The 5 E’s of Inquiry-based Learning

The 5 E’s is an inquiry-based learning approach that is founded on the belief that students learn by building new ideas on top of old ones. Using this model, students can understand and learn concepts and skills over a series of 5 steps or phases of learning. This learning model is beneficial in classrooms as it can:

  • Motivate students.
  • Engage students in an active learning process.
  • Facilitate collaboration and teamwork.
  • Help students form conclusions through questioning, investigating, observing, analyzing and problem-solving.

Elements of 5 E’s Model

The 5 E’s learning model is best suited to introducing new concepts in the classroom. Teachers can guide students through the process of inquiry and the phases of active learning which include:

Engage: This is the first step of the learning process. Before introducing the concept or skill, teachers can try to determine:

  • Student readiness to learn concepts.
  • Prior knowledge of related concepts.

Once this has been established, teachers can use engaging activities or leading questions to:

  • Introduce the concept.
  • Build connections, linking past information with present concepts.
  • Build curiosity and interest in the topic.
  • Engage students in active learning and channel their attention onto the learning outcomes of the activities.

Explore: The second phase provides students with hands-on learning experiences, individual and group, that can help students:

  • Manipulate environment and materials.
  • Enhance understanding of concepts and development of skills.

Explain: In this phase teachers may explain and describe the terms and definitions associated with the concepts and skills. Students can be given opportunities to:

  • Advance understanding of concepts and skills by asking questions and clarifying information.
  • Strengthen their understanding by explaining the concepts verbally and through demonstrations to peers.

Elaborate: In this phase, students can refine their skills and cement their understanding of concepts as opportunities are given to apply and practice the newly learned concepts and skills.

Evaluate: in this last phase, both students and teachers evaluate and analyze student understanding of concepts and mastery of skills though tools of self-reflection, peer reviews and assignments.

The 5 E learning model strengthens understanding of concepts by helping students form connections between past knowledge and present information.

Learn more about inquiry-based learning strategies in this online professional development course!

February 2021 Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

About the Author
Ellen Paxton is a respected expert in education and best known as the Chief Learning Officer of Professional Learning Board. As a two-time National Board Certified Teacher, Ellen has successfully published and customized online professional development courses and Learning Management Systems for 20 years to help teachers meet their state continuing education renewal credit requirements. Through, and, Ellen has established solutions and maintained partnerships with several accredited universities, higher education institutions, teachers’ unions and state Departments of Education while setting strategic direction that makes a difference and overseeing implementation of popular online PD for schools.