The 5 Whys ESL Writing Activity

This activity is an adaptation of Sakichi Toyoda’s technique for determining the root cause of a problem. The 5 Whys Method was originally used within the Toyota Motor Corporation.

Let’s explore how we can use this technique as a language learning activity.

Student Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Age Group: Kids, Adults

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The 5 Whys ESL Writing Activity

The 5 Whys ESL Activity Preparation:

There is not much needed to prepare for this activity. However, just make sure that your students have a pencil/pen and paper to write on.

The 5 Whys ESL Activity Guidelines:

To begin the exercise, you may want to activate students’ background knowledge by explaining some problems that you have. Try to make it a bit personal to capture their attention. Of course, the model example will depend on the age group that you are teaching.

In this case, let’s use an example that you could use with a class of adult learners.

So, for instance, say that your girlfriend/boyfriend is causing you stress.

First, write the statement on the board for everyone to see:

My girlfriend is causing me stress.

Next to the statement write, “Why?”

Then, in groups, have students discuss and write down some possible reasons. Make sure that they write their answers in complete sentences. Next, elicit some answers and responses from the groups. Listen and select one of their answers.

Write down the answer next to the “Why?” that you have written on the board.

For example, perhaps a student said, “Your girlfriend is causing you stress because she never cleans the room.”

Then, below that second statement write the next “Why?” on the board.

Again, have the students discuss some potential reasons why she won’t clean the dishes. They should continue writing with their groups. Elicit some responses after their discussions.

Maybe a student responds, “She won’t clean the room because she expects you to do it.”

Keep going. Repeat the process until you have written five responses to each “Why?” on the board. By the end, you should have something like this completed on the board:

My girlfriend is causing me stress.

  1. Why? “Your girlfriend is causing you stress because she never cleans the room.”
  2. Why? “She won’t clean the room because she expects you to do it.”
  3. Why? “She expects you to do it because she thinks she’s a princess.”
  4. Why? “She thinks she’s a princess because her parents’ maid used to clean her room.”
  5. Why? “The maid cleaned her room because the maid was paid to do it.”

After writing down the 5 Whys, you should be closer to a collective solution to the problem.

Perhaps, in this case, a potential solution could be to ask the girlfriend for money for cleaning the room. Then, maybe she will get the hint and clean the room sometimes.

On the other hand, she could be insulted and find a new boyfriend!

Follow-Up ESL Activities:

To continue The 5 Whys Activity, you could have students do the same activity in their groups.

Each student writes down a personal problem. Then, they follow the same steps and come up with solutions with their classmates.

Another fun extension to the lesson would be to try a quick game of Taboo or the Have You Ever ESL Game.

More ESL Board Games for Kids and Adults:

View the ESL writing activities archive.

View more ESL activities.

Related ESL Resources Online:

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