Expanding the 5E Model

Sometimes a current model must be amended to maintain its value after new information,
insights, and knowledge have been gathered. Such is now the case with the
highly successful 5E learning cycle and instructional model (Bybee 1997). Research
on how people learn and the incorporation of that research into lesson plans and
curriculum development demands that the 5E model be expanded to a 7E model.

Sometimes a current model must be amended to maintain its value after new information,
insights, and knowledge have been gathered. Such is now the case with the
highly successful 5E learning cycle and instructional model (Bybee 1997). Research
on how people learn and the incorporation of that research into lesson plans and
curriculum development demands that the 5E model be expanded to a 7E model.

The 5E learning cycle model requires instruction to
include the following discrete elements: engage, explore,
explain, elaborate, and evaluate. The proposed 7E model
expands the engage element into two components—elicit
and engage. Similarly, the 7E model expands the two
stages of elaborate and evaluate into three components—
elaborate, evaluate, and extend. The transition from the 5E
model to the 7E model is illustrated in Figure 1.
These changes are not suggested to add complexity,
but rather to ensure instructors do not omit crucial elements
for learning from their lessons while under the
incorrect assumption they are meeting the requirements
of the learning cycle.

Eliciting prior understandings
Current research in cognitive science has shown that eliciting
prior understandings is a necessary component of
the learning process. Research also has shown that expert
learners are much more adept at the transfer of learning
than novices and that practice in the transfer of learning
is required in good instruction (Bransford, Brown, and
Cocking 2000).

The engage component in the 5E model is intended to
capture students’ attention, get students thinking about the
subject matter, raise questions in students’ minds, stimulate
thinking, and access prior knowledge. For example,
teachers may engage students by creating surprise or doubt
through a demonstration that shows a piece of steel sinking
and a steel toy boat floating. Similarly, a teacher may
place an ice cube into a glass of water and have the class
observe it float while the same ice cube placed in a second
glass of liquid sinks. The corresponding conversation with
the students may access their prior learning. The students
should have the opportunity to ask and attempt to answer,
“Why is it that the toy boat does not sink?”

The engage component includes both accessing prior
knowledge and generating enthusiasm for the subject
matter. Teachers may excite students, get them interested
and ready to learn, and believe they are fulfilling
the engage phase of the learning cycle, while ignoring
the need to find out what prior knowledge students
bring to the topic. The importance of eliciting prior understandings
in ascertaining what students know prior to
a lesson is imperative. Recognizing that students construct
knowledge from existing knowledge, teachers
need to find out what existing knowledge their students
possess. Failure to do so may result in students developing
concepts very different from the ones the teacher
intends (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000).

A straightforward means by which teachers may elicit
prior understandings is by framing a “what do you think”
question at the outset of the lesson as is done consistently

in some current curricula. For example, a common physics
lesson on seat belts might begin with a question about
designing seat belts for a racecar traveling at a high rate of
speed (Figure 2, p. 58). “How would they be different
from ones available on passenger cars?” Students responding
to this question communicate what they know about
seat belts and inform themselves, their classmates, and the
teacher about their prior conceptions and understandings.
There is no need to arrive at consensus or closure at this
point. Students do not assume the teacher will tell them
the “right” answer. The “what do you think” question is
intended to begin the conversation.

The proposed expansion of the 5E model does not
exchange the engage component for the elicit component;
the engage component is still a necessary element in good
instruction. The goal is to continue to excite and interest
students in whatever ways possible and to identify prior
conceptions. Therefore the elicit component should stand
alone as a reminder of its importance in learning and
constructing meaning.

Explore and explain
The explore phase of the learning cycle provides an opportunity
for students to observe, record data, isolate
variables, design and plan experiments, create graphs,
interpret results, develop hypotheses, and organize their
findings. Teachers may frame questions, suggest approaches,
provide feedback, and assess understandings.
An excellent example of teaching a lesson on the metabolic
rate of water fleas (Lawson 2001) illustrates the

Figure 1

effectiveness of the learning cycle with
varying amounts of teacher and learner
ownership and control (Gil 2002).
Students are introduced to models,
laws, and theories during the explain
phase of the learning cycle. Students
summarize results in terms of these new
theories and models. The teacher guides
students toward coherent and consistent
generalizations, helps students with distinct
scientific vocabulary, and provides
questions that help students use this vocabulary
to explain the results of their
explorations. The distinction between
the explore and explain components ensures
that concepts precede terminology.

Applying knowledge
The elaborate phase of the learning cycle
provides an opportunity for students to
apply their knowledge to new domains,
which may include raising new questions
and hypotheses to explore. This phase
may also include related numerical problems
for students to solve. When students
explore the heating curve of water and
the related heats of fusion and vaporization,
they can then perform a similar experiment
with another liquid or, using
data from a reference table, compare and
contrast materials with respect to freezing
and boiling points. A further elaboration
may ask students to consider the
specific heats of metals in comparison to
water and to explain why pizza from the
oven remains hot but aluminum foil beneath
the pizza cools so rapidly.
The elaboration phase ties directly to
the psychological construct called
“transfer of learning” (Thorndike 1923).
Schools are created and supported with
the expectation that more general uses
of knowledge will be found outside of
school and beyond the school years
(Hilgard and Bower 1975). Transfer of
learning can range from transfer of one
concept to another (e.g., Newton’s law
of gravitation and Coulomb’s law of
electrostatics); one school subject to another
(e.g., math skills applied in scientific
investigations); one year to another
(e.g., significant figures, graphing,
chemistry concepts in physics); and
school to nonschool activities (e.g., using
a graph to calculate whether it is cost

Figure 2

effective to join a video club or pay a higher rate on
rentals) (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000).
Too often, the elaboration phase has come to mean an
elaboration of the specific concepts. Teachers may provide
the specific heat of a second substance and have students
perform identical calculations. This practice in transfer of
learning seems limited to near transfer as opposed to far or
distant transfer (Mayer 1979). Even though teachers expect
wonderful results when they limit themselves to near
transfer with large similarities between the original task
and the transfer task, they know students often find elaborations
difficult. And as difficult as near transfer is for
students, the distant transfer is usually a much harder road
to traverse. Students who are quite able to discuss phase
changes of substances and their related freezing points,
melting points, and heats of fusion and vaporization may
find it exceedingly difficult to transfer the concept of
phase change as a means of explaining traffic congestion.

Practicing the transfer of learning
The addition of the extend phase to the elaborate phase is
intended to explicitly remind teachers of the importance for
students to practice the transfer of learning. Teachers need
to make sure that knowledge is applied in a new context
and is not limited to simple elaboration. For instance, in
another common activity students may be required to invent
a sport that can be played on the moon. An activity on
friction informs students that friction increases with weight.
Because objects weigh less on the moon, frictional forces are
expected to be less on the moon. That elaboration is useful.
Students must go one step further and extend this friction
concept to the unique sports and corresponding play they
are developing for the moon environment.

The evaluate phase of the learning cycle continues to include
both formative and summative evaluations of student learning.
If teachers truly value the learning cycle and experiments
that students conduct in the classroom, then teachers should be
sure to include aspects of these investigations on tests. Tests
should include questions from the lab and should ask students
questions about the laboratory activities. Students should be
asked to interpret data from a lab similar to the one they
completed. Students should also be asked to design experiments
as part of their assessment (Colburn and Clough 1997).
Formative evaluation should not be limited to a particular
phase of the cycle. The cycle should not be linear.
Formative evaluation must take place during all interactions
with students. The elicit phase is a formative evaluation.
The explore phase and explain phase must always
be accompanied by techniques whereby the teacher
checks for student understanding.
Replacing elaborate and evaluate with elaborate, extend,
and evaluate as shown in Figure 1, p. 57, is a way to
emphasize that the transfer of learning, as required in
the extend phase, may also be used as part of the evaluation
phase in the learning cycle.
Enhancing the instructional model
Adopting a 7E model ensures that eliciting prior understandings
and opportunities for transfer of learning are
not omitted. With a 7E model, teachers will engage and
elicit and students will elaborate and extend. This is not
the first enhancement of instructional models, nor will it
be the last. Readers should not reject the enhancement
because they are used to the traditional 5E model, or
worse yet, because they hold the 5E model sacred. The
5E model is itself an enhancement of the three-phrase
learning cycle that included exploration, invention, and
discovery (Karplus and Thier 1967.) In the 5E model,
these phases were initially referred to as explore, explain,
and expand. In another learning cycle, they are referred
to as exploration, term introduction, and concept application
(Lawson 1995).
The 5E learning cycle has been shown to be an
extremely effective approach to learning (Lawson
1995; Guzzetti et al. 1993). The goal of the 7E learning
model is to emphasize the increasing importance of
eliciting prior understandings and the extending, or
transfer, of concepts. With this new model, teachers
should no longer overlook these essential requirements
for student learning.

Arthur Eisenkraft is a project director of Active Physics
and a past president of NSTA, 60 Stormytown Road,
Ossining, NY 10562; e-mail:

Bransford, J.D., A.L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking, eds. 2000. How
People Learn. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Bybee, R.W. 1997. Achieving Scientific Literacy. Portsmouth, N.H.:
Colburn, A., and M.P. Clough. 1997. Implementing the learning
cycle. The Science Teacher 64(5): 30–33.
Gil, O. 2002. Implications of inquiry curriculum for teaching. Paper
presented at National Science Teachers Association Convention,
5–7 December, in Alburquerque, N.M.
Guzzetti B., T.E. Taylor, G.V. Glass, and W.S. Gammas. 1993.
Promoting conceptual change in science: A comparative metaanalysis
of instructional interventions from reading education
and science education. Reading Research Quarterly 28:117–159.
Hilgard, E.R., and G.H. Bower. 1975. Theories of Learning.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Karplus, R., and H.D. Thier. 1967. A New Look at Elementary
School Science. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Lawson, A.E. 1995. Science Teaching and the Development of Thinking.
Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth.
Lawson, A.E. 2001. Using the learning cycle to teach biology concepts and
reasoning patterns. Journal of Biological Education 35(4): 165–169.
Mayer, R.E. 1979. Can advance organizers influence meaningful
learning? Review of Educational Research 49(2): 371–383.
Thorndike, E.L. 1923. Educational Psychology, Vol. II: The Psychology

3 replies on “Expanding the 5E Model

Dear Lynda ( head of the Prem Community) ,

The Barge Program has been on the cutting edge of student centered learning for many years now. I sincerely wish more Thai schools could visit the barge and get a first hand experience at how exciting learning can be.

Warm wishes from a fellow believer,
Peter ( editor-in-chief)

The Traidhos Three Generation Barge Program structures all lesson plans and delivery around the 5E learning cycle. We are very familiar with it and believe that students respond well to the structure it lends to a lesson. Reflecting on how I use the 5E model, I realise that yes, I do ask about the children already know so I welcome the suggestion of adding Elicit more formally to the model. Discussion and re-familiarization with the 5E model or development of 7E model is to be welcomed.

Dear Ajan David,

This is article is a revelation to me and my fellow science teachers here in Thailand. Can you suggest where we might get other lessons plans for high school physics that follow the 7 E mode.
Best regards,

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