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What language shows cause and effect? | Reading

Let's use the wacky inventions of Rube Goldberg to explore cause and effect relationships in nonfiction writing!

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello, readers. Once upon a time in the previous century, there lived a cartoonist and engineer named, Rube Goldberg, who became well-known for his drawings of wacky, overcomplicated machines. This is one such machine, the self-operating napkin. You see how it works is you lift the spoon, which jerks the string, which causes the cracker to leap up into the air, which distracts the parrot, and on, and on, and on, and on and on until finally, you cut the string which releases this pendulum attached to the clock, which has a napkin on the end of it which swings back and forth repeatedly, bonking you in the face. I'm bringing this up not because I think anyone should ever build this machine, it would in fact be extremely dangerous. You can see that it contains knives and fire and a small rocket. But I want to show you this in order to demonstrate a really explicit example of a cause and effect relationship. Each object has an effect on the next object. And language can be used in very much the same way. That's what we're talking about today, cause and effect. A cause is why something happens, and an effect is the result. So for this machine, the cigar lighter lights a fuse which sets off the rocket, which has a sickle, a kind of knife, connected to it, which cuts this string. So why did the rocket take off? Well, the cigar lighter lit the fuse. That's the thing that caused it. What was the effect of the fuse being lit? The rocket takes off. But the rocket taking off is its own cause that causes an additional effect which is cutting the string. We can see this very clearly in writing when an author gives us clue words about how information is connected. About how or why things happen in a text. So with that in mind, here are some words that signal cause: Because, since, due to, as a result of. Whereas here are some words that signal effect: So, this is why, consequently, therefore and led to. Certainly these aren't the only words or phrases that signal cause or effect, but they are useful ones to look for. It's important to remember that cause and effect doesn't always go left to right. It's not always gonna be as straight forward as, "Because I was tired," cause, "I took a nap," effect. Like, it's not always gonna go cause to effect. You could just as easily write that sentence in the opposite order. Write, "I took a nap," effect, "because I was tired," which is the cause. The nap doesn't cause me to be tired, I was tired which is why I napped. You can't just figure this out by looking at the sentence in the order the words come in. You have to think critically about what you're reading and consider how the actions connect to each other. How does it happen? Why does it happen? So let's take this opportunity to apply this to a text example. So I'm gonna read this passage and then I'll try to answer a couple of questions about it. So I'll make a couple of little notes and annotations as we scribble our way through. "Fourteen-year-old Michaela DePrince "sat on the shiny hallway floor "and tightened the ribbons on her ballet shoes." Okay, so she's a ballerina. "It was 2010 and she was about to dance "for the chance of a lifetime." That sounds important. "An opportunity to earn a scholarship "to a famous ballet school." All right, so that's our chance of a lifetime. "She was in the finals "of the world's largest ballet competition "for young dancers, Youth America Grand Prix. "But Michaela was worried. "She was nursing an injury. "Michaela understood that dancing on her injury "could snap a tendon," ew. "That could put an end to all of her hopes and dreams." A tendon is similar to a muscle, it helps you move parts of your body. "Michaela was devoted to ballet. "She had spent thousands of hours practicing. "She had worked incredibly hard "and had overcome many challenges to make it to this point, "so when they called her on stage, she danced." And here we have so, which is one of our, one of the words that we're looking for that signals that there's a cause, effect relationship. So question number one. Why was Michaela worried? Michaela "was worried." We can even do this by filling out a little form. Have our little underline. The cause goes here, the effect goes here. So what is the cause of that worry? So in the effect box I'm gonna say, worry. That's the effect. But why is Michaela worried? Well, she was nursing an injury. And not just that she was injured, but if she pushed that injury too far and "snapped a tendon," it could, "put an end to all of her hopes and dreams." That is extremely serious. So that injury represents a lot more than just temporary pain. It represents a possible, end to her "hopes and dreams." So what that injury could be, its potential outcome, so its potential effects are what are causing her to worry. Another question is why did she dance despite her injury? So I'm gonna say that the effect is that Michaela danced. And we can see a couple of explanations in the text, right. First of all, "they called her on stage." So she was asked to do it and she danced. But why did she dance even though she was injured? Part of it is that she'd already "overcome many challenges," she "had spent thousands of hours practicing. "She had worked incredibly hard." And also, here was this opportunity, "of a lifetime." So even though she was hurt, she still danced. And she did it because she was so, "devoted to ballet" that she wanted to get that scholarship to the ballet school. So I'm gonna say that the cause, the reason that Michaela danced even though she was injured is because the opportunity was so great. So the opportunity, the chance to earn a scholarship to the ballet school, that's the cause, and the effect of that is that Michaela chose to dance, even though she was injured. And finally, what happened when, "they called her on stage?" What did Michaela do? Well it's right there at the very end of the paragraph. "When they called her on stage, she danced." What makes this passage challenging is there's not a lot of clue words that tell you explicitly, "Hey this is a cause and effect relationship." We've only really got this so. There aren't other becauses or therefores or consequentlies. So we really have to put it together on our own to figure out how all these different events are related to each other. And that kind of brings us back to our old friend, Rube Goldberg. Because if we're thinking about cause and effect, we should be thinking about all of the downstream effects, too, because it's possible to say lifting the spoon causes the napkin to wipe your face. Even though there are all these other stages in between. But a text won't necessarily spell it out as plainly as this very silly cartoon. But I do hope that because you have watched this video, you will therefore better be able to understand a cause and effect relationship in writing. You can learn anything, David out.