In 1986, Donna M. Ogle, the Emerita Professor of Reading and Language at National Louis University in Chicago, invented the KWL chart. At the time, she was doing deep research into the various strategies that can help educators effectively teach students literacy and reading comprehension.
In her 1986 paper, K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text, Ogle posited that prior knowledge plays a critical role in how students interpret what they read and what they learn from reading. According to Ogle, “To read well, we must access the knowledge we already have about the topic, or make it available appropriately so that comprehension can occur”.
While Donna Ogle created the KWL chart specifically to help teachers teach students how to read properly, many educators around the world have successfully adapted the chart to different subjects, including Science and History.
If you’re looking for a new way to engage your students in the learning process, KWL charts may be exactly what you need. Read on to find out what a KWL chart is, the benefits of using KWL charts in class, and how to use it to improve the teaching and learning process.
- What is the KWL Chart Teaching & Learning Strategy?
- Benefits of Using KWL Chart Teaching & Learning Strategy
- How to Use KWL Chart Teaching & Learning Strategy
- KWL Chart Example
- KWL Chart Template
- Other Teaching & Learning Strategies Similar to KWL Chart
- Tips to Implement KWL Chart Teaching & Learning Strategy Effectively
- Improve Your Teaching Process With KWL Charts
A KWL chart is a graphic organizer and learning tool that helps students share their prior knowledge about a topic, understand new lessons, and give feedback about what they learned. KWL is an acronym for:
- Know – What I already know
- Want – What I want to know
- Learn – What I learned
Before the lesson, students share what they already know about a topic and what they wish to learn from their teacher’s explanation. After the class, they share what they learned during the lesson. This learning strategy is great for helping students comprehend lessons because it encourages them to connect their prior knowledge, their desire to learn more, and the new information they just absorbed.
With KWL charts, teachers can engage students and help them cultivate an interest to learn a new topic. And because they’re actively participating in their learning process, students feel like they’re in charge of their education, which helps them learn quickly.
As a teacher, you can also use KWL charts to gauge your students’ knowledge gaps so you can figure out ways to bridge them. This way, you’re not merely teaching students what you think they should know, but what they actually need to know.
If you’re thinking of integrating KWL charts into your teaching strategy, you definitely should. Here are some reasons why:
KWL charts enhance learning
Students love to do creative things. So using KWL charts to engage your students can boost their interest in learning new things and help them easily understand the topic you’re explaining.
A huge reason this happens is that KWL charts involve analyzing your students’ prior knowledge of the subject matter. When they know that the new topic is somewhat related to something they’ve learned before, they’ll be more eager to learn more about it.
KWL charts promote active participation
Right off the bat, a KWL chart requires each student to brainstorm the topic and write down (or talk about) their previous experience with it and what they look forward to learning in the new session. They’re not just sitting passively listening to a teacher drone on about a topic for an hour; they’re actually talking about what they think and actively influencing how their teacher approaches the lesson.
This active participation during the lesson increases their capacity for comprehension, retention, and academic success.
KWL charts encourage collaborative learning
A typical session with KWL charts requires students to speak with their teachers and classmates. They bounce ideas off one another, engage in group discussions, and even work on group projects. Depending on what class the students are in, teachers may encourage them to peruse one another’s work/projects and give feedback on them.
KWL charts help track students’ performance
KWL charts help teachers track their students’ performance and learning progress. The K and W sections of the chart contain students’ previous knowledge and their goals for the class. At the end of the class, students will fill out the L section, which helps the teacher assess whether the students achieved their learning goals or not.
If they have, the teacher can move on to the next topic. But if they haven’t, the teacher will be able to see the gap in the chart and revisit the part of the topic students didn’t understand.
Using a KWL chart in a lesson is pretty straightforward. Here are the three steps you need to follow:
Make a KWL chart
The first step is to make a KWL chart with columns for the K, W, and L sections. You can either draw the chart on the board or use a KWL chart template with your students (see templates below).
Ask students what they already know about the new topic
Before starting the class, introduce the new topic briefly and ask your students what they know about it. If they’re old enough to write, have them write down everything they know about (or associate with) the topic in the K (Know) column.
If the class is a follow-up of a previous lesson, your students can fill out what they learned in the last class. You may break the class into small groups and have each group share their previous knowledge with the rest of the class.
This exercise helps you see what your students understand collectively or what they misunderstand from previous lessons. Depending on the situation, you can either correct students’ misunderstandings or use the information to inform this new lesson.
Ask your students what they Want to know
When all your students have identified what they already know about the topic, ask them what they want to know. Students often get stuck in this section because it requires them to think about things you haven’t introduced to them yet. To fix this, split your class into smaller groups and encourage each group to bounce ideas off one another to fill up the W (Want) column.
If your class doesn’t have much knowledge about the topic or they’re struggling with this section, help them by providing prompt questions that will guide their thinking process. A great way to do this is to ask your students to write one of each of the following types of questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?
This journalistic approach to writing can spark ideas and initiate conversations. This step is powerful because it helps you identify your students’ interests and the questions they want you to answer during the lesson. When done well, you’ll end up with engaged students and better learning outcomes.
Let your students tell you what they Learned
After your students tell you what they want to know, you can start teaching the topic. During the class, allow your students to refer to their KWL chart to confirm that their questions are being answered.
As you answer their questions, your students can start to fill out the L (Learn) column with what they learned throughout the class. This step helps your students track their performance by tying in their previous knowledge to the information you just explained. This way, they can correct any misconceptions they had from the K (Know) column and share anything they found interesting/surprising.
When your students complete their KWL charts, discuss with them about the lesson. Ask them questions to reinforce their knowledge, give them feedback on their charts, and ask for their feedback on the entire class.
Note: Some teachers like to have their students fill out the L section after the lesson, rather than during it. That’s fine, too, as long as you’re able to review their learning and track their progress.
Let’s look at an example of a KWL chart in practice. Say, you’re teaching elasticity to a 9th-grade Physics class. Here’s what a completed KWL chart may look like for this class:
|W (Want to know)
|Elastic objects are objects that stretch.
|Why don’t elastic objects go back to their original shapes when stretched out a lot?
|Each elastic object has an elastic limit. When an elastic object is stretched by a load or stress that is greater than its elastic limit, the object deforms irreversibly and won’t return to its original shape or size, even when the load/stress is no longer there.
|Rubber bands, waistbands, resistance bands, and trampolines are examples of elastic objects.
|What is Hooke’s law of elasticity?
|Hooke’s law of elasticity states that the strain (or deformation) on an elastic object is directly proportional to the stress applied to the object.
|When an elastic object is stretched out too much, it slacks and doesn’t go back to its original shape.
|What is the SI unit of elasticity?
|The SI unit of elasticity is the Pascal (Pa)
To get started with KWL charts, here are our free KWL templates (PDF). All you have to do is download the one that is most appropriate to your students’ ages and class, and encourage them to fill out the sections.
If you’re working with advanced students or you want a more thorough process, you can add a few more steps to your KWL chart. The two most popular alternatives are the KWHLAQ chart and the KWLSIFR chart.
KWHLAQ charts expand upon the KWL chart to incorporate more metacognition and encourage continual learning and real-life application in students.
In this chart, the K, W, and L columns function the same as in a regular KWL chart. The H, A, and Q columns, however, give teachers the opportunity to learn more about their students’ thinking processes, and better impart 21st-century literacies and skills.
Here are what these three new steps mean and how they play out in an actual classroom setting:
H – How will I learn it?
This step is crucial because it allows students to find, analyze, and curate information that will help them understand the topic better. To fill out this section, encourage your students to think about how and where they’re going to get more information about the topic on their own. This could be from books, articles, online websites, social media forums, or YouTube videos.
Whatever resources they want to use to learn more about the topic, put it in the H column.
A – How will I Apply my knowledge?
This step helps students connect what they learned in class to the real world. Ask them, “How will you apply your new-found understanding in real-life situations?” If your students get stuck in this section, share some analogies or even real stories that demonstrate how one can apply new knowledge in other contexts.
Give your students time to brainstorm different actions they could take based on what they just learned. These actions go into the A column.
Note: This step is especially important if you’re teaching a skill that students will need to apply to different situations in the real world, e.g. digital marketing and programming languages.
Q – What new Questions do I have?
Encouraging your students to ask more questions reinforces the idea that learning is a continual, interconnected process and that every new knowledge leads to more questions that need answers. Your students will understand that they’re not done with a topic just because the class has ended, they’ve read a book, or they’ve completed a project.
At the end of the class, ask your students to reflect on their initial questions (W column) and the answers you’ve provided, and signal if they have other questions on the topic they’d like to ask. Record these questions in the Q column.
Note: These new questions help you, as a teacher, identify the limits of your students’ current knowledge and emerging knowledge gaps that you can fill with future lessons.
KWHLAQ Chart Example
Topic: The Cold War
|W (Want to Know)
|H (How I will learn it)
|Q (New questions)
|The Cold War happened after World War II
|Why was it called the “Cold War”?
|I will go to the library and search for a book about the Cold War as a general topic. I will also scour the internet for credible sources of information, and send emails to my History professor who’s an expert in wars.
|The term “Cold War ” is used because there was no large-scale military fighting between the United States and the Soviet Union.
|I will use my knowledge to make a short video presentation on how the Cold War started for my final project.
|What happened after the end of the Cold War?
|The Cold War was a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union (and their respective allies)
|What caused the Cold War?
|The Cold War was caused by four things: tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after World War II, the ideological and geopolitical conflict between the two nations, the emergence of nuclear weapons, and the fear of communism in the U.S.
|What other proxy wars were fought while the Cold War was still happening?
|How long did the Cold War last?
|The Cold War lasted for 44 years and 9 months (from March 1947 to December 1991)
|Will there be another Cold War?
KWL+ SIFR chart
The KWL+ SIFR chart is simply a KWL chart with some added sections. Just like the KWHLAQ chart, this chart encourages students to extrapolate the lesson by thinking about what their teacher has not touched on in the topic.
Here are what these four new sections mean:
S – Still want to know/learn
After the class, ask your students if they have answers to all their questions from the W (Want to know) column. Also, ask them if there are new questions that popped up during the lesson. Any new questions and/or unanswered questions from the W column go into the S column.
This allows you to address your students’ questions before moving on to the next topic.
I – Importance
To fill this column, ask your students why they think the information in the lesson is important to them. Understanding why the lesson is relevant helps students put the lesson into context, stay motivated during the learning process, and figure out how best to apply their knowledge.
Note: Students can fill this section during or after the class.
F – Where I Found information
If your students are independent learners, this step is important as it helps students keep track of where they found more information on the topic. This is especially useful if they need to look up the information again as they study or reference their sources in an assignment/project.
If you teach middle school or high school students, the F column can help you and your students discuss relevant and reputable sources of information.
R – Want to Remember
The R column is where students can note key information they want to remember. You can use this section to help students realize the most important parts of the lesson, as well as how the information they absorb affects their understanding of other topics (or subjects) they’ll learn in the future.
This section is also great for helping students prepare for tests and examinations.
Before introducing KWL charts to your students, here are some tips to remember:
- Allow each student or group to fill out their charts themselves. If there are any inaccuracies in their previous knowledge, don’t correct them right away. Instead, correct those misconceptions during the lesson and have them write the right concept in the L column.
- Use the information in your students’ KWL charts to plan your current (and future) lessons.
- At the end of the class, discuss the use of KWL charts (or their variations) with your students. Ask them if the charts made it easier or harder for them to understand the topic, and encourage them to give you some tips on how you can make the learning process smoother for them.
Ever since 1986, KWL charts have helped students actively participate in the learning process and improve their understanding of topics they cover in class. On the flip side, these charts help teachers create lesson plans that center the interests and needs of their students.
If you’re thinking of including KWL charts in your teaching strategy, these KWL chart templates are a great place to start.
CTA for KWL Chart Templates
What is a KWL Chart?
A KWL Chart is a graphic organizer that helps students organize their thoughts and learning process. It is commonly used to activate prior knowledge, set goals, and monitor learning progress.
How do I use a KWL Chart?
To use a KWL Chart, follow these steps:
- Ask students what they already know about the topic (K: Know)
- Ask students what they want to know about the topic (W: Want)
- After learning about the topic, ask students what they learned (L: Learn)
Can I customize my own KWL Chart?
Yes, you can customize your KWL Chart based on the topic, learning objective, and the students’ age and learning style. There are also downloadable KWL chart templates available (like the ones above) that you can modify to suit your needs.
What are the benefits of using a KWL Chart?
Using a KWL Chart can help students become more engaged and active in their learning process, increase their retention and understanding of the topic, and enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.