksheet or lesson plan, but can be taught through a fun and hands-on game instead.

1 Preschool-Aged Children

Young children are amazed by the world around them. Simple games can illustrate cause and effect while delighting their senses and sparking creativity. There are multiple cause and effect activities to choose from, but let’s use blowing bubbles as an example.

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 then 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. You might say, “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. Due to preschool aged-children not having developed reading skills, it is best to use these visual examples instead.

2 Elementary School-Aged Children

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 this book as an example, you can teach effect relationships to any child, whether they are in 3rd grade, 4th grade or 5th grade.

Using a large poster board, create a board game that leads children through the cause and effect sequences described in the book. The start block should 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.

3 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.

Using task cards, create an effect matching game for your students. On half of the cards put possible causes, and on the other cards list possible effects. Then challenge your students to match them up. 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.

4 High School-Aged Children

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, whether that be hands on or apps on their phones. Scavenger hunts are fun for older students and involve higher order thinking skills, like working in small 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.

5 Bonus Ideas

Cause and Effect Jeopardy, styled after the long-running television quiz show where students need to respond in the form of a question to the clue read by the moderator. This is an effective game for Common Core Math Vocabulary quizzes.

Real-life examples of cause and effect can help reinforce concepts. Like:

  1. What causes a tree to fall?
  2. What causes a sailboat to move across the water?
  3. What causes the schoolbus to pick you up?
  4. What would cause a person to hold an umbrella?
  5. What would cause a person to be sunburned?

Christy Maxwell began writing professionally in 2009. She contributes to faith-based publications and writes content for several web-based companies. A National Board Certified special education teacher, Christy is considered an expert in education, writing everything from curriculum to short stories. She holds a Bachelor of Science in counseling from Old Dominion University and a Master of Science in education from William Carey College.