It’s NOT The 5E Model: Red Flags To Watch Out For

These five RED FLAGS can help you determine whether resources are truly using the 5E model to develop conceptual understanding in science.The next few weeks are all about the 5E Model!  This is one of my FAVORITE topics to discuss, so I’m excited to share with you some of what I’ve learned. (Remember, you can always get exclusive access to all of my expertise and support as a member of the NGSS Your Science Class course though!) Before we dive in too much, I want to address one of my BIGGEST PET PEEVES when it comes to the 5E Model! Yep, it’s that “buzz-word-washing” of science materials that we touched on last week with Three+ Signs It’s NOT NGSS.

It’s the same old — curriculum developers are labeling their lesson plans as “a 5E Model plan!” or “follows the 5E Model!” when in fact it COMPLETELY misses the mark.  So to help you out, I’ve identified five RED FLAGS to watch out for!

First, if you’re totally not familiar with the 5E Model, check out this post for a quick overview. Then, read on.



Five Signs It’s NOT the 5E

1. It’s completed in one class.

This is just not possible. The 5E Model was designed for instructional sequences.  Explore activities alone may take one, two, or maybe even three classes!


2. EXPLORE does not mean student-led.

Student-led means “independent.”  Students cutting out vocabulary and recording their own definitions could be student-led, but it’s not a truly Explore activity.  Explore activities require students to grapple with questions and problems with the goal of forming their own explanation.  In an NGSS-aligned classroom, the Explore stage occurs as students investigate the anchoring and investigative phenomena they are presented with throughout the unit.  Their goal is to make sense of the phenomena.  They may come to an accurate understanding, or they may not.  That doesn’t matter that much in the Explore phase – they are just generating and testing their ideas, trying to figure out what works.  Your job is to guide them through this process, pointing out things they missed and questioning their ideas to help them dive deeper.


3. EXPLAIN is not teacher-driven.

The focus of the Explain phase is for students to construct their explanations about phenomena based on what they discovered during the Explore activities. It is NOT where the teacher starts teaching. If the Explain phase is just a PowerPoint and notes, it is probably not the 5E.


4. ELABORATE is not fluff.

The Elaborate phase is a vital part of the 5E Model. It is where students independently practice the same concepts.  They apply their understanding to similar situations or scenarios, solidifying what they have learned.  If the Elaborate phase is unrelated to core content, if it is a “choice board” with no rhyme or reason, if it is not vital to the learning process — it is NOT the 5E.


5. ENGAGE is not just for fun.

The Engage phase is not just a fun demo to hook students in.  Yes, it should hook students, but it should hook them intellectually. It should activate prior knowledge, it should introduce a problem or mystery or phenomenon that students can explore throughout the instructional sequence, and it should ideally formatively assess where students are now.