Researchers say that asking ‘WHY’ five times can find the root cause of any problem. Allowing students to ask the question “Why?” will help them reach the root of the concept while indulging in a conversation. The tables can be flipped as well, where you ask the “Why” and students answer, based on their understanding.
Let’s take a look at an example to understand it better.
People wear glasses
WHY do people wear glasses?
Because they can’t see some objects clearly
WHY can’t they see clearly?
Inside our eyes, a lens is responsible for the clarity of vision.
When this lens doesn’t work properly, people have to use glasses.
WHY does the lens become defective?
Ciliary muscles of our eyes are responsible for adjusting the
focal length of the lens. Ciliary muscles lose the ability to
adjust the focal length properly.
WHY do the ciliary muscles lose the ability
to adjust focal length?
Over time, ciliary muscles get flabby while also losing range of motion
and then your eye lenses can’t achieve the focus they’re supposed to.
WHY do ciliary muscles lose the range of motion?
Most people in modern society never view anything far away,
as their vision is blocked by buildings. So their ciliary muscles
are “locked” in a state of constant contraction. This causes
these muscles to tighten and lose the range of motion.
When looking to solve a problem, it helps to begin at the end result, reflect
on what caused that, and question the answer five times. This elementary
and often effective approach to problem solving promotes deep thinking
through questioning, and can be adapted quickly and applied to most
There are three key elements to effective use of the Five Whys technique:
(i) accurate and complete statements of problems
(ii) complete logic in answering the questions
(iii) the determination to get to the bottom of problems
The Five-Whys exercise is very effective when applied in a classroom and there are five basic steps to conducting it:
- Decide the concept.
- Ask the first “why”: why is this or that problem taking place? There will probably be three or four sensible answers: write them all on a whiteboard, or use index cards taped to a wall.
- Ask four more successive “whys,” repeating the process for every statement on the whiteboard. Write each answer near its “parent.” Follow up on all plausible answers. You will have identified the root cause when asking “why” yields no further useful information. (If necessary, continue to ask questions beyond the arbitrary five layers to get to the root cause)
- Among the dozen or so answers to the last asked “why” look for systemic causes of the problem. Discuss these and settle on the right systemic cause.
- Follow the session with a debriefing to confirm that students see logic in the final outcome.