Engaging Students as Active Learners with the 5-E Instructional Model

The 5-E Instructional Model was developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in the mid-1980s. The catalyst for the development 5-E Instructional Model was a curriculum study funded by a grant from IBM with the goal of enhancing science instruction in American schools. The 5-E instructional model draws from earlier instructional models (e.g., Herbart, 1901; Dewey, 1933; Heiss, Obourn, & Hoffman, 1950; Atkin & Karplus, 1961) to develop an means of actively engaging students in learning science. Hence, the 5-E model is student-centered and engages students in an exploration of a scientific concept and challenges students to construct meaning while developing evidence-based explanations. The 5-E model is a departure from the traditional, teacher-centered approach to science teaching. The 5-E Instructional Model has five phases: Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation.

Why 5-E?

The 5-E Instructional Model provides a lesson format which engages students as active learners. This lesson format builds upon students’ prior knowledge and challenges students to apply their understanding of science to investigate new questions. As active learners, students learn science by conducting investigations into the natural world. The ShowMe Nature GK-12 Fellows’ lessons are all structures within the 5-E lesson format and provide strong connections between fourth and fifth grade learners.

Read More: 5-E Instructional Model

Cross Grade Level Lessons Science Across the Curriculum – Building upon Students Prior Learning

lessons2The ShowMe Nature GK-12 Fellows from the University of Missouri created a series of cross-grade level lesson plans for fourth and fifth grade elementary students. Fourth grade lessons are designed to introduce key concepts in biology to students and the fifth grade lessons are designed to build upon students’ prior learning from their fourth grade science experiences. Cross-grade lessons from four ShowMe Nature GK-12 Fellows (Clayton Coffman-4th Grade and Chad King-5th Grade; Sarah Zukoff-4th Grade and Lianne Hibbert-5th Grade) are shown below. The lessons are aligned with the National Science Education Standards and the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. Our goal is to emphasize student learning through inquiry, communication between grade level science teachers, and application of science knowledge to problem solving.


The University of Missouri GK-12 ShowMe Nature Program is supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant with Drs. Candace Galen and Anna Waldron serving as Principle Investigators. The grant supports graduate scientists as GK-12 Fellows teaching 4th and 5th grade science in Columbia Public Schools elementary schools. The Fellows bring their knowledge of science and research into the classroom by collaborating with mentor teachers to develop and implement lessons designed to actively engage students in learning science. The lessons are written within the 5-E instructional format to stimulate critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration among elementary students. Lessons on this website are “Cross Grade” lesson plans in that the 4th grade lessons provide the bases for students’ understanding of 5th grade lessons. Each lesson pair features 4th grade and 5th grade versions designed to provide opportunities for students to apply knowledge of scientific principles taught in 4th grade to new scenarios posed within 5th grade lessons.

lessons5It is very important for educators to build upon the knowledge and understanding of science which students have gleaned through science instruction. To most effectively support student learning it is critical for teachers to understand how prior knowledge impacts learning. We believe that students learn most effectively when connections are made between new concepts presented in science and their prior knowledge and experience with the concept. We strongly emphasize the importance of revealing and building upon students’ prior knowledge and experience with concepts in science.

DSCN1389Lessons posted on this website were created by GK-12 Fellows in the University of Missouri GK-12 ShowMe Nature Program. The Fellows are assigned to 4th or 5th grade mentor teachers in Columbia elementary schools. Fellows bring their knowledge and science and research into the classroom by collaborating with mentor teachers to develop and implement inquiry-based lessons.

Cross-Grade Lessons: