writing elementary writing

Cause: An Engaging Cause and Effect Lesson Effect: Students Engaged, Learning and No Papers to Grade!

I was recently in a 5th grade classroom where the students were just starting to delve into the concept of cause and effect.  The focus of the lesson was to provide students with strategies to help them correctly identify cause and effect relationships in text.  When asked what they already knew about this skill, students could explain that the two concepts were linked to one another, and that one action led to another.

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To begin the lesson, students created a two-column chart.  The left side of the chart was titled Cause and the right side of the chart was titled Effect.  We then read the 5th graders the picture book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff.  https://www.amazon.com/You-Give-Cat-Cupcake-Books/dp/0060283246  Fifth graders love the opportunity to listen to picture books and they were enthralled with the story.  While reading the book, I slowly moved around the room. As I was walking and reading, these older students were whipping around in their seats, following me with their eyes as they intently listened to the simple story.

We first read the book for the sheer enjoyment of listening to the story. During the second reading, the students and I were looking for cause and effect relationships.  As we found a cause, we would write it on our chart, followed by the effect of this action. The students quickly noticed that the cause must come first, as it is the catalyst for the effect.

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The next step was for students to create an anchor chart to keep in their Reading and Writing Folders. Completed with the students, this chart included the definition of cause and effect, examples, and key words they might find in the text when looking for cause and effect. When students are a part of creating an anchor chart, the information becomes relevant and useful to them.  

Students then browsed other If you Give…books and created a second cause and effect chart independently. Students were engaged in their reading and thrilled to be able to find cause and effect relationships throughout the new books.

 

The classroom teacher and I wanted to complete a quick formative assessment to see who required extra support on this skill. Each student took a quarter sheet of paper and in the corner of one side wrote “Cause.”  In the opposite corner, students wrote “Effect.” Students could choose to either write a Cause or Effect sentence in the appropriate corner. They then exchanged their paper with another student in the class, who wrote the relating sentence. For example: A student wrote: Cause: Tom Brady threw an interception in the last minute of the game. His partner then wrote Effect: Tom’s team lost the game to the Denver Broncos.  Another student wrote:  Effect: The vegetables in the garden were destroyed.  His partner wrote:  Cause:  Grandpa forgot to lock the gate on the sheep pen.

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Student partners shared their sentences.  As they shared, their teacher took notes on only those students she felt needed extra instruction. The following day she planned to meet with those students during a small group instruction time. All students whose name she had not written down received a passing grade on this assignment.  Within a 15 minute assessment period, the teacher had given every student an assessment and knew who needed additional support.  More importantly, the students had personally interacted with the concept of Cause and Effect and solidified their learning through the creation of an anchor chart. The students had mastered a reading and writing concept and the teacher was not taking home a stack of papers to grade! 

Let's Write A Story . . . Part One!

Today we are going to begin to write a story!  Although many students love to write stories, showing off their creativity, it is a difficult genre for student to master.  All too often we are asked to read pages and pages of student writing that contains the phrase “and then . . . . and then . . .  and then . . . .”  As we began to author narratives, I wanted to provide students with a structure that would help them focus their ideas to show off their creativity!

We discussed that the interest in a story comes from the problem the character needs to solve.  The plot of a story consists of the character’s attempts to solve his/her problem.  It often takes multiple attempts before the character is successful! We began with an empty plan.  Laying a piece of paper horizontally, we divided the sheet into four columns. The first column was labeled Characters, Setting and Problem.  The second column was titled First Attempt, with the word but . . . .  in the center of the column.  The third column was titled Second Attempt, with the word but in the center, and the fourth column was divided into Solution and Story Ending. 

Choosing a favorite picture book, we set off to discover if this format was really evident in books we read.  The first book we read was The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.  The book matched our story plan.  The students easily located the story elements within the text. We repeated the same process using the book Big Al by Andrew Clements.  (This time we listened to a video of the book read!)  Although Al had more than two attempts to solve his problem, the story again followed the same format. The students felt confident that this organization would help them become narrative writers.

 

After completing narrative plans for books that were already written, we moved to planning our own story.  I provided the students the characters (my family and me) and the setting (camping in the woods.)  As the characters returned to their tent from a hike, they discovered a bear sitting in front of their tent.  What is the problem in the story?

The students immediately stated the problem was the bear. At this point, however, the bear was a part of the setting.  What did we need to do to make the bear into the story’s problem?  What would we all want to do if we discovered a bear in front of our tent?  After some think time, the students realized the characters needed an action to form the problem.  The problem was written:  How can we get the bear to leave our tent?

It was time to think of ways the characters could attempt to get the bear to leave.  Working together, students brainstormed ideas and chose the attempts they found most compelling.  These attempts (and why they didn’t work) were added to their narrative plans. The most interesting solution was chosen for the story ending.

One of the most difficult paragraphs for students to write is the opening paragraph of a fictional narrative.  I wanted the students to discover ways that authors grab their readers’ attention at the beginning of a narrative.  To achieve this purpose, students were asked to read the opening two – three sentences of a fictional book they were reading.  I placed a chart labeled Dialogue, Setting, Character and Problem.  Students shared the opening sentences they had found and determined if the author was using dialogue, setting, character or setting to begin his/her novel.  Each narrative’s opening lines were placed in the correct column. We had identified common ways authors grabbed their readers’ attention.

 

 

The time we had spent on this activity paid off when students began to write their own narratives.  In a future blog, Let’s Write A Story . . . Part 2!, we will share what happened next!

 

Happy writing,

Darlene and Terry

 

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