Cause and Effect in Reading Comprehension Skill

What Is It?

A cause and effect analysis is an attempt to understand why things happen as they do. People in many professions—accident investigators, scientists, historians, doctors, newspaper reporters, automobile mechanics, educators, police detectives—spend considerable effort trying to understand the causes and effects of human behavior and natural phenomena to gain better control over events and over ourselves. If we understand the causes of accidents, wars, and natural disasters, perhaps we can avoid them in the future. If we understand the consequences of our own behavior, perhaps we can modify our behavior in a way that will allow us to lead happier, safer lives.

Cause Effect
Heavy Rain
Poor Drainage
Steep Terrain Mudslides
Mudslides Flooding
Property Loss
Injury and Death
Why Is It Important?

One of the primary goals of education is to create empowered, analytic thinkers, capable of thinking through complex processes to make important decisions.

Whether students recognize cause-and-effect relationships or not, they are affected by them every day. Students experience them in their own lives, see them occur in the lives of others, read about them in both narrative and expository texts, and are asked to write about them. To be successful, students need to be able to clearly recognize these relationships so that they are able to think analytically in their personal and academic lives. Without the ability to identify these relationships, students are at risk socially and academically. They will not understand actions and consequences or be able to understand or describe phenomena at a deep level.
How Can You Make It Happen?

Helping students develop the ability to think and talk intelligently about causes and effects will grow naturally over time, as students take part in multiple conversations about why things happen as they do, how one thing leads to another, how a single event can have multiple causes—and multiple consequences—and how some consequences are intended and some are not. It is not a strategy that can be mastered in a few lessons. It all begins with how you structure classroom discussions.

Here are some general guidelines for introducing cause and effect into discussions:

Always ask why. Why did the fish in the classroom aquarium die? Why were slaves more important in the South than in the North? Why do people continue to commit crimes after being released from prison? What are the causes and effects of bullying in schools?

After students answer the Why questions, ask them, “How do you know? What is your evidence?” Have students find research or texts to justify their position.

Encourage students to consider multiple causes of events. Make lists of possible causes of events, and then try to determine which are more likely, or important, than others.

Encourage students to consider multiple consequences. How did World War II change life in America? What happens when we waste electricity? What are some of the likely consequences of global warming? What consequences does the behavior of a character in a story have on the lives of other characters?

Use graphic organizers, such as cause-and-effect chains, flow charts, and feedback loops, to help students think about complex cause-and-effect relationships.

Help students develop the vocabulary of cause and effect. Teach power words such as consequence, consequently, influence, and as a result. Also teach qualifiers such as partly responsible for and largely because of. Encourage students to qualify cause-and-effect statements with words such as possibly, probably, or almost certainly. Explain that whenever there is doubt (as there often is in matters of cause and effect), qualifying words actually strengthen an argument. Compare the following sentences, and ask students to consider which statement is easier to agree with.

The author created a happy ending in order to please the reader.

The author probably created a happy ending in order to please the reader.

Connect students’ understanding of cause-and-effect relationships to their writing. Point out that writers use the language of cause and effect to inform, to persuade, and to provide their readers with an understanding of order. Help students describe cause-and-effect relationships in their writing. Encourage them to use graphic organizers to illustrate their ideas.

Identifying Topics, Main Ideas, and Supporting Details

Understanding the topic, the gist, or the larger conceptual framework of a textbook chapter, an article, a paragraph, a sentence or a passage is a sophisticated reading task. Being able to draw conclusions, evaluate, and critically interpret articles or chapters is important for overall comprehension in college reading. Textbook chapters, articles, paragraphs, sentences, or passages all have topics and main ideas. The topic is the broad, general theme or message. It is what some call the subject. The main idea is the “key concept” being expressed. Details, major and minor, support the main idea by telling how, what, when, where, why, how much, or how many. Locating the topic, main idea, and supporting details helps you understand the point(s) the writer is attempting to express. Identifying the relationship between these will increase your comprehension.
Applying Strategy

The successful communication of any author’s topic is only as good as the organization the author uses to build and define his/her subject matter.
Grasping the Main Idea:

A paragraph is a group of sentences related to a particular topic, or central theme. Every paragraph has a key concept or main idea. The main idea is the most important piece of information the author wants you to know about the concept of that paragraph.

When authors write they have an idea in mind that they are trying to get across. This is especially true as authors compose paragraphs. An author organizes each paragraph’s main idea and supporting details in support of the topic or central theme, and each paragraph supports the paragraph preceding it.

A writer will state his/her main idea explicitly somewhere in the paragraph. That main idea may be stated at the beginning of the paragraph, in the middle, or at the end. The sentence in which the main idea is stated is the topic sentence of that paragraph.

The topic sentence announces the general theme ( or portion of the theme) to be dealt with in the paragraph. Although the topic sentence may appear anywhere in the paragraph, it is usually first – and for a very good reason. This sentence provides the focus for the writer while writing and for the reader while reading. When you find the topic sentence, be sure to underline it so that it will stand out not only now, but also later when you review.
Identifying the Topic:

The first thing you must be able to do to get at the main idea of a paragraph is to identify the topic – the subject of the paragraph. Think of the paragraph as a wheel with the topic being the hub – the central core around which the whole wheel (or paragraph) spins. Your strategy for topic identification is simply to ask yourself the question, “What is this about?” Keep asking yourself that question as you read a paragraph, until the answer to your question becomes clear. Sometimes you can spot the topic by looking for a word or two that repeat. Usually you can state the topic in a few words.

Let us try this topic-finding strategy. Reread the first paragraph on this page – the first paragraph under the heading Grasping the Main Idea. Ask yourself the question, “What is this paragraph about?” To answer, say to yourself in your mind, “The author keeps talking about paragraphs and the way they are designed. This must be the topic – paragraph organization.” Reread the second paragraph of the same section. Ask yourself “What is this paragraph about?” Did you say to yourself, “This paragraph is about different ways to organize a paragraph”? That is the topic. Next, reread the third paragraph and see if you can find the topic of the paragraph. How? Write the topic in the margin next to this paragraph. Remember, getting the main idea of a paragraph is crucial to reading.

The bulk of an expository paragraph is made up of supporting sentences (major and minor details), which help to explain or prove the main idea. These sentences present facts, reasons, examples, definitions, comparison, contrasts, and other pertinent details. They are most important because they sell the main idea.

The last sentence of a paragraph is likely to be a concluding sentence. It is used to sum up a discussion, to emphasize a point, or to restate all or part of the topic sentence so as to bring the paragraph to a close. The last sentence may also be a transitional sentence leading to the next paragraph.

Of course, the paragraphs you’ll be reading will be part of some longer piece of writing – a textbook chapter, a section of a chapter, or a newspaper or magazine article. Besides expository paragraphs, in which new information is presented and discussed, these longer writings contain three types of paragraphs: introductory, transitional, and summarizing.

Introductory paragraphs tell you, in advance, such things as (1) the main ideas of the chapter or section; (2) the extent or limits of the coverage; (3) how the topic is developed; and (4) the writer’s attitude toward the topic. Transitional paragraphs are usually short; their sole function is to tie together what you have read so far and what is to come – to set the stage for succeeding ideas of the chapter or section. Summarizing paragraphs are used to restate briefly the main ideas of the chapter or section. The writer may also draw some conclusion from these ideas, or speculate on some conclusion based on the evidence he/she has presented.

All three types should alert you: the introductory paragraph of things to come; the transitional paragraph of a new topic; and the summarizing paragraph of main ideas that you should have gotten.

Reading Comprehension Skill For TOEFL


The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember about main idea questions.

The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember about stated detail questions.






The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember about implied detail questions.


The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember about vocabulary questions on the TOEFL test.


The following chart outlines the key information that you should remember when you are trying to determine where in the passage something is found.