The 5 Whys


The 5 whys is a problem solving strategy used to explore the underlying reason for a particular problem.

Over a series of ‘why’ questions the questioner(s) follows a problem through to its root cause to discover the real reasons behind a

problem rather than have the discussion stay focused on superficial issues.


Asking ‘5 why’ questions can develop students’ problem-solving abilities and their capacity to detect process issues.

The 5 whys could be used to unpack real life examples of problems in practice. It can be used to:

  • analyse a series of prompt questions, problems or scenarios

  • scaffold the idea of causation, and the process of unpacking problems

  • encourage critical thinking


Explain to the class the rationale behind the ‘5 Whys’ process, highlighting the need to stay focused on the central issue and keep the process moving (only one or two minutes per question). Stress that no ‘one’ pathway will satisfactorily solve every problem. Discern the broad focus area and pose the initial ‘Why’ question to learning teams. After each student briefly suggests an answer to the first ‘why’, the team chooses the response that meets general agreement and frames a second why question. The same process is framed for the next three questions and then the group is asked to report back.


Provide the students with a 5 whys or “fishbone” worksheet, or whiteboard markers. Set the problem or scenario and allow them to work through a set of 5 why questions. You can use the visualizer to share worksheets with the class and discuss outcomes.



Acknowledgement:  This resource is based on the “Not a waste of space” project materials produced by RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, with the support of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.