When you’re helping children learn about cause and effect, it’s helpful to provide plenty of examples. Discuss the definitions of cause and effect, find everyday examples, use the graphic organizers to track the cause-effect-relationship, and then read these delightful children’s picture and chapter books as mentor texts to understand the text and thinking structure!
Cause and Effect
What is the definition and meaning of cause and effect?
Let’s define terms so you can best support the children in your life when they are trying to learn this concept. The definition of cause and effect, according to Dictionary.com is “a relationship between actions or events such that one or more are the result or the other or others.”
Teach children that the CAUSE is the first thing that happens resulting in something else happening — the EFFECT. This noun is spelled EFFECT. (It is NOT spelled affect.)
Cause is why it happened.
Effect is what happened.
Ask: what happened? why did it happen?
Everyday Cause and Effect Examples (for Kids)
Here are some simple examples to help children understand cause and effect in their own lives.
Cause — you go outside in the snow without a coat
Effect — you feel cold
(You could also ask: What happened? You feel cold. Why do you feel cold? You didn’t wear a coat and it’s snowing.)
Cause — you don’t brush your teeth
Effect — you get cavities
Cause — you don’t put the lid on your play-doh
Effect — the play-doh dries out
Cause — you practice your piano (shooting free throws, etc.)
Effect — you improve
As readers and writers to use graphic organizers to list causes and effects. This activity will help them see the relationship between two things. Particularly, when one thing makes another thing happen.
Children need to understand because is a life skill to understand the world and how it works but it’s also a text structure. Learning and recognizing cause-and-effect relationships will improve reading comprehension, historical understanding, and scientific leaning.
How do you diagram the cause-effect-relationship with a graphic organizer?
Use a simple flow chart or two-column chart showing one thing leading to another thing.
Make your own on any size of paper.
You’ll notice that there is plenty of room to consider multiple causes and multiple effects. Be sure that your students understand that often there are more than one of each.
Cause & Effect Signal Words
If you’re writing or reading, notice that these signal words help readers figure out the cause and effect relationship.
Look for conjunctions: because, as, since, and so.
I went outside in the snow without a coat SO now I feel cold.
Look for transitions: therefore, consequently, and as a result.
I went outside in the snow without a coat. Therefore, I feel cold.
Look for prepositions: due to and because of.
Due to being outside in the snow without a coat, I feel cold.
And just a quick aside, I know so many kids who would NEVER admit they were cold without a coat. Do you know those kids, too?
Cause & Effect Mentor Text Children’s Books
This list of books shares books that illuminate cause and effect in fun and silly ways. You’re going to love using these examples as you discuss this concept.
Plus, you can use these as mentor texts for writing nonfiction cause-and-effect essays.
On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
ages 4 – 8
A hilarious story of cause and effect with one unfortunate event after the other…all because a girl (you– this is written in the second person) gets gum stuck in her hair. First, the girl’s family tries scissors to cut out the gum. But those get stuck, too! Next, they use two sticks of butter. When that gets stuck, more relatives help out and before long the girl has a head full of gum, butter, scissors, grass, noodles, a pet rabbit, the cat, the vacuum, and a birthday cake! She screams for the fireman to stop when they want to add chili. After her aunt gets stuck up there, it’s time for the girl to go to school. Because guess what?! It’s picture day!
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
ages 4 – 8
Floyd has a problem — his kite is stuck in a tree so he tries to knock it out. First with his shoe, but it gets stuck, too. He tries throwing his other shoe, then his cat, a ladder but everything gets stuck in the tree along with the kite. Quite a bit of odds and ends get stuck in the tree – so much that when he throws one last thing, his kite becomes unstuck.
Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day by Jennifer George, illustrated by Ed Steckley
ages 4 – 8
Rube uses simple machines in a series of wacky and inventive steps to accomplish basic tasks — which ironically, Rube calls simple. From waking up in the morning to going to bed and lots of tasks in between (painting a picture, catching the school bus, avoiding baby brother’s flying food), kids and adults alike will be fascinated (and entertained) by Rube’s complicated contraptions to do simple things. A wildly imaginative book perfect for budding engineers.
Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe by Katey Howes, illustrated by Valerio Fabbretti
ages 4 – 8
A charming story about a creative young inventor, illustrated with bright colors and exuberant cartoon-like illustrations. Magnolia Mudd’s Uncle Jamie is marrying Miss Emily. He says that Magnolia can invent something with “Mudd Power” for the wedding. She decides to make the biggest, best flower bouquet launcher ever! Only she might have added too much Mudd Power…
Dirt Cheap by Mark Hoffmann
ages 4 – 8
Birdie dreams up a way to make money for a new soccer ball — sell dirt (cheap). And it works — lots of people buy her dirt and she makes enough money for a ball. Only now, she doesn’t have much of a yard to play soccer in anymore. What will she do to get some dirt for her yard? (Open a lawn care service so she can buy some soil!)
The Cow Tripped Over the Moon A Nursery Rhyme Emergency by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Joel Stewart
ages 4 – 8
The cow fell, and the Rock-a-Bye Baby did, too. Someone fell off a wall and a weasel goes pop. The Nursery Rhyme ambulance helps them all in this clever rhyming story.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
ages 4 – 8
In a domino effect of crazy cause and effect, we learn that one thing leads to another when you give a mouse a cookie. What will happen after he wants milk?
The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming, illustrated by Nicola Salter
ages 4 – 8
Kids will love this darling story about a worried squirrel who thinks that SOMEONE is stealing his tree’s leaves. HIS leaves! Even though his friend Bird tries to help him, Squirrel doesn’t seem to understand the changes that the fall season brings like leaves changing color and wind blowing them off the trees. It’s funny and illuminating — and will spark helpful discussions about the characteristics of fall– with a hint of a winter surprise at the end.
Pizza with Everything on It by Kyle Scheele, illustrated by Andy J. Pizza
ages 4 – 8
Wildly imaginative — this is the story of a pizza-loving boy who decides he should add EVERYTHING on top of his pizza. Pickles and apples, books and pencils, the White House, and a particle accelerator…so many toppings! Before long, the pizza begins to collapse in on itself and turns into a black hole!! Will it ever become a pizza again? Take a wild ride in this funny picture book that will have kids begging for multiple readings!
Blue, Barry, & Pancakes by Dan & Jason
ages 6 – 9
This graphic novel adventure begins with a beach ball. Blue, a worm, doesn’t want to share the beach ball with Barry and Pancakes because Blue predicts her friends will lose it. They do lose it. (Well, it’s swallowed by a whale.) The misadventures continue a silly cause & effect story, where one disaster leads to another –even into outer space and a volcano– but ends with a sweet celebration of friendship.
Strubble Town Squirrel Do Bad by Stephan Pastis
ages 8 – 12
Because of her overprotective dad, Wendy the Wanderer is stuck inside all day, every day. Until her dad takes a trip, and she gets an inattentive teenage babysitter. And with that, you might be able to predict that this story will be a cascade of cause-and-effect mayhem that is funny and also poignant.