What is a KWL chart?

A KWL chart is a teaching strategy that helps students organize their thoughts before, during, and after a learning exercise. First, students identify what they know about a topic. Then, they think about what they want to research or learn. After the lesson, they then reflect on what they have learned. A KWL chart is useful for both individuals and groups as formative assessment and for visible thinking strategies.

Teachers can use this technique to gather information for creating customized, student-specific lesson plans while still linking to a curriculum or organizational learning goals. The information is displayed visually enabling both students and teachers to keep track of progress.

The chart focusses on three areas:

  • K – What students already KNOW about a topic?
  • WWHAT students want to learn or find out?
  • L – What students have LEARNED about the topic after taking action?

An extension of the basic KWL chart is the KWHLAQ which includes HOW the students will research or find the answers to the questions, how they can put their knowledge into ACTION, and what new QUESTIONS they now have.

Why do a KWL chart?

The KWL Chart is a simple but effective teaching pedagogy which puts the student at the center of inquiry based learning. The chart:

  • Provides teachers with valuable information as to what students already know about a given topic. (diagnostic assessment).
  • Builds collective learning by helping students to learn from each other (peer to peer learning).
  • Enables teachers to create more enjoyable lesson plans that address the interests, questions, and needs of the students
  • Increases motivation and involvement by activating the students’ prior knowledge.
  • Creates interest and curiosity and encourages students to expand their ideas beyond the lesson or training provided in the classroom environment.
  • Presents an opportunity for students to consolidate their learning by reflecting on what they have learned and sharing this with others.
KWL Chart
Related templates

Who should use a KWL chart?

This technique adds structure to the learning process. A KWL chart is useful for teachers, trainers, students, and researchers who:

  • Are about to start a new topic
  • Looking to implement student centered teaching strategies
  • Need evidence of diagnostic and formative assessments
  • Want to reduce paperwork
  • Introduce ICT into their curriculum in a meaningful way

KWL chart template

What I KNOW

Information about what the students already know. Complete before planning and delivery of the lesson.

What I WANT to know

Information about what the students want to know. Complete before planning and delivery of the lesson.

What I LEARNED

Information about what the students learned. Complete after the lesson.

How to use a KWL chart

The KWL chart should be introduced at the start of a lesson plan. Decide on whether or not you want to run the activity as a group or an individual basis.

For a more engaging and interactive experience, gather input from the whole group simultaneously into one chart. However, if the purpose is to develop individual plans or provide each student with their own space to think without peer pressure, individual charts should be completed

Once ideas are collected, higher order thinking and prioritization can be promoted by voting on the key ideas or research topics.

Select topic

Define the topic, scope and objective of the KWL chart.

Brainstorm (KW)

Capture everything you know and want to know about the topic.

Review (KW)

Review results, discuss and prioritize.

Run Lesson

Deliver the lesson.

Reflect (L)

As a group, capture everything you learned about the topic.

Set the topic for the KWL exercise and define the scope and objective.

Explain what the students will gain from the knowledge of the topic and why it’s important. Introduce information, concepts, or prompts that might assist the brainstorming process.

Brainstorm what you already know

Ask the students to brainstorm what they already know about the topic in the first column of the KWL template. If the charts are open to the whole group, discuss the results and share or comment on the different points. The group discussion may help students realize they know more than they thought they did, and will hopefully arouse their curiosity even further.

Some teachers might want to identify and address false information or misconceptions at this stage. Alternatively, you can leave them and monitor to see if students correct them as their knowledge expands.

…then brainstorm what you’d like to learn

Next, ask the students to think about what they would like to learn about the topic and enter them into the middle column of the KWL table. Teachers can also present what they hope students will learn at this stage. The “Want to Learn” column assists the teacher to create customized lesson plans, or students to plan their study and research.

Give feedback, clarify, and comment on the ideas. To create even more focus and accountability, ask students to vote on the key topics that they want to research.

Discuss the next steps and assign actions, responsibilities, time frames, resources, and deliverables. For self-learning, this step could include the format of their research outcomes, submission, and deadlines. For classwork and training, this might include schedules and pre-class preparation.

Teachers and trainers develop their lesson plans based on the needs of the students and the overall objectives. Independent learners study and conduct research in the areas of the topic where they need to learn more.

After the research or lesson delivery, students reflect on what they have learned and document their insights in the last column of the KWL chart. Ideally, by the end of the study, all the areas in column two have been addressed, any misconceptions in column one are clarified, and the student has acquired the knowledge of the topic they want and need.

Teachers can review what everyone has said to consolidate learning and help integrate it into memory. Comparison of the second and third columns of the chart highlights those learning needs which haven’t been addressed and therefore require further action.

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