A New and Improved KWL


Last year I had the opportunity to be on a team to submit and review materials for the Smarter Balance Digital Library. I was impressed with the process and quality of the submissions I reviewed. If your state is part of the Smarter Balance Consortium, I suggest checking out the resource. I have decided to include my accepted submissions on my blog. So far I have posted:

Yes, It is OK to Text in Class!

Using Voice Recognition Apps in the Classroom

Today’s post is on a version of the KWL approach. It was my first approved submission for the Smarter Balance Digital Library. I have used my notes of that submission for the basis of this post.

The Traditional KWL

The traditional 3-column KWL chart was introduced by Donna M. Ogle  in a 1986 Reading Teacher journal article titled, K-W-L: A Teaching Model that Develops Active Reading of Expository Text. The approach brings three components of the learning process together: the student’s prior knowledge on a topic or concept, the desire to learn more, and a summary of their learning. The KWL can be one useful type of formative assessment in the classroom. The traditional KWL chart is often used during units of study. Students record what they know (or think they know) about a concept and what they want to learn. A teacher is able to find out what the students have learned by the end of the unit.

I do not remember when I was first introduced to the KWL, but as classroom teacher in the 80’s and 90’s I know I attempted to use the organizer in my classroom. As I reflect back on my early uses of the technique, I am not pleased with my implementation. I would have student complete the first two columns at the beginning of a unit of study, but I did not really allow their desired inquiry to drive their learning. At the time, a text book drove my units. Therefore the “to-be learning” was already prescribed. It was “hit or miss” if the students actually learned something THEY wanted to learn.

The New and Improved KWL – KWHLAQ

A few years ago I ran across a tweet from Paul Solarz. The tweet was linked to a blog post about his students’ recent Genius Hour Projects. Their projects were organized with a KWHLAQ. The long string of letters K-W-H-L-A-Q caught my attention as did the students in-depth, authentic learning. Check out more about Paul’s Genius/Passion Hour here.

Paul and I exchanged a few tweets as I inquired to learn more. He credited Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) and her 2011 blog post titled Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century for the idea.

I learned that the expanded KWL (KWHLAQ) helps involve students in the ongoing learning/inquiry process. Let’s look at one version of the KWHLAQ to see what all the letters stand for!

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Students have the opportunity to address HOW they may learn more about what they WANT to learn as well as ask QUESTIONS along the way and determine how they will APPLY what they have learned. The tool can should be used throughout the learning process. Each visit to the KWHLAQ chart can play a role in the formative assessment process – putting the reflection of the learning process on role of student.

In my search for more information and how to use the KWHLAQ in the classroom I found the following. Your own search will no-doubt yield additional ideas.

Using KWHLAQ with Adult Learners

Not only should learning be an active process for students (as the Will Dagget quote above reminds us) but it should be an active process for teachers as well. One of my roles is to help provide professional learning opportunities for adults. It is my goal to have these opportunities spark and drive new learning beyond the session. I have used the KWHLAQ method often. Teachers have collaborated on what the know (or think they know) at the beginning of a session and what they want to know more about. They have been encouraged to use the “How” and the “Questions” areas of the chart as a places to hold ideas for further investigations during and beyond the professional learning session. The “application” area becomes their action plan of how they will implement their new learning. They have been asked to summarize their “learning” for the day, but reminded that their learning will continue as they explore the concepts on their own. Teachers have expressed that the KWHLAQ was a beneficial template and that they planned to incorporate the idea with their students.

This KWHLAQ method can be one way to help train students to think and take an active role in their learning. What methods have you found to be helpful! 

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slice of lifeMarch 2015, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is post #8. More Slice of Life posts from other bloggers can be found on Two Writing Teachers.

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Additional Resources to Explore:


  • elsie 8 Mar

    I gave up the KWL after spending a pre-conference day with Tony Stead who introduced me to his RAN (reading and analyzing nonfiction). Here is a link to an explanation of the RAN (https://literacymalden.wikispaces.com/file/view/R_A_N_Strategy+Explained.pdf).
    The only change I made would be to take the misunderstandings away from the chart and put them on a chart beside the RAN.

    • Kathy Perret 8 Mar

      Thank you so much for sharing the R.A.N. approach! I will definitely study it more!

  • Jen Cherry 8 Mar

    Lots to think about in your post! You’re clearly a reflective teacher…making you the best kind of teacher!

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