KWL's are a very popular tool for students to use while introducing a new topic or unit. The KWL name comes from a mnemonic device that corresponds to the sequential goals of the exercise. The K stands for what students already know; W stands for what students want to know or wonder about the topic; and L stands for what students have learned (Moore, Moore, Cunningham and Cunningham, 2011). The KWL is effective because it takes students through the thought process of their learning. They start by examining how facts they already know could be connected to the topic. They analyze the text and develop questions about the topic. Lastly, they determine what connections they have made throughout a reading, video or series of lessons.
According to Teaching Social Studies in Middle and Secondary Schools (Beal, Bolick, Martorella, 2009), the benefits of the KWL technique include:
Here is how a sample KWL lesson might look:
1. First off, either hand out a graphic organizer of a KWL or have students create three columns in their notebook. Up at the top, label the first column 'K'; second column 'W', and third column 'L'. Make sure students understand what each letter corresponds to.
2. Introduce the reading, video, or presentation. For example, my students would do this for a reading on population issues in China.
3. Have students create a list in their 'K' column of a minimum of 3 ideas they know about this topic already. Make sure to give students a minimum or goal to reach in each column.
4. Have students thumb through the reading paying attention to headings and key ideas to generate questions they want to have learned by reading this piece. Again, make sure you set a minimum for students to record.
5. After students have filled out the 'K' and 'W' portions, you can open up a class discussion so students can see what their peers know about this topic already, and allow them to make connections between each other.
6. Students read the passage, recording connections and important facts they learned in the 'L' column.
7. After students have finished recording in their KWL chart, you can bring the class together for another large discussion or have students pair up to share their L column.
8. To make sure students made the connections that you wanted from a lesson, make sure to add an overarching question or ticket-out-the-door for students to reflect and looks for the answers from the reading.
KWL in writing
The KWL has the student practice communicating their prior knowledge, and knowledge of a reading, meeting the Common Core writing standard:
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Beal, C., Bolick, C. M., & Martorella, P. H. (2009). Comprehending, Communicating, and Remembering Subject Matter. Teaching social studies in middle and secondary schools(5th ed., ). Boston: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson.
Gamble, L. M. (2011, November 1). Using a KWL Chart to Solve a Word Problem. YouTube. Retrieved July 22, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7u3Jy5KyT8
Moore, D. W., Moore, S. A., Cunningham, P. M., & Cunningham, J. W. (2011). Comprehension. Developing readers and writers in the content areas, K-12 (6th ed., ). Boston : Pearson.
The Balanced Literacy Diet. (2011, November 20). The KWL Chart: Building Knowledge with a Graphic Organizer (Virtual Tour). YouTube. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tqio26afllA
The KWL Chart: Building Knowledge with a Graphic Organizer
In this video, the teacher combines two strategies: KWL and a Word Wall over students' knowledge of the state of Mississippi. This has the effect of a permanent visual reminder for students throughout the unit. It also allows for additions to be made in the 'W' and "L' columns through the course of the unit. Students draw on multiple resources like their textbook, internet, videos, and conversations with peers and family members to generate their understandings of Mississippi.
Using a KWL Chart to Solve a Word Problem
In this video, it shows an alternative way to use a KWL Chart. It shows how to solve a math problem with it. Through using the different columns, it helps students meta-cognition throughout the process of solving the word problem.