Learn English Writing: Correlation and Causation

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.


cell phones correlation causation exercise


Part 3. Correlation or Causation Statements

Evaluate the each statement by answering the questions in Part 1.

  1. I can’t believe I failed my chemistry test. I knew I should have worn my lucky sweatshirt to the test.
  2. Roosters crow just before the sun rises. Therefore, roosters crowing cause the sun to rise.
  3. Two days after I drank lemon tea, my cold cleared up completely. Try it. It works.
  4. Spinach can’t be good for me. It tastes terrible.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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