KWL charts – an advanced graphic organiser that helps students to understand and comprehend a text by targeting their attention to search for specific details. Students divide a page into 3 sections: ‘what I know’, ‘what I want to know’, and ‘what I learned’.
KWL is an acronym for:
A KWL chart is a simple and effective type of graphic organiser used by teachers to introduce and guide students through a new topic or text. Students first identify ‘what they already know’, as well as ‘what they want to know’. Then, as they study the topic or consume the text (such as by reading a book), they search for specific information based on ‘what they want to know’. Following the activity, students reflect on whether they were successful by outlining what they learned. The ultimate goal of a KWL is to develop self-directed independent learners capable of planning, monitoring and reviewing their own learning without teacher support.
The immediate purpose of graphic organisers like KWLs is to help students to become more active learners. For example, providing specific targets for students to work towards while reading a book means that they will actively search for specific information while reading (and not be overwhelmed with the 80,000+ words and subsequently remember very little). KWLs provide students with an approach that directs their attention. This in turn informs them about what information can be discarded, thereby reducing their cognitive load and memory burden. This helps student comprehension to improve along with their overall understanding. Teachers can also target skills that they want students to develop such as vocabulary, character development, imagery and theme. In non-fiction texts, students can look for facts and figures, evidence of bias or value judgements, or key information relevant to a specific issue or situation.
The ultimate goal of a KWL chart is to develop self-directed independent learners capable of planning, monitoring and reviewing their own learning without teacher support.
KWLs require almost no preparation or resources. They can be completed on a task basis (such as learning about Neanderthals), a text basis (such as before watching a documentary) or a unit of work basis (such as over a period of 2-10 weeks). Teachers often break each column of a KWL chart into subcomponents as a further guide. For example, if studying a historical figure, the ‘want to know’ column might include several sentence starters (called writing stems or just stems for short) such as ‘Who…’, ‘When…’, ‘Where…’, ‘What…’, ‘Why…’ and ‘How…’. As with all strategies, KWLs can be adjusted to suit the needs of the teacher, the topic and the student.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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