How to Use a KWL Chart Graphic Organizer with Your Students

Written By Mitchell Main of @EdConquer

Review, inquire, and reflect—these are some of the main skills that lifelong learners adopt when interacting with something fresh and new.

Albeit simple on the surface, these skills take practice, and can often come as a challenge to students, which is why a KWL chart is so important and effective when working on reading comprehension. 

Being able to implement these skills beyond the four walls of a classroom will boost metacognition, illuminate self-growth, and allow a segway for what is to come. Learners of all levels retain information when it comes to them organically and in an original fashion. 

This begs the question: how can teachers effectively utilize a strategy to help ALL students grow in these ways? 

What is a KWL Chart?

The K-W-L chart is a graphic organizer that is a simple, yet effective, way to improve students’ abilities to review, inquire, and reflect.

Lois E. Huffman defines this as a, “Simple strategy for developing comprehension by helping students relate what they know to what they read, hear, or view.”

What Does KWL Mean in Teaching?

More specifically, “K-W-L” is an acronym for what someone already knows, wants to know (or wonder), and learned.

This process benefits students and teachers alike. It can be completed individually, in small groups, or even as a whole class. See the chart below for an idea on how to create a KWL chart.

KWL Chart Example:

KWL chart, KWL graphic organizer example, know, want, learn

Breaking Down the KWL Chart

The “What I Know” Section of a KWL Graphic Organizer:

Before introducing a new reading, concept, or idea, have students recall everything that they already know about the selected topic. Activating prior knowledge helps students build confidence, improves memory, and strengthens comprehension

Once students have listed everything they know already, the teacher can address any misconceptions, comment on repeated bits of information, and plan accordingly. If students already know a lot about a general concept, it may not be worth their while to pinpoint your focus lesson on this idea. 

Personally, I have had to adjust my key lesson points to benefit students more after seeing what they already stated in the “K” section of the chart. This can be challenging to do on the fly, but is more rewarding for students in the long run.

The “What I Want” to Know Section of a KWL Graphic Organizer:

Arguably the most challenging part of this chart for students is the middle section: the “wonder” section. In this section, students are asked to come up with questions about things they want to learn about the given reading, concept/idea, before gaining the new material. 

Something I have noticed, even as a high school teacher, is that students, at times, do not know how to inquire in a rich, effective way. To help build this skill of inquiry, I provide question stems that students can use if they are struggling. These question stems help students generate questions by simply starting the questioning process. 

From there, students are asked to finish off the question stem by filling in the blanks. For example, you can give the students questions stems like: “I wonder if….,” or, “What would happen if…,” or, “How might (this concept/reading) connect to…” and so forth. 

By providing these stems, students are able to see the question being formed already and can pinpoint exactly what they want to know. These question stems are applicable across all content areas, and provide questioning strategies that they will carry outside of the activity. 

I always address questions as a whole group because it allows every voice to be heard and promotes the inquiry process. Show examples of questions that students used in another class, and reinforce the idea that asking questions is just as important as learning new material! 

The “What I Learned” Section of a KWL Graphic Organizer: 

Finally, at the end of the reading or exploration with the new material, identify what you learned. Personally, I think it is vital to do this as a whole class discussion, but you can also have students do this individually first. 

Give the students time to reflect on the newfound knowledge. Allow them to go back to their personal questions and see if they have now been answered. 

As a whole class, we go through each question individually and see if we can now answer the question after the lesson. More often than not, the question has been answered! This provides a tangible space for students to identify growth in their comprehension and serves as a great closure to a lesson. 

Usually, when I do “K-W-L” charts, I provide an exit ticket where students quickly jot down the most important/valuable piece of information that they learned that day. This helps build reflection skills and signifies what information was important to the student.

KWL chart, KWL graphic organizer example, know, want, learn
A LessonWriter KWL Chart.

A Recent Application of a KWL Graphic Organizer in the Classroom

I teach a Greek Mythology class and each year, I do the KWL chart. Naturally, the topic they explore is Greek Mythology and in the first week, students begin to fill out the “K” and “W” sections of the chart. They do this in small groups and submit. 

From there, I compile all the information, find commonalities, and create a class “K-W-L” chart. We go over the first two columns together. During the last week of school, we revisit our “K-W-L” chart and fill out the learned section. Students are always impressed with how much they learned and appreciate the opportunity to see their growth! 

Have you ever used a “K-W-L” chart before? How could you use a “K-W-L” chart in your classroom? Comment and let us know! 

Thank you for reading. Go Forth and Conquer!

Editor’s note: For more incredible teaching tips and educational blog posts, follow @edconquer on Twitter! For a free KWL chart to use in your classroom, click here

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