The similarities and differences among modern organisms

The 5E lesson plan is a wonderful tool to engage and involve students in the scientific process.

This lesson provides a description of the 5E lesson plan for the science classroom as well as examples of its application.

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The 5E Lesson Plan

The 5E model aims to engage students in the learning process by creating inquiry-based, student-centered lessons. Each of the five sections begins with the letter E: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. Do not expect the entire sequence to be completed in a single class period. In some cases, each individual section can take a day or more.The descriptions of each section include an example activity that meets the following middle school life science standard.

  • Next Generation Science Standard MS-LS4-3: ”Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.”


This represents the hook. It is an activity that encourages the students to ask questions and entices them to learn more.

A demonstration or mini-lab that has students describe what they see or explain how something occurs is ideal.

  • Example: Project images and bone structures of the homologous limbs of various animals, both living and extinct. Have students make observations and provide possible explanations for what they see.


This section generally consists of a laboratory activity where students gain common experiences and discover concepts, processes, and patterns. The exploration provides a starting point from which the class can build their understanding together.

  • Example: Darwin’s Finches Beak Lab.

    Students explore what happens when different ”beaks” (tweezers, chopsticks, fork, bare fingers) try to pick up different sizes and types of seeds. Different islands have different types of seeds. What does this mean for the birds that live on each of these islands? What happens to the finch populations when a food source disappears because of a frost, flood, or drought?


In this teacher-facilitated section, students learn the scientific terminology and content to explain their observations from the lab. The students have the opportunity to practice skills and deepen their understanding of the material, while the teacher has the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings.

  • Example: Students learn about evolutionary relationships. Key terms include evolution, speciation, and natural selection.


Students now have the opportunity to apply their learning to new situations and real-world circumstances.

This reinforces learning and provides the students another chance to practice their skills.

  • Example: Using images and physical descriptions of species both living and extinct, students create a phylogenic tree to demonstrate evolutionary relationships. Students can hypothesize explanations for the observed differences between the species.


This is where students reflect upon and assess the process as well as their learning. Teachers have the opportunity to provide a summative assessment to evaluate student understanding of the material and development of skills.

  • Example: Assessment can include laboratory practical, research projects, and summative exams.

5E Lesson Plan Template

STANDARD and/or OBJECTIVE Next Generation Science Standard 5-ESS2-2: ”Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.”
ENGAGE Demonstration: Display a satellite image of the planet Earth. That’s a lot of water, but how much can we actually use? Using one liter of colored water to represent all of Earth’s water, demonstrate the proportions that are found in oceans, glaciers, rivers and lakes, and in the ground.

Only a single drop is available to drink!

EXPLORE Laboratory Activity: Each lab group receives a 5 gallon (80 cup) bucket of water. Using measuring cups and droppers, groups create pools for various water sources including oceans, glaciers, groundwater, and rivers and lakes. Students then graph how many cups they placed in each source and calculate the percentages.
EXPLAIN Content: Distribution of the Earth’s water.

Vocabulary includes potable, glacier, groundwater, ocean, river and lake.

ELABORATE Investigation: Students research countries affected by the global water shortage.
EVALUATE Assessment: Laboratory practical, research presentation, and summative exam.

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