This lesson will explain what a KWL chart is and illustrate how to use this graphic organizer in a variety of ways to push students’ thinking around new content.
KWL: A Simple Acronym with a Big Job
KWL is a graphic organizer with three columns that is used during the beginning, middle, and ending of a lesson. The ‘KWL’ stands for what students Know, what students Want to learn, and what students Learned from the lesson.It was created by Donna Ogle in 1998, for the purpose of helping students become more active readers of expository, or non-fiction, text.
This graphic organizer has since been adopted across content areas, because it requires much less preparation and explanation than more complex organizers and is appropriate for a variety of ages and student performance levels.
Uses for KWL Charts
KWL charts have a number of uses that engage students in the learning process.At the beginning of a lesson, KWL charts:
- Activate students’ background knowledge and get students thinking about what they already know about the topic to get them ready to connect prior knowledge to new learning.
- Establish the purpose for the lesson or unit and set the goals for the learning, letting students know what to anticipate from the lesson.
- Engage students in asking questions about the new content and pique their curiosity, giving them the chance to share their questions with one another.
During the lesson:
- Students recognize that the lesson is answering their questions.
These answers can be written down as soon as they learn them.
- Students can keep track of their learning by seeing that they have unanswered questions to follow up on.
- Students may add new questions that pop up during their learning as they deepen their understanding of the new concept.
When closing the lesson:
- Students use KWL charts to summarize their learning using simple, easily expressed ideas.
- Students can compare their take-away learning to their classmates’ and add ideas that they left out to make a more comprehensive list.
- Teachers can use KWL charts to review the day’s learning before changing topics. This is a way to scaffold learning for students who process new information more slowly and to make sure they have a high quality list of important points from the lesson.
- Teachers can use KWL charts as informal assessments to determine whether students really got it and how to modify their instructional approach for the students who struggled with the new content.
- Students can use KWL charts as a study guide for unit exams.
KWL in Action
KWL charts can be used with students as young as preschoolers, who use pictures to fill in the boxes. This is practice for young learners in organizing new information and connecting new learning to prior knowledge.KWL charts are also particularly effective with ESL (English as a Second Language) learners, as they can choose simple language to express a more complex idea and tend to benefit from visual aids, like graphic organizers.KWL charts can be helpful for use with students with disabilities because they can participate based on their strengths (like strong background knowledge in a particular area) and follow along filling in the chart by writing at a level that is comfortable for them.
There are a few variations on the KWL chart that can also be helpful to teachers and students:KWHL: This adds an ‘H’ column which stands for how I’m going to find the information.
KLEW: This adds an ‘E’ column which stands for evidence of future learning and a ‘W’ column which stands for wonderings or questions to be explored in future learning.
KWL charts are one of the simplest and most versatile graphic organizers. They are used at the beginning, middle, and end of a lesson, and their use extends beyond the lesson as a study guide or informal assessment tool. Having students write what they know, want to learn, and what they learned cements the learning within the context of prior knowledge, helping them make connections and not feel like they’re learning new content in a vacuum.
KWL charts are useful for a variety of student ability levels and are an effective visual aid, particularly for young learners, ESL students, and students with disabilities. KWL charts can also be modified to fit a particular assignment or for use with a larger unit.
After you are finished with this short lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe the KWL chart
- Summarize what is recorded by teachers and students on a KWL chart at the beginning, middle, and end of a lesson
- Discuss the different ways KWL charts can be used