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Learning Cycle

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It is not hard to learn more. What is hard, is to unlearn when you discover yourself wrong.
- Martin H. Fischer

What Makes A Learning Cycle Different...

A Learning Cycle lesson can be used for any content area in which the goal is to create a motivational learning context in which students are actively engaged in exploring, discussing, and synthesizing information. The Learning Cycle approach to instructional planning capitalizes on what is known about how people learn and is designed to cause lasting changes in a student’s conceptual understanding. The model used in was adapted from the 5E Learning Cycle popularized by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.


Each step in a learning cycle serves a different purpose and incorporates specially structured activities. What helps to make this type of lesson format effective is its emphasis on active engagement of the learner and that its requires students to explore their prior understanding they encounter new material. Finally, the 5 E Model provides opportunities that challenge students to apply these new understanding in novel, but related situations.

How A Learning Cycle Works...

Although the Learning Cycle framework presented in is geared toward building individual lessons, the Learning Cycle approach is more commonly applied when designing instructional units that consist of multiple lessons.


Learning Cycles cast teachers in the role of curriculum developers. During the lesson’s actual implementation, teacher responsibilities vary according to what happens during each stage of the Learning Cycle. Sometimes the situation calls for direct instruction. When activities are more student-centered, the teacher plays a less prominent, background role.


Learning Cycles accommodate a wide range of learning experiences. The key to building a quality Learning Cycle is to carefully select activities that address the goals for each particular stage in the 5E Model reviewed below.

Learning Cycle Preparation Hints...

The following design and implementation tips apply to a Learning Cycle Lesson. If you are using a Learning Cycle to develop a unit of instruction, see the Unit Builder section of

  1. Choose a topic and identify the related student Learning Expectations to which the topic is aligned.
  2. Design an assessment that is closely tied to the Learning Expectations that you are targeting. Build a corresponding scoring rubric if necessary.
  3. Avoid starting from scratch. Begin by reviewing the appropriateness of learning activities that you currently use to teach this topic.
  4. Apply Focusing Questions in the Learning Cycle template to determine the ideal stage for introducing an activity.
    • Always ask, “Does this activity really help students to meet the learning expectations on which the assessment is based?”
    • If an activity is a good one, but does not really address the targeted learning goals, consider using it for enrichment purposes.
  5. Do not hesitate to discard activities that you have been using for years if it does not contribute to achieving the targeted learning goals.
  6. Assess student understanding.
  7. Consider supplementing the Learning Cycle with a Learning Center where students can further explore the topic.
Here is a description of the purpose for each stage of the Learning Cycle:
  1. A quality Engagement activity:
    • “Hooks” the learner and generate interest in the topic
    • Tends to be of short duration
    • Is highly motivational and interesting
    • Is “low stakes” in that the intention is not to evaluate student understanding
    • Generally is student and activity based
  2. A quality Exploration activity:
    • Offers an opportunity for students to mess around and investigate objects, materials, and events based on their own ideas and prior knowledge of the topic
    • Often reveals student misconceptions
    • Provides information to the teacher about student readiness for learning about the topic
  3. A quality Explanation activity:
    • Introduces new skills and/or content knowledge
    • Often requires a more active role by the teacher
  4. A quality Extension activity:
    • Enables students to apply or transfer their new knowledge or skills in new and different contexts
    • Can be used to make connections with other content areas
  5. A quality Evaluation activity:
    • Is a formative assessment that reveals if Learning Expectations have been met by the student
    • Provides an indication of teacher effectiveness

Learning Cycle Self Assessment...

If you develop a Learning Cycle, you can use this rubric as a quick self-check. Revise the lesson as necessary based on your honest self-appraisal of its different elements. If you are part of a Professional Learning Community you could ask a colleague to review the lesson with the rubric.

Learning Cycle Resources…