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Instructional Practices

The 5E Instructional Model Explained: A Framework for Inquiry-Based Learning

4 Min Read
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Whether exploring space phenomena in science or deciphering word problems in math, questions are bound to arise: Is there anything faster than the speed of light? Why am I not supposed to divide by zero? How do rockets fly in space? So, why not tap into students’ natural curiosity and have them lead their own learning? With the 5E instructional model, students can explore life’s mysteries all while being active participants in their learning through inquiry-based activities.

What Is the 5E Model?

The 5E model uses a constructivist approach to learning, which means it focuses on students constructing knowledge from experiences. The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) initially developed the 5E model, or center inquiry practices, in a cycle that provided a process to facilitate learning. Since then, the model has been widely adopted and adapted by a variety of groups, but the initial goal remains the same.

The 5E instructional model consists of five phases: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. Throughout the process, students work collaboratively to observe, investigate, analyze, and draw conclusions. Meanwhile, the teacher serves as a facilitator, guiding students in the learning process. This framework can be used to teach STEM subjects, like math and science, to introduce and investigate new concepts. Plus the 5E model provides students the opportunity to explore new concepts critically and retain information through meaningful learning experiences. In fact, research shows that the 5E model is tied to "a significantly better acquisition of scientific concepts” compared to traditional textbook focused instruction.

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5E Learning Cycle

The 5Es describe the phases of this inquiry-based learning cycle. As students move through the 5E learning cycle, they build on to their prior knowledge and construct meaning about the concept at hand.


Engage is the first phase of the 5E model. During this phase, teachers are activating students’ prior knowledge to identify what students know or do not know about the upcoming concept. As teachers tap into students’ background knowledge, students can make connections and teachers can identify any knowledge gaps. This phase also serves to pique students’ interest and curiosity about the topic at hand. To engage students, ask open-ended questions, lead a class discussion, or view videos to introduce a concept.

During the Engage Phase Students:

During the Engage Phase Teachers:

Ask questions

Raise questions

Share observations and ideas

Help students make connections

Express current understanding

Invite students to share ideas


During the Explore phase, teachers are guiding students in exploration and problem-solving in a concrete way. Through hands-on activities, such as creating models or conducting experiments, students can investigate the new concept and discuss ideas and observations with their peers.

During the Explore Phase Students:

During the Explore Phase Teachers:

Test predictions

Observe and listen to students interacting

Plan and conduct an investigation

Encourage collaboration


Ask probing questions

Compare ideas with others

Provide time to problem-solve


The Explain phase is run by the teacher. During this phase, the teacher facilitates a whole-class discussion by asking questions, comparing student responses, and helping to guide the class towards the key ideas being taught.

During the Explain Phase Students:

During the Explain Phase Teachers:

Record understanding

Ask for clarification from students

Explain using evidence

Build on student explanation

Listen to other explanations

Provide definitions and information

Share their possible solutions

Encourage students to share their understanding


During the Elaborate phase, students have the space to apply what they learned. They can take their new knowledge to form a new hypothesis, explore real-world scenarios, or create a presentation to share with their peers. This phase allows students to extend their learning and create richer connections to concepts.

During the Elaborate Phase Students:

During the Elaborate Phase Teachers:

Draw conclusions

Ask questions that help draw conclusions

Make connections between new and prior experiences

Provide additional reasoning

Use information to ask new questions

Reinforce use of vocabulary terms

Apply explanations to new situations

Encourage students to apply learned concept to new situations


At this phase, the teacher assesses student learning through formal and/or informal assessments. Informal assessments, like exit tickets or oral presentations, or formal assessments, like tests or quizzes, can be used to determine whether students understood the key concepts. During this phase, students can also evaluate their learning using self-assessment tools like rubrics.

During the Evaluate Phase Students:

During the Evaluate Phase Teachers:

Evaluate their progress

Use various assessment tools to evaluate student understanding

Give peers feedback

Provide students opportunity to assess progress

Check work with rubric or criteria

Record notes of student understanding

Answer open-ended questions

Ask open-ended questions

The 5E instructional model empowers students to lean into their curiosity and explore the world around them. Implement the 5E model to guide students in meaningful, inquiry-based learning.


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