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The Life of Young Thomas Edison: Third Graders Learn Cause and Effect

By Patricia Gable

Many young readers are inspired by the early life of Thomas Edison. He had so many obstacles to face. With each obstacle he learned something and his determination pushed him forward. Students will analyze what happened each time Thomas encountered a new challenge.

Young Thomas Edison Objective:

Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect. LA3-R1-3


  • Young Thomas Edison by Michael Dooling (Also found in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Language Arts Series: “Journeys”)
  • Three colors of construction paper: One 9”x12” piece for each student, six pieces of 5”x2” paper strips (3 of each color).
  • Pencils, glue sticks


Say, “Today we are going to read a story about a very famous inventor, Thomas Edison. The story tells us about his early life and the difficulties that he had. Thomas never gave up, though. We are going to talk about cause and effect as we read. The cause is the reason something happens and the effect is the result.”

In other words:

Cause = Why Effect = What

As you read the book point out things that happen to Thomas and the result of those things. For example: When Thomas gets Scarlet Fever (cause) he becomes hard of hearing (result).



Students should position the paper in the horizontal (landscape) position and glue three strips of paper of the same color on the left side and three strips of a different color on the right side. The left column is labeled “Cause” and the right column is labeled “Effect”.

Use the suggestions below to write a list of “Causes” on the board. Instruct the students to choose three of them and write one in each box on the left side of their papers. Then the students should write the effect of each one in the corresponding box on the right. 

Causes Effects

The teacher thought Thomas could not learn. (Mother teaches him at home.)

Thomas needed money for lab materials. (He got a job selling newspapers.)

The Civil War caused a rise in newspaper sales. (He started his own newspaper.)

The conductor hit Thomas’s ears. (His hearing gets worse.)

Thomas got a job as a telegraph operator. (He learned Morse Code.)

Thomas needed to be able to sleep sometimes. (He invents a device to send messages.)

He travels all over the south and Midwest. (He decides to learn about electrical forces.)

His hearing gets worse. (He invents devices to amplify the human voice.)

Extra Activity

Give each student an index card to write a sentence about something that happens.

For example: “It snowed today.” Then trade cards and instruct the students to write something that could be a result of what happened.

For example: “We did not have to go to school.” or “We built a snowman.” or “ Our car slid off the road on the way to school.”