Instructional Practices

The 5E Model of Science Instruction

4 Min Read
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What’s a better way to learn science than to always be questioning the world around you? With the 5E instructional model, students can develop scientific skills, like questioning, investigating, and analyzing, and experience science firsthand through inquiry-based activities.

The 5E Learning Cycle

One major part of the development of the 5E learning cycle is the constructivist theory, which suggests that learners construct knowledge from experiences. So, in a 5E science lesson, students are leading their learning by conducting their own experiments or constructing their own models.

The 5Es of Science

The 5E instructional model is structured to help students better understand scientific principles and phenomenon. It is composed of five phases: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The order of the 5Es allows students to build on existing knowledge and later, apply their newfound knowledge. As students move along the 5Es of science, they are actively engaged in their own learning.

5E Instructional Model Examples

The classic picture of an academic science class consists of a teacher who acts as a gatekeeper of knowledge. The teacher stands in front of the classroom presenting a lecture on the phases of matter. Meanwhile, students frantically jot down notes on matter, trying to keep up with the teacher.

Unlike a “sage on the stage” science lesson, a 5E science lesson focuses on students learning instead of teachers teaching. Students draw from their curiosity to lead their own learning, while the teacher serves as a facilitator, helping students make connections. See what each phase of the 5E model can look like in the science classroom.

1. Engage

At the Engage phase, the teacher introduces a new science concept using a short activity to activate prior knowledge and pique student interest. The engaging activity can involve investigating an anchoring phenomenon, leading a demonstration, looking at images, or watching a video. The teacher then poses questions, and students use their prior knowledge to make a claim. During this time, teachers can also identify any existing misconceptions.

Example: An elementary school teacher shows a video and photographs of someone apple picking in an orchard as an introductory activity to a unit on plant parts and their functions. The teacher then asks students: What do you notice about the apple tree? What do you wonder about the apples on the tree?

2. Explore

The Explore phase allows for students to investigate a scientific problem or phenomena on their own. Just like scientists and engineers, students are learning through doing. Plus, they are practicing the Claims, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) strategy, a framework to teach how to think and write scientifically.

Teachers can group students to conduct an experiment or hands-on activity. This promotes an inclusive learning environment that fosters curiosity and sets the stage for deepened learning. As students conduct activities, they are gaining knowledge, looking for patterns, collecting data, questioning, and collaborating with peers. Before exploring, students should be aware of what problem they are looking to solve or what information they are looking to uncover.

Example: To further explore plant parts, students are given a flower to examine. Students will identify and record the different parts of a flower and should be able to determine how the different parts help the flower.

3. Explain

During the Explain phase, students share their observations and evidence to explain their understanding. Teachers can engage students in a whole group discussion and help them build on their initial findings. If any questions or misunderstandings arose during the student-led experiment or activity, this is the perfect time for the teacher to lead instruction and introduce vocabulary to clarify.

Example: Based on their observations, students create and record a claim about the parts of a flower, such as the purpose of parts that protect the seeds. You can help explain that this is to help the flowers reproduce.

Download a Grade 3–5 hands-on science activity and lead students through the Explore and Explain phase of the 5E model.

Download Student Activity

Download Teacher Guide

4. Elaborate

In the Elaborate phase, students can apply the science concepts they’ve just learned and form new hypotheses and explore other relevant real-world problems.

Example: Lead students on a nature walk outside to find other plants or ask students to research other plants online. Ask students how the plants compare to the flowers previously examined. Students can predict why plants look differently and what is the function is for each plant part.

5. Evaluate

At the final phase of the 5E model, student learning is evaluated. Teachers can use formal assessment tools, like tests, presentations, and research papers, or informal assessment tools, like choice boards or exit tickets. Students can also self-assess their understanding of the key science topics at hand.

Example: Assess students understanding by asking them to label plant parts and their functions.

It is important to allow students enough time to work through each stage of the 5E lesson design, which often means that it may take more than one class period to complete a lesson. However long it takes to move through the 5E process, students will benefit from these student-led, inquiry-based learning experiences.

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Explore how the HMH Into Science K-5 and 6-8 curricula use the effective 5E lesson design, which encourages students to Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate science, in hands-on and digital environments.

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