Cause and Effect in the History Classroom

Cause and Effect is one of the key concepts for the Australian History Syllabus. It concerns the factors and consequences of a variety of events and situations. But concepts aren’t always easy for teachers to teach or for students to understand! This post discusses how to teach the concept using a visual organiser called Diamond Nine. 

Why do we need to Teach Cause and Effect?

We need to teach students how to think about Cause and Effect because it can highlight varying perspectives. For example, many people would have different perspectives on what actually started WWI. Understanding Cause and Effect also enables students to assess the situations they experience on a day to basis. The analysis involved in applying this concept in the history classroom gives students practice in assessing why situations occur and how they could have turned out differently.

Where to Start Teaching Cause and Effect?

In studying this concept, students need to understand the language that goes with it: cause, effect, factor and consequence. There are also lots of different types of causes! You can differentiate causes as to whether they were a trigger, a precondition, or a short or long term cause. Causes can also be military, political, or social, etc., and some may have more significance than others. Understanding these things will enable students to dig deeper into the content.

How to Encourage Students to Dig Deeper 

In the example below, a Diamond Nine is being used to visualise the causes of WWI. Here are some of the steps involved for students to create a Diamond Nine.

Diamond Nine Organiser for the Causes of WWI
  1. Start by brainstorming the causes of an event and their consequences. You could use a chart or a table.
  2. Label each cause as a Trigger, Short Term or Long Term cause. You could also include Precondition if your students are able!
  3. Also label each cause according to its type: political, military, social etc.
  4. Order each cause from 1 to 9 depending on how important or significant it was to the event or consequence.
  5. Place the causes within the Diamond Nine organiser, colour coding the boxes and text according to the type of cause.
  6. Write a paragraph explaining why you organised the Diamond Nine as you did.

Pros and Cons of the Diamond Nine Organiser

  • Pro: The Diamond Nine is a visual representation of the causes of an event.
  • Pro: Students are required to think deeply about causes, types of causes, and significance.
  • Con: Students can only include 9 causes for any one consequence.
  • Con: To use the Diamond Nine, students will initially need to have the steps broken down as above. I would definitely recommend this activity for high school students; I used it with Stage 5.

How can I take the Diamond Nine Activity Further?

I’ve come up with three different ways to take the Diamond Nine activity further, but I’m sure there are more methods so please share any of your own below! One suggestion would be to do the Diamond Nine activity at the beginning of a unit and then again at the end. Students could then compare their two Diamond Nine’s and observe any changes in their thinking. A second suggestion would be to ask students to find sources to back up their placement and categorisation of events. This may result in students adjusting their work if the evidence they find challenges them to think differently. Lastly, students could compare their Diamond Nine to the organisers of other students in their class. It’s likely that no two will be the same!

How have you taught Cause and Effect in your classroom? What are your thoughts on the Diamond Nine Organiser?

For more information about Cause and Effect check out A. Chapman, (2003), ‘Camels, Diamonds and Counterfactuals: a Model for Teaching Causal Reasoning’ in Teaching History, 112 and T. Hayden, J. Arthur, M. Hunt, and A. Stephen (2008), Learning to Teach History in the Secondary School.

Leave a Reply