The elaborate phase of the 5E instructional model is where your students compare their information with their peer’s information and then apply what they have learned toward other contexts and lessons. Think of elaborate as the opportunity for students to say more about what they’ve found and learned.
What is the purpose of Elaborate?
Because the concepts we teach in the classroom are not isolated to one area, the elaborate phase is about helping your students connect the new concepts and ideas that they have just learned toward other related experiences.
What does Elaborate look like in the Classroom?
In elaborate, students should have opportunities to think about where their knowledge extends and applies beyond their initial experiment or lesson.
- Elaborate may be a part of the explain phase, where students are asked to explain what their findings may mean in the context of other things. You can also ask students to identify crosscutting themes (such as patterns) that stretch across other disciplines or curricula.
- Elaborate includes reflection, where students not only talk about what and how they could improve upon their investigation, but also where students compare their investigation to their peers in the class (e.g., “How were your results the same or different compared to other teams?).
Going back to the vinegar and baking soda chemical reaction lesson, you can start by asking students, “Did your reaction look the same as (another student’s reactions)? Why or why not?” Questions that have students compare their results to others can stimulate productive conversations that foster critical thinking. Plus, these conversations may draw from practices such as engaging in argument from evidence. These conversations may also involve crosscutting themes, such as looking for patterns.
Afterward, you can have students think about other places where chemical reactions occur, and why chemical reactions are important in daily life. You can also ask how the vinegar and baking soda reaction could be used in other applications (e.g., some students may suggest using the reaction to create the lava that goes in a volcano). Notice that in this phase, your students are not learning new concepts or vocabulary; rather, they are taking what they’ve learned to answer the question, “Why does this matter?”
Other questions that may be useful to help you guide students through elaboration:
- What do you think would happen if ______? Why?
- What other factors could have affected your findings?
- What new questions do we have our what steps can we take next?
- What difference does this make? Why is it important?
Challenges You Might Face
It can be tempting to connect the dots for your students, but in doing so, you may discourage students from learning how to make these connections on their own. While you may need to scaffold these processes in the beginning, remember that the elaborate phase is open-ended. Because students will draw from their own diverse backgrounds, they may give you different responses — especially when your classroom community honors students’ prior experiences as part of your classroom conversations. You want to give them ample opportunity to contextualize what they have learned on their own and allow them time to apply those ideas to new concepts that they relate to. If they have trouble doing so, provide time and a variety of resources (books, web resources, talking to friends and family) for students to find and make these connections.
You also want to encourage your students to reflect on what comes next, without telling them what you think should come next. One way to do this is with a three-question prompt that has them reflect on the past, present, and future. For example: “What did you originally think (to have students think about their initial thoughts)? What did you learn from your investigation? What would be your next steps?” Through questioning, you are positioning your students as leaders in their own learning. You can scaffold this process by asking more questions like “Did we answer the question?” “Do we need to do more research?” “What do you think should come next?”
You may have the urge to skip this step in the instructional model, or shorten the time that students have for reflection. However, we believe that Elaborate is one of the more important stages in the process of learning science. This stage allows students to contextualize the new information that they’ve learned in ways that are meaningful to their own experiences.
Therefore, we highly encourage teachers to give students time to reflect and make these connections. Moreover, assessing the student responses that you receive in this stage will give you a better idea of where students are at in their learning process, and how they are coming to understand the scientific and engineering concepts that you are teaching.