5W1H

LESSON FIVE: Who What When Where Why and How

We just said that a “class” is just one type of Learning Opportunity. We also pointed out that we already know all kinds of non-class Learning Opportunities, like traveling, reading, clubs, and making things.

We also know that a Learning Opportunity is when we intentionally put ourselves in a position to learn something.

That is a very broad definition. Sometimes overly broad definitions are hard to work with. It can mean too much. We need a way to make Learning Opportunity more useful to us.

As u.school we borrow a method from journalism, police investigations, and researchers. We use Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questioning. We call it 5W1H for short. It is a formula for making sure you get a complete story. We can use the 5W1H  formula to describe any Learning Opportunity. 

Who is learning, who is teaching, who is helping?

What are you learning about? What is the content? What are the skills? What evidence will be left behind?

When will this learning occur? When will it be scheduled? When will it be complete?

Where is the Learning Opportunity going to take place? In person? Online? In a classroom? In the community? In nature?

Why are you participating in this Learning Opportunity? Why do you want to learn that? Why do you want to learn it in that way?

How are you going to learn it? How are you going to demonstrate what you have learned?

Let’s run through some examples.


First let’s look at using 5W1H for a traditional American History class at a traditional high school. The class might look like this:

Who: 10th grade students. Taught by Mr. Randle.

What: American History from before Columbus to present day. Mainly focused on major political and military events but with some attention to economic, social, and cultural changes.

When: Monday through Friday during 2nd hour. It will last the full school year. It will require some homework and studying outside of class time. 

Where: At school in room 210 plus some time working outside of class. Probably at home or the library and on the Internet for research.

Why: Because it is a required class to graduate and everyone takes in 10th grade. Selected Mr. Randle’s class because you heard he is nice and not a hard grader.

How: It is a typical high school history class. Some lectures. Some readings. Some discussions. Some tests. Some research papers. Some group projects. In the end we will get a final grade and one credit that will end up on a transcript. 


Let’s look at a second example. This will represent a different type of Learning Opportunity that also deals with American History.

Who: Me mainly. But it will also involve some of my relatives. And I will probably need some help with audio recording and editing so I am going to ask for help from some of the older students or online.

What: American History is one of the content areas. I will focus, in particular, on the Space Race in the 1960’s and landing a man on the moon. I want to explore the reaction of regular people to that event and what it meant to them. I am going to interview people and turn it into a podcast so some of ‘what’ I am learning also includes audio production and editing, research, and writing a script. 

When: I am doing it on my own schedule but I want to get it done in a month or so. I will probably work on it in the mornings during the research part but then the schedule will probably get a little wacky when I do the interviews and stuff. The editing I will probably do in the mornings so I can ask for help when I need it.

Where: I will do the research online and the editing at my house but the interviews will be at people’s homes during the evenings and weekends. I might do some of them using videoconferencing or phone calls.

How: I am going to be making a podcast about everyday people’s memories of the moon landing. In the end I will have a podcast episode that I can share and put in my portfolio. My learning will happen in the course of making this podcast.

Why: My grandma was talking to me about the moon landing at the Fourth of July picnic and I thought it would be cool to record her stories and ask other people about it, too. I guess I am kinda curious about what they were all thinking when they were watching the moon landing on TV. I am doing a podcast because my dad makes me listen to podcasts when we are driving and I wanted to try my hand at making one. 


While it is true that a podcast about the moon landing could have been an assignment in Mr. Randle’s 10th grade American History class, there is no reason that it has to live inside a class. Why can’t it just be a Learning Opportunity on its own?  

The 5W1H formula is useful in describing and explaining a Learning Opportunity. It also reveals some truths that might be hidden from us otherwise. For example, the truth about Why we are participating in a Learning Opportunity. When we were in Kindergarten we were motivated by passion, interest, curiosity, and exploration. Not so much by requirements. 

There is a body of research that shows that intrinsic motivators like passion, interest, curiosity, purpose, and exploration lead to deeper learning and longer term recall vs extrinsic motivators like requirements and grades. Plus intrinsic motivators are a lot more fun and meaningful. 

Another truth that can be revealed is through exploring How we plan on learning. Notice in the American History class there were a lot of different Hows but in the end there was one single grade representing all of it.  


So far, two main points:

  • The basic unit at u.school is the Learning Opportunity
  • At u.school, we define and describe a Learning Opportunity using Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How (also called 5W1H)

Now let’s figure out how to decide the Who What When Where Why and How of our Learning Opportunities.