Rote memorization is enough to ace a test. But today, good teachers understand that real learning and long-term retention come when students engage with the information. There are many strategies to encourage student engagement and help students make connections to what they are learning.
But there are few educational tools quite as effective and easy to implement as the KWL chart. This simple graphic organizer is a great exercise to empower students to own their learning and help teachers curate the most engaging lessons, and ensure long-term retention of the lessons.
Below we'll share the benefits of KWL charts and how you can incorporate them into your classroom.
What is a KWL chart?
A KWL chart is an organizational tool primarily used by students and teachers to direct and facilitate learning in the classroom.
K-W-L is an acronym that stands for “Know,” “Want to Know,” and “Learned.” The KWL chart is divided into three columns—one for each letter—under which students record:
- What they already know about the topic
- What they want to know (or questions they have) about the topic
- What they learned (after the lesson or assignment)
KWL charts are effective tools for engaging students in the learning process, helping them recall knowledge, and tracking their learning progress. While they are often used to help students improve their reading comprehension, KWL charts can be applied to any topic or lesson.
Benefits of KWL charts in the classroom
It’s often easier to learn and retain information when it is shared in multiple formats. For instance, a study published by the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that using outlines and diagrams to take notes during a lecture enhanced students’ learning and improved deep understanding of the material across the board.
This is just one reason KWL charts are so effective in the classroom.
KWL charts help students visualize the learning process and organize the information they’re learning at each stage of the lesson.
There are many reasons to try this visual tool in your classroom. KWL charts:
- Are easy to use.
- Demonstrate the level of knowledge and gaps in understanding.
- Motivate and engage students in the learning process.
- Track progress and learning outcomes.
- Present a simple method for organizing notetaking.
- Offer flexibility and can be adapted to the lesson or student’s needs.
The simple structure and method of KWL notetaking make KWL charts an obvious choice for students and teachers alike.
By recording each stage of the learning process (current knowledge, questions or gaps, and outcomes), KWL charts help teachers identify student needs and deliver lessons specifically catered to each class.
This strategy keeps individual students and teachers on the same page and encourages students to engage with the material and take ownership of their learning.
How to use a KWL chart
To use a KWL chart, first create a table with three columns—one for each letter: K-W-L.
Lucidchart can help you get started with a premade KWL chart template. Click the image below to start your own KWL chart.
Once you have your chart outlined, follow these steps to fill it out before, during, and after the lesson:
Start with column 1: Know
Under the first column, have students share what they already know about (or associate with) the topic at hand.
You can use the KWL chart for both group and individual learning. You may want to break the class up into small groups and then have each team share their notes with the rest of the class.
Consider pulling up an online KWL chart on the projector to fill out together as a class. Students can also fill out their own worksheets individually as you go to help them stay on track through the lesson.
This is a good exercise for teachers to see what the class already understands collectively and plan their lessons accordingly. For instance, Column 1 can help teachers to identify any misconceptions students may have going into a lesson.
Depending on the situation, you may want to correct students at this stage or simply use the information to plan your lesson to ensure those misconceptions are clarified later in the curriculum.
Pro tip: Come prepared with additional questions to prompt the students to brainstorm and guide their thought process.
Fill out column 2: Want to know
Once your class has identified what they already know, the next step is to fill out the “W” column. Have students answer: What do you want to know about this topic?
Again, you may want to split the class into smaller groups or pairs to start the discussion and then have them share their ideas with the whole class to record on a master KWL chart. If your class doesn’t have much experience with or knowledge of the topic, provide prompting questions to help them brainstorm.
Adding “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” to the top of the column is often enough to spark ideas and get the conversation flowing.
This step is a powerful teaching aid because it helps teachers identify student interests and questions on a topic and adapt their lesson plans accordingly. When done well, the result is more engaged students and more effective learning outcomes.
Complete column 3: Learned
Throughout the lesson or unit, students can refer to their KWL chart and fill out the third column: Learned.
Here they will record what they are learning and check off the questions they had listed in the second column that were answered. Students can share what they found interesting or surprising and correct any misconceptions they might have had from Column 1.
Some teachers like to have students fill out their KWL charts throughout the unit as they go, while others wait until the end of the unit to have students record everything they learned. Either way, this stage provides students another opportunity to review and reinforce their learning. It also helps teachers track student progress and learning outcomes.
KWL chart example
So what does this look like in practice? Let’s say you’re teaching an elementary weather unit on clouds. Here is a basic example of a completed KWL chart:
- There are different types of clouds.
- One type is called a cumulus cloud.
- Clouds are made of water.
- What are storm clouds?
- How do clouds form?
- Types of clouds: Stratus, Cumulus, Cumulonimbus, Stratocumulus, Altostratus, Cirrus, Cirrocumulus, Altocumulus
- When warm air rises, it cools and condenses into tiny water droplets. As more water droplets are created, a cloud forms.
KWL+SIFR: Variations of the KWL chart
There are other variations and applications of the basic KWL chart. Depending on your lesson plan or objectives, you may want to try some of the following variations.
You can add other columns to KWL charts to continue and enhance the learning process. Here are a few additional columns to consider:
S: Still want to know
KWLS adds a fourth column for students to note what they still want to know about the topic following the lesson or unit. This is the place to identify any unanswered questions from the first column or list new questions that arose during the lesson or assignment.
This is a useful piece to include so teachers can address student questions before moving on to the next unit and continually improve and rework lesson plans for future classes.
Here students answer “Why is this information important?” This is especially useful when tracking learning through a longer unit or referring to the KWL chart as a study guide for exams or essays. Understanding why information is important or relevant also helps students connect with the material by putting the lesson into context and staying motivated throughout the learning process.
This column is where students can track where they found information. It’s a great tool for keeping their sources organized—especially if they need to reference them in an assignment or want to look up the information again later to study.
Finally, the R column gives students a place to note any key info they want to remember. Again, this is particularly helpful for studying and test preparation.
While they can be applied to numerous lesson plans, the I-F-R columns are most useful for notetaking on reading or other assignments where students may want to track sources, remember key information for later reference, and understand the significance of what they’re learning.
Using Lucid for Education
KWL charts are a simple but powerful tool for students and teachers alike to engage with the lesson material and improve learning outcomes.
With Lucidchart, teachers and students can collaborate and share information in real-time. Because it is cloud-based, anyone with a Lucidchart account can participate, including other classrooms, whether they’re down the hall or on the other side of the world.
Use Lucidchart’s KWL chart template to get started today.
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