Learn English Writing
Here are several writing and speaking prompts for the ESL classroom based on one theme: help students learn English by understanding the difference between correlation and causation.
Part 1. Instructions
Make sure students understand the difference between correlation and causation.
For Parts 2 to 5, use this critical thinking framework: ask students to read the prompts and answer the questions:
- what are the two variables?
- what is the implied relationship (correlation or a causal relationship)?
- if causal, explain the connection in some detail
- if correlated, explain why there is no direct connection and (if applicable) identify a possible hidden link
Part 2. Model Exercise
Here is a cartoon by xkcd. Read the text. Run through the questions in Part 1 with the class.
Part 3. Correlation or Causation Statements
Evaluate the each statement by answering the questions in Part 1.
- I can’t believe I failed my chemistry test. I knew I should have worn my lucky sweatshirt to the test.
- Roosters crow just before the sun rises. Therefore, roosters crowing cause the sun to rise.
- Two days after I drank lemon tea, my cold cleared up completely. Try it. It works.
- Spinach can’t be good for me. It tastes terrible.
- Look at the students in this elementary school. The children with larger shoe sizes can speak English better than the kids with small shoe sizes.
- Too much stress causes people to get sick.
Part 4. Superstition
This short dialogue reflects a common superstition in South Korea (and perhaps other countries). How does this belief confuse correlation and causation?
A: Why is there a bag of salt in front of your door?
B: To keep the evil spirits away.
A: Did it work?
B: Yes, we’ve had no bad luck since my mom put the salt near the door.
Part 5. Freakonomics
If your class is at the intermediate+ level, you might ask them to summarize the different correlations and causation errors in this video by the Freakonomics gang.
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