Text Structures Part 2: Cause and Effect + Problem / Solution

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Welcome back to part 2 regarding Text Structure.  As I mentioned before, pairing a text with a graphic organizer to help highlight the structure can be very helpful to frame the main idea and summary. When a graphic organizer is used often, then students begin to visualize them and organize their thoughts mentally as well.  And still better . . . combining text structure instruction with reading strategies such as visualizing, questioning, making connections, and predicting will lead to higher comprehension.

Today’s focus will be on two other text structures:  Cause / Effect and Problem / Solution.  These two are related, but often confusing to students. Look for some resources at the end of this post.

Cause and Effect:

Cause:  The reason why something happened.

Effect:  The result — what happened?

A cause / effect text structure can show 1 cause and several effects.  Example: An earthquake can be the cause of many events (damaged structures, ruptured pipes, injuries, accidents, tsunami, etc.).  When this is the case, it may be simpler to identify the cause first, then identify all of the effects.

On the other hand, a cause / effect text structure can show several causes for 1 effect.  Example: Some animals are endangered (effect) due to these causes: pollution, loss of home environment due to destruction of their habitat, weather, disease. When this is the case, it may be simpler to identify the effect first, then identify all of the causes.

Other notes about teaching cause / effect:

  • This text structure can apply to non-fiction as well as fiction texts.
  • Because many cause / effect relationships require defining the problem (which could be the cause and sometimes the effect as well), students often get confused and identify the structure as problem / solution.
  • Not all cause / effect relationships are about problems. Example:  I love my grandson’s drawings (cause), so I hang them on the refrigerator (the result / effect). No problem here!
  • While most anchor charts posted online provide key words for the cause / effect structure (because, reason, since, as a result, etc.), I would suggest limited use of them especially when first analyzing the structure. I have found when mentioning them first, students often just start looking for those key words and are not truly reading the text.  And . . . those words can also be found in almost any text anyway.  You don’t want kids to reduce this to a competition: “How many time did I find the word because?” Those words don’t even have to be there for there to be a cause / effect relationship.
  • Use a graphic organizer with an arrow connecting the cause to the effect.
  • Even young students can understand simple cause / effect relationships presented in stories.  Discuss the causes and effects and/or write them as a shared writing experience. See some resources below for great books on this structure.

Combining with strategy work:

  • Visualize actions of the subjects in the text to picture the causes and results.
  • Make connections to things, places, events in the text you have experienced. Make predictions based on those experiences regarding why things happened.
  • Help students ask questions about the text.  They should be wondering why certain things happen, or what caused what. Learn to read on (or check other resources) to see if those questions get answered.
  • Make inferences about the causes in the text. Read between the lines.

Connecting to main idea and summary. Supply some sentence frames so students are using compare/contrast language. Suppose an article describes the causes of beached whales. The topic is whales — but that’s NOT the main idea:

  • (Main Idea): There are many reasons a whale becomes beached.
  • (Summary):  There are many reasons a whale becomes beached such as low tide, changes in ocean currents, chemicals in ocean water, and disorientation due to man-made sonar devices.
  • (Main Idea):  There are many causes for _________________________.
  • (Main Idea): The main cause for ____________ is _______________.
  • (Main Idea): There are several reasons why __________ decided to ___________.
  • (Summary):  There are many causes for __________________ such as _________________.
  • (Summary):  When _______________ happens, the result(s) are ___________________.

Problem / Solution Text Structure:

This structure is very similar to cause / effect.  A problem is identified. Most likely there is also a cause to the problem. But in this case, a solution is proposed or acted on.

Notes about teaching problem / solution text structure:

  • This text structure is also common in fiction stories. Conflict and resolution are common in scenarios such as character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. society, character vs. nature, etc.
  • Emphasis may be put more on how the problem should be or was solved.
  • Often times multiple solutions to a problem are offered.
  • Use a graphic organizer such as completed puzzle pieces to symbolize the solution aspect, or a light bulb idea bubble.
  • Compare the author’s point of view regarding the solution to your students points of view. Discuss the pros and cons of the proposed solutions.
  • See resources below for some good texts regarding problem / solution.

Connecting to main idea / summary.  Suppose an article tells about problem encountered whale watching and how to avoid them.  The topic = whales —- but that’s NOT the main idea.

  • (Main Idea): To avoid problems encountered during whale watching, you should learn about their paths and habits.
  • (Summary): To avoid problems encountered during whale watching, the observers can do things such as watch from a distance, stay parallel to them, and respect their space.
  • (Main Idea): A solution to the problem of ___________ is ______________.
  • (Summary): In this article, the problem was ____________. It was solved by ___________.

Resources I recommend:

  1.  Consult readworks.org.  There is a good article (at 4th grade level) regarding cause /effect about the reasons frogs in South America are dying.  You will need to join, but it is free (and a GREAT resource).
  2. Also at readworks.org, a good article (at 3rd grade level) regarding problem / solution. It describes how one state had too many sheep and one state didn’t have enough moose, so a solution to make a switch was organized.
  3. Click here for some books with cause / effect structure
  4. Click here for some books with a problem / solution structure
  5. Cause / effect activity (FREE from Mrs. Patmore @ TPT):Cause and Effect Detectives
  6. Cause / effect task cards (FREE from Foreman Teaches @ TPT): ID the cause and the effect task cards

Stay tuned for more text structure information. Please feel free to comment and share your ideas as well.

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