Cause and effect is a reading comprehension skill where students identify why something happened (the cause) and what happened next (the effect). Very young children experiment with the concept of cause and effect (such as when a baby dumps over a plate to see what will happen next.) This concept is more formally taught in reading during upper elementary. In a story or nonfiction text, students must first identify the important details. Then they have to decide if those events are cause and effect. It can be challenging for multilingual students if they do not understand the text that is used as an example. Here are some ideas for teaching cause and effect with MLs.
Start with Pictures
Using pictures to teach reading skills takes away the decoding piece and reduces the vocabulary needed. An additional benefit is this allows students to practice oral language skills or writing. Show students a picture. This is a great opportunity to make connections with students. Use photographs of topics that students are interested in, those that connect to the content material, or even personal pictures. You can simply have students identify the cause and effect in the picture, or you can guide them with a question based on the material in the picture.
Another visual way to introduce cause and effect with MLs, is with science. Natural disasters have many effects that students can observe.
Set up a simple experiment. Ask students to predict What will happen next?
Cause– Add vinegar to baking soda Effect– Big bubbling mess
Cause– Heat chocolate Effect– The chocolate melts
Cause- Mix two color Effect- Get a new color
Introduce Key Vocabulary
Sometimes authors use key words when they are writing about a cause and effect event. These words include: so, because, therefore, led to, resulted in. It is important to remind students that not all texts that describe a cause and effect event will use these words.
Use Picture Books
Picture books are a wonderful tool for teaching reading comprehension skills even to older students. The illustrations help students visualize the events of the text. For MLs they can give them concrete pictures to help build vocabulary. Many picture books actually use a large amount of complex vocabulary. If possible, read aloud the book for enjoyment first. Then go back and have students identify what the cause and effect events were.
Use Short Reading Passages
A short reading passage that is specifically written to show cause and effect allows students to practice this skill without sifting through a large amount of unrelated text. This is helpful for struggling readers. I have a set of cause and effect reading passages at different reading levels for students to practice with.
Task cards are a fun way to present short reading passages. Here are some ideas for using task cards with MLs.