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Cause-and-Effect Train


For this activity, students create a visual representation of the cause-and-effect relationships among events. This activity is useful any time you want your students to understand the complex interrelationship of events over time, and to recall and understand a sequence of events. It is most often used in social studies or history classes, when students are working to understand historical or current events, and in ELA classes, when students are working to understand a novel. It is most effective when students already have a good understanding of the topic, towards the end of a book or a unit.


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Inferring
  • Predicting

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Building Background
  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Reflection
  • Synthesis

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline


  • Select, adapt, and copy a Cause-and-Effect Train template.

  • Identify the primary events that you want students to focus on from the novel or time period. Think about how these ideas are related.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher displays an empty Cause-and-Effect Train graphic organizer, and explains its logic and organization.

    You may also want to display a completed cause-and-effect graphic organizer based on a very familiar story, such as a fairy tale.

  2. Teacher models completing this blank chart, based on a familiar text or historical period. Teacher thinks aloud about the chosen events and the relationship among them.

    During the modeling, show students the thought process you use in determining how events are causally related.

  3. Teacher introduces investigation activity, and distributes blank Cause-and-Effect Train graphic organizers.
  4. Students get into small groups, and brainstorm a list of the most important events in the target text or historical event.

    You can also choose to provide students with the list of events, which makes the activity somewhat faster and easier.

  5. Students write each event on an index card or sticky note. Students arrange the events according to cause-and-effect relationships.
    • Encourage students to be creative in the ways in which they arrange the events to indicate cause and effect. Encourage them to think about multiple causes for a single event, and cycles of events, as appropriate. 
    • Some students may benefit from you modeling ways to represent cause and effect visually. 
  6. Students complete Cause-and-Effect Train graphic organizers, representing the cause-and-effect relationships of the text or historical event.

    Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

  7. Students hang their Cause-and-Effect Trains on the wall, and class does a gallery walk.

    You may also want students to affix sticky notes with comments to the Cause-and-Effect Trains, or to note reactions in their journals.

  8. Class discusses how the main events of the book or historical period are related. Teacher identifies a critical event, and students write a response to the question, “What caused this event?”

    This step of the activity is most effective if you focus on an event that was caused by multiple factors.

  9. In writing, students answer questions such as:


    • What did you learn about what led to one of these events?

    • What are the steps for completing a cause-and-effect graphic organizer?


    • How does identifying cause and effect help you to understand the text or historical period?

    • How does visualizing cause and effect influence your ability to remember the primary events of a text or historical event?

    • What strategies do you use to identify cause and effect?
Downloadable Resources 
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