8: How to Really Use The 5E Model

July 7, 2020

In this episode, Nicole answers Erin’s questions about using the 5E model to plan NGSS aligned lessons. Erin admits that she struggles with following through with 5E lesson plans and seeks Nicole’s advice. Nicole regularly usES the 5E model to create lesson plans.

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What is the 5E model? (0:55)

The 5E model is an instructional model. It should not be used to build a single lesson or be used in a single class period. Instead, use the 5E model to build longer instructional sequences or units.

The 5E model consists of 5 components that allow for the type of exploration that should be found in an NGSS classroom. It is a structured way of moving students through an instructional sequence.

The 5E model provides flexibility in your day-to-day activities. Also, it provides a method for creating great lesson sequences that don’t take months of planning.

What are the 5E’s? (4:15)

There are 5 components of the 5E model. Each starts with the letter E.


Engage is typically a short activity. This step is to spark student interest and activate prior knowledge. Also, students should be using the practice of Asking Questions during this step.

Use the engage step to introduce anchoring phenomena. It’s important to avoid giving students the answer at this stage. (Avoid spoilers!)


The explore phase is the most important of the 5E’s. In an NGSS aligned classroom, students are sense-making and it starts in this step of the 5E model. This step generally takes the longest.

It is important that students are utilizing the Science and Engineering Practices in this step. For example, students may use the practice of Planning and Carrying Out Investigations to begin to understand how photosynthesis works. Or, students may Analyze and Interpret Data to understand relationships in ecosystems.

Introduce your investigative phenomena in this step. For example, students may investigate condensation collecting on the outside of a soda can in this step.


Nicole divides the third step into 2 parts. She calls these Explain Part 1 and Explain Part 2. This is not a part of the “official” 5E model. But, she explains that it helps her with her lesson planning.

Explain Part 1: Students Explain

In this part, the students put their ideas from the Explore phase together. The students explain what they discovered in their investigation.

For example, students mapped earthquakes, volcanoes and ocean trenches in the Explore phase. In the explain phase, they will try to explain what this means about Earth interior and plate tectonics.

In this part, students are starting to make sense of the Disciplinary Core Idea.

Explain Part 2: Teacher Clarification

In this part, the teacher provides information to help clarify their understanding. Introduce vocabulary in this step.

Teachers can use a wide-range of activities to provide students with this clarification. While teachers can lecture at this point, they can also provide a reading activity, show a video or have students do a simulation to provide clarification.

At this stage, teachers are making sure that all students have the same understanding of the content.


Many traditional classroom activities belong in this stage. Worksheets, review questions and practice problems belong in this stage.

You may also provide students with extension activities during this phase. For example, make connections between your lesson sequence and current events.


During the evaluate stage, you are assessing the student’s understanding of the material. It is important to remember that the 5E model is not linear. Just because this step is mentioned at the end, it does not mean that you should save your assessment for the end of the instructional sequence.

Instead, assess student understanding throughout your lesson sequence.

Questions about the 5E Model in an NGSS Aligned classroom (9:41)

Erin asks Nicole the following questions to clarify her understanding of the 5E model.

Is the engage phase your anchoring phenomenon?

Yes. At the start of the lesson sequence, introduce anchoring phenomena. However, also include additional engagement activities throughout the unit.

When you map out our instructional sequence, how many performance expectations do you include?

Nicole usually bundles 3-5 performance expectations together. However, she focuses on 2-3 performance expectations in a lesson sequence. This make is easier to build a coherent lesson sequence.

Can you use the phases of the 5E model more than once?

Absolutely. The 5E model is not linear and you will often address the steps more than once.

For example, you may do a few exploration activities before entering the explain phase. Or, you may to Engage-Explore-Explain- Engage-Explore-Explain before entering the elaborate phase.

Remember, any time that you are adding new content, you are going back to the explore phase. Also, the explore and explain phases are often found together.

When do you teach vocabulary using the 5E Model in an NGSS aligned classroom?

Introduce vocabulary during the Explain phase. Don’t front load vocabulary. (We will explain why in a future episode.)

Introduce vocabulary as it naturally arises in your classroom. Don’t introduce it all at once or in big chunks.

During the explore phase, students discuss what they are learning in very simple terms. For example, students may notice that animals each other in an ecosystem. Once they have discovered this idea, you can introduce the word “predation” to help them to describe this relationship.

What activities can be done during the Explain 2 Phase?

Lecture and reading activities are appropriate for this stage. However, these are not the only type of activities to use to improve student understanding of content.

Videos are a great way to explain content to students. Things like Khan Academy (for high school) and Brain Pop are also good. Web-based simulations also improve student understanding in this phase.

It is also possible to use station activities and confirmation style labs here.

What strategies help students during the explain (1) phase?

Provide students with guiding questions during the explore activity. This will help frame the answers that they are able to provide during the explain phase.

Think-pair-share activities also help students to participate in larger group discussions that may occur during the explain phase.

Sentence starter and prompts are also a great way to help hesitant students to participate in this part of the lesson sequence.

Where do you include lab skills in your lesson sequences?

Students need to learn how to use beakers, graduated cylinders and other lab equipment in your classroom.

Add this to your lesson sequence right before students need to use the materials. For example, if students will be using a microscope for an explore activity, provide them with instruction on using the microscope the day before.

Avoid front loading these skills at the start of the school year. It is important to include them when they are relevant.

More resources to help you learn about the 5E Model & NGSS

Resources Referenced:

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