Education :: Cause and Effect

Photo by Nadir sYzYgY on Unsplash

Every action and every division in a story has an effect on it. With a conflict/resolution situation, you want your writers to know what they want for their outcome so they can shape their story appropriately. You’ll want similar for cause and effect, but on a much smaller scale. This will also be played out very differently for your younger writers vs. your older writers. And I’ll even throw in some tips for college students.

Younger Writers

Games are a great place for our students to begin learning about cause and effect. This can come in the form of board games, card games, and action games. One example of each that would be great to teach this concept to our writers – in my opinion – would be: Chutes and Ladders, War, and Freeze Tag.

Chutes and Ladders is a fun game of chance and consequence. Each turn, a child spins to see where their pieces moves. This, at its simplest, is cause and effect. Once they move, they may or may not have another cause and effect. Depending on which square they land, they’ll either stop, move, slide, or climb. If they land on anything but a blank tile, this is a new cause and wll move them either closer to the end (and winning) or closer to the beginning (and falling behind).

War, of course, is an age-old classic. Each person plas a card, which is a ’cause’. The cards played determine the outcome: win/lose or war. A second war, of course, creates another cause/effect scenario.

Freeze Tag is my favorite game for teaching cause and effect out of these examples. This game allows for full participation (unlike the other two examples). You can obviously use regular Tag for this, but in that case, only one student is ‘it’ and there’s really only one outcome. You’re either tagged ‘it’ or you’re not. Freeze Tag, though, has more variables. First, the students are in teams. The ‘it’ team (A) has a huge conflict: they’re ‘it’. The Resolution? Freeze every member of the other team (B). Different tags (causes) in this game lead to different effects. If (A) tags (B), (B) has to freeze. If another (B) member tags our frozen (B), both are allowed to run again. There is a constant give-and-take of cause and effect until the larger conflict is resolved and the teams switch places. You can also add in a ‘home’ for more effects: if (B) is in the ‘home’ zone (cause), they’re safe from being frozen (effect).

Now, I could go on and on about these games, but our point is with writing. When we get our students understanding the concept of cause and effect with the games, they’ll be able to better utilize this information in reading and writing.

For our younger students, especially, I would start in the classroom with their reading. Have them pick out any cause and effect within stories you’re currently reading in class. As their understanding grows, challenge them to pick out effects in a story. Before you show them the effect that actually occurs, have your students guess what they think will happen. This gets them in the habit of brainstorming for their own future writing.

I would highly suggest having short stories that incorporate cause and effect. Have the cause written, then leave a space where students can write what they want the effect to be. The more you have practices like this in place, the better your students will be at writing in the future.

Older Students

Yes, obviously you can use some of the same practices for your older students as we did for the younger ones, but their cognitive abilities have matured more and they’re able to more quickly grasp the concept and utilize it in their writing. I believe many of our older students use cause and effect automatically. It’s more a matter of finding them in their own writing. 

Once they can find their automatically-written cause and effects, they’ll be able to more effectively write those causes and effects. This is what you must challenge them with. After their first draft, have your students locate any causes and effects (you can even have them highlight them two separate colors so they can actually see them on the page). Once they locate them, have your students rewrite them using more deliberate language. This will skyrocket their writing.

College

When our college students are tasked with writing narrative essays, they often come out rather bland. The characters are 2D at best and often the full story doesn’t make total sense.

I didn’t learn to do this until I was almost 30 and it has helped my writing immensely. Have your students create a backstory for their main character(s). It doesn’t have to be in-depth. For instance, one of my characters had to grow up extremely fast; this caused him to behave with extreme seriousness. He had a very dry sense of humor that didn’t come out often. When I originally wrote it, I didn’t know why he was so serious and some of his actions were contradictory. Once I knew who he was and what made him tick, the whole story flowed better and things began making sense.

I told you in a previous post that you can utilize real life into fiction. This incorporates that further. When we give our characters a real life, it changes how they behave and respond in a story. It ends up shaping the story in ways we might not have imagined before.

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