Whose Fault Was It? Infer the Cause and Effect!

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SWBAT look at story structure to make inferences about cause and effect.

Big Idea

So many problems! Can you infer what REALLY happened?



I chose this story because it really demonstrated a great example of story structure. The author starts with ending action, but then goes back to the beginning and moves through the events. The kids were really able to see how the story was structured by using the index cards. They could describe the overall structure of the story, detailing the beginning as an introduction and ending as concluding action. (RL.2.5). There are lots of opportunities for inference, as the author did not always clearly tell why the characters were acting as they did. It was great fun to use cause and effect within the story structure, because the author made it so clear. 

For more practice with cause and effect and inferencing, take a look at my other lesson Make a Star Book Cover - Infer the cause and effect.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words)


Common starting point

  • "I brought a balloon today. I want to talk about cause and effect. Pull out a pin.
  • "If I pop the balloon, what will happen?  What is the cause? What is the effect?" Pop it- The cause is 'the pin poked it' and the effect is that 'the balloon popped."
  • Kick the trash can. "What is the cause? The effect? When you do something, that's the cause. The effect is what happens." 
  • This is a video of our review of the balloon example.

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose of the lesson

  • "We are going to talk about 'cause' and 'effect' and how they affect each other."
  • "Let's make an example with the balloon and the can. What was the cause? What was the effect?'" Here's how I showed the balloon and the can example on the whiteboard.
  • "In this story we will make some inferences because the author does not always tell us exactly what is a cause in this story and what is an effect."
  • "This author is especially fun because she write the ending at the beginning of the story and then goes back to the beginning."
  • "We'll write the cause on the top of the index card and the effect on the bottom and see how the author takes the story from the beginning to the end."


Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • "Let me read the first few pages." (use the 'cheat sheet' for yourself-the backwards plot is a bit confusing)
  • "The cause is 'Murdley makes messes.' I'll infer 'it could be that Murdley is not careful'-the effect." Write those on the top and bottom of the card.
  • "Notice I'm using the 'Inference Starter' poster to get ideas of how to start my inferences.
  • "Let me try another one - the cause is 'he is not careful' so the effect is that 'I think he lost a shoe'." Write those on the cards.
  • "Do you notice a pattern?"  Yes, the cause and effect make a story line! Each event leads to a cause to the next event to the next cause... and so on."


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Help me with another one.  Read the next 2 pages. 'What is the cause and effect?"  Take ideas.  The effect is 'he got egg on his head' and the cause?  (Read the next page).  'I believe that the bird was scared'."  
  • Here's how I guided the students through the discussion.
  • The kids quickly noticed a pattern. Here's our comments about how the one effect becomes the next cause in this story.
  • This is the whiteboard after we finished the guided practice.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "Now I'll continue to read and you need to fill out the cause and effect on the top and bottom of each card."
  • "Remember to use inferences starters - the author does not really state what the cause and effect - you have to infer them." 


Encouraging students to make inferences about characters and cause/effect relationships in stories allows them to see how characters change over the course of a story. (RL.2.3) Their reaction to events and challenges can be evaluated when looking at how a cause changes the character. This analysis of characterization is the kind deeper story comprehension that the Common Core Standards encourages students to strive for.

Read and give students time to work

  • We actually did one more cause and effect together about how the aardvark screamed. 
    • "Why did the aardvark scream? That's the effect?"  Take ideas.  "It's because hippo stepped on his tail."  (the effect)  Do you see the cause and effect from that page?"
    • Now what's the cause of hippo stepping on aardvark's tail?  Take ideas. 
    • "Do you see how one effect leads into the next cause.  The book is almost like a circle. Each event leads to the next event!". 
    • This was our discussion about the cause and effect of why the aardvark screamed and the completed whiteboard.
  • After that example, my students needed just a bit more guidance.
    • "The cause is that the boy forgets things? What happened because he forgets things?  The effect is that he forgot his shoe?"
    • "The effect is that Rabbit got stuck in the shoe?  Why did he get stuck-the cause is that the boy forgot and left his shoe." 
  • Prompt as necessary to complete the story-students writing the cause and effect from each event. Encourage students to predict and summarize as you read. "What do you think will happen next? Now that you know that one cause leads to another, can you predict more easily?"
  • As you read, ask students for ideas to check understanding and keep everyone on the same page.  "What is the cause of the bird dropping the egg? What happens-what's the effect of the rabbit hopping away?"


As you read and students work, you may hear them use other reading strategies, such as predicting, imaging and summarizing. Encourage these examples and ideas. They are thinking out loud about how to use a variety of reading strategies to comprehend the text and a student can become a model for others as he/she shares thoughts about the story. This is a student who used illustrations to summarize cause and effect.

Share What You've Learned

15 minutes

Put it all together

  • "Let's put all of our ideas together now. Put your cards in order so you can see what how one cause and effect led to another one."
  • "Tape each card to the ribbon to see how all of the causes and effects show how the story changes from the beginning to the end."
  • This was an example of one of the projects.


Share What you know

  • Invite kids to share with a neighbor. "Turn to your neighbor and share your ideas. Are the words and ideas the same or different?"
  • Here's how one of my students with language challenges reviewed his project, with my prompting.
  • This is a video of another student reviewing her project.
  • Comment on how the wording is different. ("He used 'stomped on his tail' and she said 'stepped'. Those words have different meanings!")  Comment on how the ideas are similar, but not all students have the same perspective (we have used that word in class before).


Giving students the opportunity to 'turn and share' allows them to share their ideas and open up to others' perspectives.  As they participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts, they are following agreed upon rules of discussion, building on other's conversation and asking for clarification and further explanation of ideas. (SL.2.1)


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

Students with learning challenges may have trouble with the inferences, so they could perhaps work with a partner to write the inferences and stay organized.  It's worth spending time with these students to see their ideas. One of my students with language challenges had great ideas when we reviewed his project, even though he did need a lot of prompting.

Those with better language should be able to use higher level vocabulary and vary their inference starters. Instead of just writing, 'Aardvark screamed', they could write 'The aardvark screamed loudly from the pain in his tail.'