As I looked over the next selection in my Houghton Mifflin Teacher’s Manual, I saw the upcoming comprehension skill was “cause and effect.”
For my students, yet another direct instruction lesson about identifying causes and effects is a recipe for disaster. They’ve been doing this for years. So let’s make it interesting!
Add Some Depth and Complexity
Building on my students’ foundation with depth and complexity, I introduced the 🏛️ big idea “Causes lead to unexpected effects.” I’ll ask students to prove or disprove this statement. This still conforms to by district-mandated base program, so it’ll keep admin off my back, but it also meets a higher level of thinking I want for my students.
Notice that things are already way more interesting: “Identify causes and effects” versus “Prove or disprove: causes lead to unexpected effects.”
Hooking Students With A Classic
To launch our exploration of causes and unexpected effects, I decided to bring in The Beatles (this is an example of exposing students to a classic).
I structured my lesson around the fact that The Beatles stopped touring in 1966. The causes of this event included:
- lack of amplifier technology to combat screaming girls (this is a fun one to demonstrate for your kids :) )
- fear for their personal safety
- fatigue brought on by their own fame
We listened to and discussed the lyrics, instrumentation, and general feel of the song “Love Me Do.” I explain some facts, including the limited recording technology (ie, Paul had to sing the line “love me do” because John needed time to bring his harmonica up to his mouth. Now they would simply overdub to fix this).
We then listen to the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and discuss the same topics. Students are quick to note the difference in instrumentation, the strange lyrics, and even pick up on the subtle effects on John’s vocals. I then explain some behind-the-scenes information about the recording (it was a combination of two separate takes in two different keys, sped up and slowed down to sound like the same key).
I explain that although The Beatles stopped touring because of three reasons, the effects of this event were completely unexpected, and included:
- incorporation of orchestral, ethnic, and experimental instruments into pop songs
- experimentation and advancements in recording technology
- increasingly complex lyrics and song structure
Onto The Text
Now, as we move towards our text, students are looking for examples and counter-examples of our big idea. This particular text was about the Great Wall of China. Rather than just listing causes of the wall and effects of the Great Wall (Boring!), we’re exploring how the reasons the Great Wall was built didn’t connect with the actual results of the wall. In fact, the Great Wall’s great cost, increased taxes, and the burden of construction on peasants led to internal problems. And, in the end, the Mongols took over China anyway and the Ming dynasty ended.
Beyond The Text
Since our Big Idea (“Causes lead to unexpected effects”) has already applied to content as different as The Beatles and The Great Wall of China, we can continue extending it to other texts in language ares, other subject areas, and topics outside of our grade level content. I can have students prove or disprove the big idea across several different content areas, and then synthesize all of that into an essay or presentation (or song or skit or whatever).