Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Five Ws (and H) approach

A few days ago, I was trying to explain some technical concepts to a friend. After a bit of explaining I tried listing out reasons, places and times where those concepts would be applicable. I still thought that I had left out something. I then spent some time searching online for ways to - learn systematically and teach correctly by at least outlining the essentials of the problem and encouraging the learner to follow up in his/her own time.

Did I find anything? Of course I did. In fact I discovered too much information but found only some to be simple and interesting. My favorite is what you might think is obvious - The Five Ws approach. Also popular in problem solving is the Five Whys.

Apart from it being obvious, the Five Ws helps you to break down the problem into:

  • When
  • Where
  • What
  • Who
  • Why
  • How
The easiest way to teach this to kids is to use each finger on one hand to stand for a "W". The H is extra.

Now, why is this simple technique relevant? 
    It is:
        Easy to remember
        Easy to explain

    It serves as a starter guide to:
        Formulate the right questions
        Break down the problem
        Cover/analyze all aspects of the problem - like why & why not, what & what not

    It also helps us:
        Remember better by understanding, instead of memorizing
        Identify the problem by looking for signs (5 Ws)

    It works quite nicely as:
        A way to exchange ideas (5 Ws = 5 aspects)

        A way to encourage people (even kids) to think deeper- (Systems thinking)
            By supplying the first 5 questions when stumped
            Progress to other approaches 

        A template to share and disseminate knowledge (5 Ws = 5 steps)
            Like Design Patterns and Anti-patterns for software design
            Simple reproducible steps for QA/Support/Services/junior members  etc.

Here's a simple pictorial way to help you get started. I drew it for myself initially. It is built like a form where you can fill in the blanks, on the right hand side. I encourage you to print it out and use it in meetings too or even to teach your kids.

The 5 Ws and H extended

Until next time!


Uma Bharath (nee Jagannath) said...

Cool! Nice, easy, simple steps to demystify anything! Very child-friendly too! Thanks for this! Keep them coming!

vjp said...

Good one! I shall use it for my students. Some of the ICSE text books use only so much to teach new concepts, with no connectors what so ever , probably assuming that the high school chilren can fill in on their own. It does lessen the time spent on learning. But this can work only in science.

vjp said...

good one , keep 'em coming!

JP said...

At first look it looks like an unromantic journey to learning. But, with closer look it descends as the most rational tool.

Ashwin Jayaprakash said...

@vjp I disagree, this approach would apply to History/Civics too.

It helps the child learn History as a story composed of 5 aspects - people, why they did it, when they did it, who did they fight, where they fought... or would you just prefer a mind numbing list of events that happened in some year like 1885?

I think, that the 5Ws helps you build a more rounded story based on 5 pillars instead of just 1 that is arbitrarily chosen by history text books. Usually that pillar is time/year/date.