The Five Whys

4th April 2016
The Staff Room

Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

The Five Whys is a great tool to have up your sleeve.

It promotes deep thought, critical thinking, concentration, creativity and thought development.  The best thing is that you don’t need to prepare anything!

Here’s how 5 Whys works.

Present a statement, idea or image that students should consider.  Something that can be framed with the question WHY?

For example:

“Households should be fined if they don’t recycle.”

“Refugees should go back to where they came from.”

“Kids should be allowed to vote for our government.”

“All schools should have exams every day.”


Ask students to respond by explaining why.

Then, ask them to reflect for a moment on the answer/ response they gave and then ask again WHY?

Repeat five times!



So – how do you structure this so that students get maximum learning?  There are a few ways:

  • they can journal each of their five why responses
  • they can pair up or work in small groups with one student being the responder and the other/s asking “why?”
  • you can invite one student to respond, as the questions get harder you can ask them to invite a friend to help them

Here’s an example that could prompt a writing task.

Statement on board – Goldilocks is really a villain.  Why?

Student A “Because she breaks into the bears’ home and wrecks their stuff.”

Student B “Why?”

Student A “I don’t know.  Maybe she was homeless.”

Student B “Why?”

Student A “Hmm  – maybe she ran away from home.”

Student B “Why?”

Student A “Ummm…”

Student C might jump in:  “I know, I know – she might have been locked up by pirates and she’s trying to get home.”

Student B “Why?”

Student C “Because she doesn’t want to be a pirate.  She wants to be an interior designer.  That’s why she was testing out all the bears’ stuff!”

Student B “Why?”

Student C “She’s got lots of talent with furniture and she’s creative!  She could probably do a redesign on the Three Little Pigs’ houses.”

And from there, you could ask students to write Goldilocks’s back story or her future… what happened after she left the bears’ house?  See how the five whys prompts thought and even creativity?


Another example?

Conduct a science experiment then ask “What can we conclude from this experiment?”

Student D “That the sun makes ice melt.”

Teacher “Why?”

Student D “Because the sun’s hot.”

Teacher “Why?”

Student D “It’s a ball of fire, a ball of gas actually.”

Teacher “Why?”

Student D “Because it exploded, gas exploded.  I think that’s right.”

Teacher chooses to stop there – detecting uncertainty and therefore assessing what student knows and understands about the concept – possibly making a note of student’s understandings ready to address next lesson.

Teacher “Okay – so maybe we’re not certain on why the sun is hot but we all agree the sun melts things because the sun is hot.  Who has a different conclusion from this experiment? And who is ready for me to challenge their conclusion using the five whys of torture!?”


The five whys are great for preparing debates, expositions, arguments and advertisements.  You can make them fun, serious, creative and even like a game.

Here are some fun statements:

“Teachers should be allowed to swap their lunch for a student’s lunch.”

“Schools should have water slides.”

“All classes should have a pet cat or pet dog.”

“Burgers are better than pizzas.”

“People who are left handed have a better personality than people who are right handed.”


So, my teaching friends, tuck the Five Whys gemstone into your bag of tricks and give it a go when you get the chance.  You can be flexible with it – teaching tools work best when you wrangle them to suit your style and your class.

Let me know how you go…


3 responses to “The Five Whys”

  1. Sarah says:

    I love it! Such a great idea and I can use it on my kids aswell 🙂
    Thankyou. I listened to you on Richard Fidler, I agree with alot of what you say.

    • gjstroud says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for listening, reading and commenting. Yes – the 5 whys is a great tool. Let me know how it goes for your kids.

  2. Rebecca May Jardine says:

    Great tool for getting kids to think about the bigger picture. Handy as a relief teacher. Thanks Gabbie

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