5 Es or 7?

A recent #SciTeachJC was spent discussing a paper extolling the virtues of the 5Es. It’s also known as the 7Es, slightly confusingly, and many teachers will be familiar with the process if not the vocabulary. It was pointed out during the session that both CASE and Wikid follow some similar principles. I thought that as it’s the season for (re)writing schemes of work, that it would perhaps be useful to put together a quick ‘how to’ guide. Linked resources are going to be mostly science-related, so apologies to teachers of other subjects.

If, of course, you are involved with York Science you may already be using this approach! If you’re not, I strongly recommend you check it out – I would still be contributing if I had time, but I’ve managed to over-commit myself with all kinds of teaching-related stuff. Oops.

Anyway, the 5/7Es. The original version, as put together by an American curriculum development group, started with the backward design concept. They identified five useful stages for a lesson which contributed to effective learning. These – or the overlapping seven Es, if you prefer – can be used as a checklist for a scheme or lesson which works. Here’s my interpretation of it, apologies for any misunderstandings/oversimplifications (and please comment to identify my mistakes!). Ideally we as teachers should start at the end, asking ourselves the question:

How will my students demonstrate to me and themselves that they understand this idea?

EDIT: A simplified, quick-reference version of this quick-reference post is now available in a single page pdf – Hope it’s useful!

Engage (and Elicit)

Get their attention and find out what they know. This will mean in some way making it relevant to them. Invoke curiousity, excitement, wonder. Make them feel as well as intellectually recognise the relevance. It will often mean identifying pre- or mis-conceptions. This will probably be your lesson starter, perhaps in the twin stages of setting the scene and gauging their current level of understanding.

  • video clip, perhaps from BBC Class Clips or similar.
  • quick demo, ideally one with a surprising outcome (eg dropping a nearly empty and a full water balloon from the window to test the ‘heavier objects fall faster’ assumption).
  • This is the equipment, what might we be doing today?
  • This is a scientist who did this experiment, what might have been his/her reasoning?
  • Label the apparatus and identify the control variables.
  • Two minute discussion of how X idea links to Y (mobile phone, internet, what they had for lunch…)
  • Surprising statement to make them question something (eg diagram of atom labelled ‘This is a lie’)
  • Unusual prop (radioactive rock, rusty nail or a brick with a piece of string attached for them to prove isn’t ‘alive’)
  • Question and three answers for them to grade as Good, Okay and Wrong, then justify choices and/or correct mistakes.

I’m in the process of putting together a powerpoint for these starters to cover every topic in KS3. It’s ongoing, for obvious reasons, but by adding a bit a week I’m making something with a variety of activities that wil be there as a back-up. It’ll stop me having to invent a question on the spur of the moment


The ideal method for students to learn science is by discovery, right? Hmm. Well, I’m not disagreeing – but it’s very important to remember that we need to give our classes just the right conditions so that they ‘discover’ the right things. If you doubt what I’m saying, think about the times you’ve had to finish a practical with “And what was supposed to happen was…”

Nevertheless, all good science teachers will try to make sure that as much as possible, students are exposed to real-life situations which demonstrate or illustrate scientific principles or facts. Of course they can’t ‘see’ everything with their own eyes during their own practicals. But we give them tasks which allow them to explore the ideas, with as much ‘hands-on, minds-on’ activities as possible:

  • designing and carrying out their own investigations
  • taking part in demonstrations
  • considering hypothetical situations (thought experiments)
  • discussing advantages and disadvantages of methods or technologies
  • observing the natural world
  • describing events and experimental results
  • drawing conclusions from recorded material, whether sample data, industrial processes or BBC documentary footage


Our role is to help them put these facts into a useful context. As much as possible, we should not be giving them answers – instead, we give them the language to describe what they have found out. This might be the literal words, such as current or evaporation. It might be more figurative, helping them to turn the patterns they have identified into clear mathematical relationships. This is scaffolding, supporting the students – who will demonstrate a wide range of understanding in most classrooms – to turn facts into knowledge. We relate it back to previous lessons or topics, hopefully drawing these connections from them whenever possible by the questions we ask and the reminders we offer. We may reword their ideas to produce a ‘class definition’, or have particular students share their explanations (which we have discreetly checked while they’ve been exploring).


Using the constructed understanding – a synthesis of what they have explored, put in the context and language of our explanations – students check that they grasp the concepts. This may consist of straightforward exercises, or more open questions. It could be something more imaginative – to explain their ideas in a podcast or video, or produce a poster summing up the main points. To challenge them this should include parallel examples which require them to base their examples on concepts, not just words or mathematical methods. During this time some will realise that they don’t understand it as well as they thought, and will (or should) ask for help. You may use the 4Bs method here to encourage independant problem solving, or have some students assigned as mentors. Further explanations may be needed and sometimes you may have to pause their work to give more examples to some or all of them.

Homework can be an effective way to continue this checking, but if they have not been able to identify difficulties with you there thay may hand in a blank sheet of paper. This is where encouraging self-assessment and being clear about feedback in terms of steps to progress, rather than scores, is essential.


In many ways this should be the focus of the lesson (or series of lessons, more often). Students should be able to describe their progress, and tell you how they can measure their improvement. A ‘split-screen’ plenary where they can comment on both content and methods means that they start to consider how they progressed, not just whether they did. I find it useful to have them grade themselves in terms of confidence and competence – the latter based on data. This can be particularly powerful if they started the lesson with a similar self-assessment, so can articulate their progress. This automatically tells them what they need to do next, setting themselves targets for further lessons.


8 thoughts on “5 Es or 7?”

  1. During the PGCE we had a stipulated lesson plan template that used the 5Es, but nobody really ever explained it to us properly, it just mostly got moulded into a 3 part lesson with not-quite-random words beginning with E. This (& the #sciteachjc & background reading) has been hugely useful & definitely helped clarify the approach. Thanks!

    1. Sarah and Ellie – glad the post made sense. Effectively this was my attempt to think out loud, turning an academic paper into something we can use in a classroom. And that, after all, is the whole point of #sciteachjc!

  2. A nice description of the 5E’s! If you’re interested, the 7E’s is a later enhancement by Arthur Eisenkraft here: http://www.its-about-time.com/htmls/ap/eisenkrafttst.pdf
    He thought it was necessary because some of the original E’s have more than one function, and it is easy for teachers to do one and not the other. For instance ‘Engage’ also includes finding out students’ existing knowledge, and in the 7E’s it’s a separate stage, Elicit.

    As a creator of WIKID, I’m obviously biased towards using the E’s model.

    But as you’ve mentioned backwards design, the choice of teaching model should depend on WHAT you’re teaching. ‘Understandings’ ie conceptual knowledge are the mainstay of science, which is what 5/7E’s is designed for.

    However, if you’re teaching skills/processes, or ‘procedural content’ the model is not ideal. There is no evidence for instance that students ‘discovering skills’ is effective but there is much evidence that explicit teaching/modelling of skills does work. Therefore you need another model.

    In our Crucial programme for GCSE – skills focussed, we have used the well recognised model of ‘gradual release of responsibility’.

  3. Thanks for the comment, and the link! You’re absolutely right, I should have been more specific about the use of this model for content rather than skills. Most of what I know about the GRR model is from bits and pieces – mostly explicit in what I’ve done, rather than explicitly described. This would be a great #SciTeachJC discussion if we can track down a decent paper to read – any thoughts of what might be publicly available?

  4. The original GRR paper is this one – I have it if you need it – but it may not be the best source as it was just opening things up.

    Other similarish possibilities are more recent readings from Barack Rosenshine, whose work is very clear and summarises 30 years of research, e.g. http://www.formapex.com/telechargementpublic/rosenshine2008a.pdf?616d13afc6835dd26137b409becc9f87=84c90f37b112633a43dac80154be5265.

    Or maybe

    1. Tony

      Thanks again! (although did you realise you linked the same document three times?) I’ve done some looking myself, and have found among other things the website maintained by Fisher and Frey, which includes a publications list and an interesting presentation. I don’t have academic access, but with my Googling so far I’ve not found anything on the application of GRR to teaching science skills, specifically practical ones. The work on science literacy is interesting and I might have to try out some of the ideas and follow up with some reflection via blog post.

      The issue isn’t that I think there are particular weaknesses in how I teach practical skills – in fact I recognise many of the themes in the GRR model from what I (aim to) do in the classroom/lab. But like so much else, I’m sure there are ways to tweak my teaching by basing what I do on sound research. The problem is that for a teacher without academic access (despite the fantastic responses on twitter to my frustration about it!) getting to read more than the abstract means paying a lot, or relying on #icanhazpdf. Neither ‘solution’ is ideal.

      1. whoops – the original article is http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0361476X8390019X

        you’re right, the research is not in science, but it is reasonable to apply it there – though needs teachers like you to see how it should happen in practice.

        one obstacle we’ve found is that not everyone (putting it mildly) is willing to devote the time and curriculum space needed for proper skills instruction/development (I put the ‘i’ word in because without it, the ‘d’ word doesn’t happen), because it means pushing something else out.

        It would be very interesting to see one of your lesson sequences where you have used some of the model of GRR – that could be an artefact for other teachers to comment on.

        You don’t see that anything like that on the TES resources!

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