Providing Opportunities For Practice: Elaborating On Student Learning

If you’ve been following along, we are diving into designing instructional sequences (aka lesson plans) using the 5E Model. Engage, ExploreExplain, and now ELABORATE!

Another misunderstood phase of the 5E Model, Elaborate is often tacked on at the end of a unit as an unnecessary “fluff” project that teachers tight on time might as well leave out.  In reality, Elaborate is where vital practice happens.  It’s where students apply their new understandings to cement those very concepts. They begin to generalize what they have learned and see how it fits into new contexts. It is vital to developing a fleshed-out conceptual understanding.  It should not be ignored!


The Purpose of Elaborate

The Elaborate phase is all about providing opportunities for students to practice material independently.  This means involving students in additional experiences that deepen their understanding of the explanation they reached, as well as opportunities to apply it to new contexts.  Activities should be new but achievable — think “similar but new.”


Additionally, Elaborate provides an opportunity for students to use different modes of expression to share their explanations.  For example, students who had verbally expressed their understanding could engage in tasks that require them to write, use diagrams, graphs, or mathematics to demonstrate the concepts.  


Ideal activities for the Elaborate phase include additional lab work, interacting with written sources or data, simulations, and even research.  Like Explore and Explain, the role of group work is paramount to student success.  Students should continue to refine their explanations and receive feedback from peers throughout the process.  


Ideal Activities For Elaborate


Texts, particularly current events or science news, make great Elaborate activities, because they aren’t presenting the information like an encyclopedia or textbook. Rather, they are connecting these concepts to a real-world issue or idea.  I love to use science news sites for my Elaborate activities. I will often take an article and chunk it out, inserting questions either in a column along the side or after various sections. The questions I use relate to the text, but they also might connect to what students have learned in the classroom.  The goal is to marry what students have been learning with the new situation or information presented in the article


Card Sorts, Investigations, and Design Challenges:

Card sorts, investigations, and design challenges — often used in the Explore phase — can be repeated in the Elaborate phase as a way to reinforce what students observed.  This time, though, they have the conceptual understanding of the phenomenon to explain it as they are observing it — as opposed to their struggle to explain it initially.


The Elaborate phase here is where you could break out your old school “confirmation labs” that are basically designed to illustrate a concept.  After students conduct the lab, they can explain it and connect it to their prior learning experiences. In that way, they are not just spitting back observations but still connecting this new experience to their past ones.



Lastly, projects are a way to provide opportunities for independent practice, because they ask students to demonstrate their knowledge in a different format.  If thus far they have discussed and written their explanation of a phenomenon, students could create visuals or models to illustrate the phenomenon instead. If they have expressed their knowledge in writing, perhaps students are asked to give a presentation or participate in a formal discussion or debate.


So what now?

Your students aren’t engaged. They aren’t thinking. They don’t care. And you’re just tired of teaching with notes and lectures and texts. Sound familiar? It’s time to try something new.

You can learn more about transforming your instruction as you learn to teach with the NGSS at the Science Teacher Tribe.  As a Science Teacher Tribe member, you get access to a professional development community full of resources designed to help you make the transition simply and smoothly. I’m not going to lie – it definitely takes some work, but it doesn’t have to be confusing or overwhelming or a struggle. It’s about adopting a new mindset, and our workshops and resources are designed to support you through it. Learn more here, and check with your district about obtaining funding.

If you aren’t ready to join our tribe but would like to learn more about the 5E Model, check out my full workshop, “Designing NGSS Aligned Instruction,” available with resources at TeachersPayTeachers.