Hands-On Learning, Pedagogy

Understanding and Implementing the 5E Instructional Model

When I first started teaching science to second graders about six years  ago, I discovered that science and children are a natural fit… kinda like peanut butter and jelly. Why? Because kids are full of questions, and science is mankind’s attempt to answer those questions.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I hated science when I was a kid. It bored me to death. We defined vocabulary, took notes, studied, and then took a test…. not much hands on there. I honestly cannot tell you a thing that I learned in any of my science classes as a kid. 

I graduated in the 1980’s, and it was a completely different world then than now. (I always think of the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”… “Kids are different today, I hear every mother say...”  -Not that teachers are self-medicating to cope with teaching…LOL.)

But it’s true, our kids have a completely different set of reference points, and I don’t need to say anything about how technology influences their lives.

And the kids aren’t going to change for us. So, as educators, we need to change the method of our delivery.

One way that we can meet the needs of our learners is by implementing the 5E Instructional Model, and it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. In fact, once you get the hang of it, you will find that the kids do most of the work!

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The 5E  Model has been around for a while. I remember first hearing about it in workshops, but nobody could really explain it, or they just glossed over it with broad statements. Then, when I began working on my Masters in Science Curriculum and Instruction, I really began to learn about the “5E” Instructional Model. And… as I began to understand it, I was also noticing that many of the instructional leaders in my then district weren’t practicing what they were preaching (to be explained in a later post)

Now before I go any further, I need to tell you that this particular blog post is morphing as I type! My original intent was to actually explain each of the 5E’s -Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate, but as I work through this, I am realizing that my initial plan would result in an epicly ginormous blog post. So, I believe I’m going to break it down into several smaller, bite-sized, easy-to-digest posts.

Shall we proceed?

I whipped up this little table that addresses some of the overall attributes of a 5E Instructional Model.


I really think that before you can apply the actual 5E’s, you need to understand these basic principals that I outlined above.

  1.  The 5E Instructional Model is based on constructivist learning theories in which learners “construct” new ideas and learning based on prior knowledge and understandings. The old-fashioned approach in which students sat in rows, copied notes and definitions,  read the assigned readings, studied, and then took a test just doesn’t work with today’s generation. (I’m from a different generation altogether and they didn’t really work for me either… although I did develop some kick-ass reading skills). Am I saying that assigned readings and notes, etc… are wrong? No… they just need thoughtful implementation.
  2. Gone are the days when the teacher stood in the front of the room, lectured the entire time or read notes aloud to be copied into a notebook. The 5E model allows teachers to set the stage with carefully planned lessons and then let their learners complete a variety of tasks and activities that allow them to question, assimilate, understand new information, then rinse and repeat.
  3. I remember my school days in which classes followed a very sequenced set of activities, with all units of study culminating with an exam. Pass or fail, we moved on to the next unit once we had taken the exam. The 5E model allows for greater flexibility in learning and teaching. Yes, there are 5 “steps”, but those steps are really seamless in how they can be integrated with each other, which can lead to greater fluidity in your delivery and deeper conceptual learning for your students.

“What in the world is this woman talking about?”

…. patience grasshopper.

Stay tuned, as I will be following up with several more posts that delve deeper into the 5E model and that will offer suggestions for types of activities (and a few freebies to boot!) that can be incorporated into your 5E Lessons!

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