Exploring Science Through the 5E Model: A Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning

Narayan Prasad Sapkota

Science educator, TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Academic dean and Science Teacher, JCA School, Pokhara

In today’s educational landscape, fostering deep understanding and critical thinking skills in students is paramount. Inquiry-based learning methodologies provide an effective approach to achieving these goals, with the 5E model serving as a structured framework for engaging students in meaningful exploration of scientific concepts. Developed by Roger Bybee in the 1980s, the 5E model encompasses five stages—Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate—each designed to facilitate inquiry and discovery in the science classroom.

Engage: Igniting Curiosity

The first stage of the 5E model, Engage, sets the stage for learning by capturing students’ interest and activating their prior knowledge. This phase often begins with an attention-grabbing activity, question, or real-world problem that piques students’ curiosity and stimulates discussion. By connecting new concepts to students’ existing understanding and experiences, educators create a foundation for deeper exploration.

For example, a lesson on photosynthesis might begin with a hands-on activity where students examine leaves and brainstorm what plants need to grow. Through guided questioning, the teacher encourages students to share their observations and hypotheses, laying the groundwork for further inquiry.

Explore: Hands-On Investigation

In the Explore phase, students dive into hands-on exploration and experimentation to investigate scientific phenomena. This stage emphasizes active learning, with students collaborating in small groups to conduct experiments, make observations, and collect data. By allowing students to explore concepts firsthand, educators foster a sense of ownership and curiosity, leading to deeper understanding.

Continuing with the photosynthesis example, students might design and carry out experiments to explore the factors that affect plant growth, such as light, water, and carbon dioxide levels. Through trial and error, students develop hypotheses, gather evidence, and draw conclusions, refining their understanding of photosynthetic processes along the way.

Explain: Constructing Understanding

In the Explain stage, students articulate their understanding of scientific concepts and principles. This phase provides an opportunity for students to communicate their findings, reflect on their experiences, and make connections between new information and existing knowledge. Teachers play a crucial role in facilitating this process, providing explanations, clarifications, and conceptual frameworks as needed.

During the Explain stage, students might present their findings to the class, create concept maps or models, or engage in guided discussions to deepen their understanding of photosynthesis. Through dialogue and peer interaction, students refine their conceptual understanding, address misconceptions, and construct meaning collaboratively.

Elaborate: Applying Knowledge

In the Elaborate phase, students apply their understanding of scientific concepts to new contexts or problems. This stage challenges students to extend their learning beyond the classroom, engaging in more complex tasks or investigations that require higher-order thinking skills. By applying their knowledge in authentic contexts, students solidify their understanding and develop transferable skills.

For instance, students might design and conduct experiments to investigate how environmental factors impact photosynthesis in different plant species. By applying their understanding of photosynthetic processes to real-world scenarios, students deepen their knowledge and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Evaluate: Assessing Understanding

The final stage of the 5E model, Evaluate, focuses on assessing students’ understanding and mastery of scientific concepts. This phase encompasses a variety of formative and summative assessment strategies, including quizzes, tests, performance tasks, and student reflections. By providing feedback and reflection opportunities, educators gauge student progress and guide future instruction.

In the Evaluate stage, students might complete a written assessment or participate in a group discussion to demonstrate their understanding of photosynthesis and related concepts. By assessing student learning outcomes, educators identify areas of strength and areas for improvement, informing instructional decisions and shaping future learning experiences.


The 5E model provides a flexible and effective framework for inquiry-based learning in the science classroom. By engaging students in hands-on exploration, collaborative inquiry, and reflective practice, educators cultivate curiosity, critical thinking, and a deep understanding of scientific concepts. Through the iterative process of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate, students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world, fostering a lifelong passion for learning and discovery.