3 Insightful Cause and Effect Inquiry Project Ideas


Understanding cause-and-effect is an incredibly important skill that students need to learn in order to make sense of the patterns around them.

Understanding cause and effect relationships allows students to apply logical reasoning, consider multiple perspectives, and draw informed conclusions about what is being compared. By doing so, they are better equipped to understand patterns, relationships, and consequences in any subject.

The article below provides a framework for teaching the skills necessary to facilitate cause-and-effect inquiry projects in the classroom, and offers some examples of projects that highlight the importance of recognizing cause and effect.

Remembering Bloom’s Taxonomy

Initially, students engage in remembering, where they recall facts, concepts, and procedures. This lays the groundwork for basic comprehension, which then allows them to understand through explaining and summarizing. Eventually, students work through various cognitive domains to reach a point where they can engage in higher-order thinking skills. Some of these skills include:

  • Analysis – breaking down information into smaller parts to discern patterns, relationships, and structures
  • Synthesis – creating new understandings or insights
  • Evaluation – making judgments about information, arguments, or proposals
  • Problem-solving – the process of solving problems to solve challenges
  • Creativity – generating original and meaningful responses and ideas

However, one higher-order thinking skill that I believe is most important is critical thinking. Students must be able to engage in reflective thinking to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions or decisions. Doing so allows them to engage in discussions with their peers, discern fact from opinion, and evaluate what they are being told. In a world filled with misinformation, students need to know how to balance listening and thinking while participating in meaningful discussions.

Beyond academics, critical thinking also allows students to build intellectual autonomy. This means they can interpret what they hear and make sense of it using their own rational beliefs, values, and thoughts. It is an important tool when students eventually reach the age to vote, participate in forums or debates, and navigate ethical dilemmas as young adults.


Ways to Build Critical Thinking Skills in the Classroom

There are several ways to build critical thinking so that cause-and-effect relationships can be more easily understood:

1) Incorporate Socratic Seminars

I love using Socratic questioning methods in all of my classes for several reasons. First, it encourages students to ask open-ended questions to challenge assumptions and encourage deeper thinking. It also gives students the chance to practice articulating their opinions and to defend them.

2) Using Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning provides students with authentic problems to solve, which require the use of analysis, problem-solving, and collaboration. During the process, students engage with one another to question ideas, test theories, and evaluate their options using available information. Check out these great examples of problem-based learning projects to use in the classroom.

3) Engaging in Debates

Debates are a great way for students to practice constructing arguments, defending their viewpoints, and engaging in respectful discourse. To be prepared, they need to be able to support their viewpoint logically, which requires critical thinking and analytical skills.

Here are some great resources to help build critical thinking skills in the classroom:


Cause and Effect Project Idea #1 – The Effects of Climate Change on Biodiversity

In this project, biodiversity and climate change are highlighted. The topic of climate change, though scientifically recognized as a clear and present danger to life on earth, is still a hot-button issue. The purpose of this inquiry is not to present climate change as a polarizing issue or to force students to see it in one particular way. Instead, the focus is about the cause-and-effect relationships that exist between the climate and biodiversity.

To start, discuss the interconnectedness of these concepts with students and how changes in climate can affect ecosystems. You might even share a story about the effects of climate change on different aspects of nature.

Suggested stories/news reports:

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Encouraging students to read various stories and articles will help them understand the scientific principles underlying climate change. Some terms that might come up include the greenhouse effect, carbon cycle, and climate feedback. Some students may take note of the fact that human activities contribute to emissions, which is a good starting point for exploring the role of industries, transportation, agriculture, and other related factors.

Once students have conducted a good amount of research and can make good connections between climate activities and their impacts, encourage them to ask “now what?” What should they do with this knowledge? Have they made any interesting discoveries? For example, have they noticed that this problem impacts one group more than another? Empowering students to share their knowledge by creating a presentation, simulation, or model is a good way to not only give students choice, but also culminate in student-led initiatives aimed at raising awareness and advocating for something they find meaningful.


Cause and Effect Project Idea #2 – The Effect of Political Polarization in the Modern World

An increasingly shocking rate of political polarization has manifested its way into many countries. This is particularly evident in the United States, where divisions are greatest among those who are most engaged and active in the political process. If you struggle to teach controversial issues in a balanced way, consider checking out our article on How to Teach Controversial Issues in the Classroom.

According to Pew Research Center, “ideological silos” are common on both sides of the political aisle, creating echo chambers of information and opinions. It’s not hard to look around and see the divisions between people with different opinions, but what effect is that having on people’s friendships and relationships?

In this cause-and-effect inquiry project, students focus their attention on the impacts that this level of polarization is having. The goal isn’t to prove that one side is right and one side is wrong. Instead, focus students’ attention on understanding the divide and rationally discussing ways in which misunderstandings impact people’s relationships with others. This begins with research – and fortunately there is plenty of research for students to dig into.

Some great resources for understanding the facts about political polarization:

Once students are equipped with the facts, they need to build on this knowledge by exploring polarization’s effects. This can be done by focusing their attention on a particular state, province, city, or community. For example, a student may choose to research the effects of polarization on the state of California vs. the state of Ohio. Or perhaps students can interview peers, family members, or friends to discuss their views on political polarization and what effects they’ve seen. Although this might seem risky, it’s important for students to develop strategies for fostering dialogue and understanding across political divides. Students can complement their cause-and-effect conclusions by examining the role of the media and social media in exacerbating polarization as well.

Helpful resource: Preventing Polarization: 50 Strategies for Teaching Kids About Empathy, Politics, and Civic Responsibility

To broaden their understanding, students can analyze the impact of political polarization on governance, public discourse, and the functioning of legislative bodies. They might choose to examine tactics used by political parties to control the passage of bills, or observe the language used by representatives when discussing the “other side” in interviews. Listening carefully to the way that polarization impacts people’s choices, actions, and words is beneficial to fully understand the far-reaching effects that political polarization has on people, and makes for some interesting material.


Cause and Effect Project Idea #3 – Exploring the Causes and Effects of Ecological Imperialism

Devastation of the Jungle, Johann Moritz Rugendas

Students are usually able to see the connections between things like littering and environmental damage, or the effects of pollution on air quality. However, in this cause-and-effect inquiry, students are challenged to explore historical and contemporary examples of ecological imperialism.

To begin, students can explore historical instances of ecological imperialism, such as colonial resource extraction, deforestation, and the introduction of invasive species. Through consulting primary and secondary sources, students can explore the motivations behind these practices, and create a list of “causes” to work from. Some motivations include economic interests, geopolitical ambitions, and cultural attitudes towards nature. This article about ecological imperialism in the Canadian North serves as a good starting point for understanding the motives of colonists in North America. For high school students, this might be a more suitable article.

As students understand the causes of ecological imperialism, they can begin to piece together its impacts on both the environment and Indigenous communities.

Consider discussing the students’ findings, including the following impacts:

  • Loss of biodiversity: Discuss the fact that, with the imposition of non-native species and intensive resource extraction, a disruption occurred in Indigenous lands. This often resulted in a loss of native plant and animal species; some examples can be found in this chapter of Canadian History: Post Confederation.
  • Displacement: Start a conversation about the ways that ecological imperialism leads to the displacement of communities from their lands through forced relocation, land grabs, and encroachment. By displacing groups of people, they lose access to natural resources and sites that are important to their cultural heritage and autonomy.
  • Health impacts: Discuss how the introduction of new species of flora and fauna has resulted in profound health impacts on Indigenous groups. These impacts include exposure to toxins, loss of traditional medicinal resources, pollution, and contamination of waterways
  • Cultural erosion: On top of the above reasons, explore the broader process of cultural erosion and social disruption that accompanies ecological imperialism. Loss of access to traditional lands and resources undermines Indigenous culture. Disempowerment and erosion of cultural communities can have devastating impacts and contribute to ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous populations.

It’s important that students are able to make connections between the causes of ecological imperialism and their effects. For example, a loss of biodiversity has a direct impact on a culture’s ability to use traditional methods and materials for healing purposes. Making these connections can be aided by the inclusion of case studies in your inquiry.

Using Case Studies

Exploring specific case studies of ecological imperialism throughout history is an excellent way to help students gain an understanding of the interconnectedness between the topic and other issues like social injustice and inequality. Some case studies for reference are pinned below:


Final Thoughts

Projects that teach students about cause-and-effect relationships offer several benefits that help foster critical thinking skills. By exploring the interconnectedness between actions and outcomes, students develop a deeper understanding of cause and effect, and are more cognizant of the world around them. Inquiries that focus on these relationships also help students think analytically, notice patterns, and predict potential consequences.

Incorporating a cause-and-effect framework into an inquiry project prompts students to ask questions, seek evidence, and enhance their problem-solving skills. Not only is it beneficial for their academic development, but it also empowers them to be informed and aware of the ever-present links between actions and repercussions in everyday life.


Have you used a cause and effect framework in your lessons?
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Cover photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash

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