Teaching Cause and Effect in Science

Teaching cause and effect to grade 4 5 6 science students
With the implementation of NGSS into science curriculums around the United States, an emphasis on one of the critical reading skills of cause and effect becomes an essential skill for students to enhance during science class. In addition to standards, the Next Generation Science Standards also include Crosscutting Concepts. Crosscutting Concepts ( CCC ) are important in science because they help to link different scientific domains. It is believed that these skills should be emphasized because they will provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world. 


What is cause and effect? 

Cause and effect is a critical thinking skill that demonstrates an understanding of a relationship between two or more events. Scientists study cause and event relationships all the time because events take place and generate observable patterns. 

Cause – Why it happened

Effect – What happened


Why is it important to science?

Cause and effect are important in science because they allow students to ask questions about what causes patterns they observe. When starting a unit that follows the Next Generation Science Standards, you may begin with phenomena. Students can use the Crosscutting skill of cause and effect to determine how or why the phenomena occur and whether there are patterns to observe. 


Patterns should be studied to see if they repeat. Repeated patterns will determine if a cause and effect relationship or different factors cause something to happen. 


How to find causal relationships in science?

Experiments and models are devised and set up to test and determine a cause and effect relationship in science. Then scientists collect evidence to prove their theories. Often, this takes time. 

When students are planning and carrying out their investigation in science, they are likely addressing the skill of cause and effect. In younger grades, this may involve students doing something and then watching what happens. (Think: push the domino, they all fall). Later on, as students get older, they will design experiments to see if one parameter is altered and change the final result (Think: if more force is applied).  


Looking at the NGSS Cause and Effect chart below, you can see how this skill will expand as the students move further into their educational careers. 

Expanding on the critical reading skill of cause and effect in science class

How to Teach Cause and Effect in the Classroom? 

When teaching cause and effect in the classroom, keep in mind the following: 

Cause: Why it happened

Effect: What happened



Identifying signal words:

The following words can help to identify a cause and effect relationship: 

  • So
  • Because
  • Since
  • If… then…
  • Therefore
  • This led to
  • Reason why
  • As a result
  • Effect of
  • May be able to
  • Consequently
  • For this reason

These words and phrases can help students to identify a relationship, or they can be used to explain a scientific connection. 

Signal words to teach cause and effect in grades 4 5 6


When trying to identify a relationship, it is also helpful to ask questions. Students (and teachers) should ask, “What causes the patterns they observe?” 

    Think about:

  • How and why phenomena occur?
  • Are the patterns conditional?


How to Introduce this Skill to Your Science Class: 

Cause and effect is a critical thinking skill that we use in our lives all the time. When introducing this topic, I like to point this out to my students. Here are some scenarios and ideas to use in your classroom: 

  • Weather forecasts: Weather forecasts can determine the clothes we decide to wear before leaving the house or if we will need to bring an umbrella. 
  • Pictures: The saying that pictures are worth 1,000 words is true! Use photos to help all learners begin to internalize these skills. Students can make predictions about causes that happen to make each picture happen. Click here for a collection of pictures that use to elicit a classroom discussion with my students
  • Finding cause and effect in picture books: This free activity will have students find and illustrate cause and effect in reading class. It can be used with any picture book and will further integrate literacy skills in your science classroom. 
  • Sentence strips: Write different causes on sentence strips and have students find the effect they need to match. 
Free cause and effect critical thinking activity for grade 4 5 6 students

Some Concepts to Teach Using Cause and Effect: 


Natural disasters lead to a wonderful conversation about cause and effect. Students can identify causes that lead to a natural disaster, with the disaster being the effect. 

Another way to integrate this skill into this science concept is to discuss how a natural hazard will affect an area. 

You can read more about how to teach natural disasters and access FREE cause and effect graphic organizers here


Acids and Bases: 

Acids and bases are other units that can easily integrate the NGSS Crosscutting Skill of cause and effect. Through an experiment, students can see that as they add a base to an acid, it will weaken in strength and become less acidic, moving toward a neutral substance. If a stronger acid is added, the substance will become more acidic. 



A simple activity that you can use to practice cause and effect is through plants’ use. No matter which method students use to grow plants from seed, roots will grow downward once germinated, and the stem will grow upward. 

Force and Motion:

Force and motion concepts lend themselves nicely to be able to identify cause and effect relationships. If an unbalanced force pushes in one direction, the object will move in that direction. Gravity will keep planets in our solar system aligned around the sun, but it will also exert a force on our planet’s objects. 

Chemical and Physical Changes: 

Teaching students how matter changes is another great way to incorporate cause and effect in your science classroom. Have students determine what causes lead to either a chemical or physical change
Need more materials to teach cause and effect in your classroom? Check out my generic science materials to help you teach cause and effect effortlessly today. 
Integrating critical thinking skills in science class in grades 4 5 6


Teaching cause and effect in grades 4 5 6 science class


In addition to using the skill of cause and effect in your science classroom, teach students how to compare and contrast. This literacy skill will allow students to find similarities and differences between different science concepts. Please read about how I teach this skill in my classroom

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