The 5E Instructional Model

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model is a popular, evidence-based teaching framework that is applied extensively in Stile’s science program. So, what is it? Where did it come from? How can you use it in the classroom? Read on to find out.

The 5E Instructional Model

What is it?

Created by the BSCS in 1987, the model's name comes from its five phases, which each begin with the letter E. All of these phases have a specific role in the teaching and learning process and can be applied at the program, unit and lesson level.

Stile’s units and lessons have been crafted with the 5E model front of mind, and each of the phases can be easily identified in our resources.


"Capture the students' attention" (Bybee, 2015, p.4)

The aim of the first phase is to get students interested in the topic by relating it to their past experiences. We know that getting students excited is one of the hardest parts of teaching! That’s why a unit’s Introduction lesson is designed to hook them in with a real-world phenomenon, activate their prior knowledge, and leave them wanting to know more. Each lesson also begins with an interesting link to the wider world. Students should be intrigued by and curious about the learning activity so they are motivated to continue learning.


"Concrete experiences through which students wrestle with their current conceptions" (Bybee, 2015, p.6)

Now that students are ready to discover more about the phenomenon, it’s time for them to explore, investigate, and develop explanations. This phase uses hands-on experiences to help students resolve their curiosity and reconstruct their understanding. Lab activities and custom-made simulations in Stile give students opportunities to explore new concepts, build on their existing knowledge and discuss their ideas.


"The teacher introduces concepts directly and explicitly" (Bybee, 2015, p.6)

In this phase, students are asked to draw on learning experiences from the previous phases to explain key concepts. You can use these explanations to measure student understanding, and then apply direct teaching to clarify ideas and correct misconceptions. Stile's Teach Mode gives you the tools to examine students' explanations and provide immediate feedback. It's also designed to support direct instruction, so our purpose-built resources help you to communicate ideas with students.


"Facilitate the transfer of concepts…to closely related but new situations" (Bybee, 2015, p.6)

In this phase, students expand their understanding and transfer it to new contexts while interacting with you, with one another, and drawing upon a range of resources. The sequence of lessons in a Stile unit are structured to let students develop and refine their thinking in a variety of contexts. The questions within a lesson also scaffold students from lower-order thinking to higher-order thinking, with many opportunities to collaborate and discuss ideas.


"Involve students in activities… designed to assess their explanations" (Bybee, 2015, p.7)

This final phase is about the assessment of learning outcomes where students receive feedback on their thinking. There's no shortage of opportunities to evaluate student learning in Stile! Teach Mode and Key Questions allow formative assessment on the spot during class, while quizzes can be a quick check for understanding after a lesson. A summative test in each unit offers a detailed view of students' learning, and engineering challenges include rubrics to assess Science and Engineering Practices alongside Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts.

5E: A history

So where did the 5E model come from in the first place? The BSCS wanted to create an evidence-based instructional model that "enhanced student learning and was understood by teachers" (Bybee, 2015, p. X). They were drawn to the Science Curriculum Improvement Study's (SCIS) learning cycle, an existing model for science instruction, because many studies had shown its advantages over other approaches (Abraham and Renner, 1986). The learning cycle states that a unit of learning should "consist of this sequence: preliminary exploration, invention, and discovery” (Karplus & Their, 1967, p.40). They named these three phases Exploration, where students encounter a phenomenon; Invention, where they're introduced to topic-specific terminology; and Discovery, where they transfer concepts and terminology to new but related circumstances. BSCS maintained these as a starting point for their model, but renamed the last two phases to Explanation and Elaboration.

Having thoroughly examined available educational research, further additions were made to the model. The Engagement phase became the fourth ‘E’, which recognised the importance of connecting with students' prior knowledge in an educational setting (Bybee, 2006). BSCS also added collaborative learning to both the Exploration and Elaboration phases to include the important element of students working together. Finally, the Evaluation phase was included to show the importance of assessment and self-reflection in developing students' metacognition (ibid.).

Is it useful in a science teaching context?

Thirty years later, the BSCS 5E Instructional Model continues to align with current educational research. A number of studies demonstrate its effectiveness, showing that students who are taught science using the 5E model have a better understanding of subject matter, improved scientific reasoning skills, higher levels of interest in the subject, and more positive attitudes toward science compared with alternative approaches (Bybee, 2006). The role of the teacher in these outcomes is especially interesting. In 2002, Coulson studied the relationship between student outcomes and the teacher's implementation of the 5E Model (Taylor et al., 2007). He found that when teachers follow the model closely, it leads to significantly better student learning outcomes. We can conclude that applying the 5E Model requires instructional resources that align with the approach as well as an understanding of how to implement them in practice.

What does this mean for you? Research suggests that including all five phases in the learning sequence is essential to achieve the best possible results, and that Exploration takes place before Explanation (Bybee et al. 2006). Practical tasks should be incorporated in the Exploration phase, and discussion needs to take place in the Explanation phase (ibid.). The good news is that Stile's units and lessons are built with 5E in mind. They contain useful teaching notes, written by our team of experts, to help you apply the 5E Model with your students. These notes point out opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and differentiation. You can find them when viewing the lesson in Prepare Mode, and as convenient Teacher Tips that you can refer to quickly in Teach Mode.


Is 5E a discovery learning model?

Direct instruction and discovery learning are often explained as opposing methodologies, with direct instruction described as lecturing and rote learning while discovery learning is labeled as something that takes place without any guidance from the teacher. The 5E Model doesn't belong at either end of the continuum, but rather somewhere in the middle (Bybee, 2006). In fact, the BSCS believes that "characterization of these instructional approaches as separate, as opposed to being possibly integrated, has done a disservice to both approaches" (ibid. p.21).

Is 5E used to sequence units?

The model provides a sequence that applies to program, unit, and lessons. It also provides teachers with a framework to guide classroom decisions (Bybee, 2006). For example, if students’ explanations are missing information, another exploration task that emphasizes this particular idea might be necessary. Student explanations also guide the level of detail required from direct instruction.

Isn’t the Explain phase for students to explain, not teachers?

It's actually both! The Explain phase begins with students explaining, but teacher explanation through direct teaching plays an important role. Student explanations give valuable insight into their understanding, which can be used to determine next teaching steps. Through direct instruction, you can give necessary clarification, definitions, and terminology that support students in the Elaboration and Evaluation phases.


Taylor, J., Van Scotter, P., and Coulson, D. (2007). Bridging research on learning and student achievement: The role of instructional materials. Science Educator 16(2):44–50

Bybee, R.W. et al. (2006). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Origins, Effectiveness, and Applications

Bybee, R. W. (2015). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Creating teachable moments. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press, National Science Teachers Association.