K-W-L charts are graphic organizers that help students organize information before, during and after a unit or a lesson. They can be used to engage students in a new topic, activate prior knowledge, share unit objectives, and monitor learning.
Step one: Make K-W-L charts
Ask students to create three columns on a sheet of paper:
Column 1: What do you Know about the topic?
Column 2: What do you Want to know?
Column 3: What did you Learn?
Or, you can distribute a blank K-W-L chart that you have designed.
Step two: Complete column 1
Have students respond to the first prompt in Column 1: What do you know about this topic? Students can do this individually or in small groups. Often teachers create a master list of all students’ responses. One question that often emerges for teachers is how to address misconceptions students’ share. Sometimes it is appropriate to correct false information at this point in the process. Other times, you might want to leave the misconceptions so that students can correct them on their own as they learn new material.
Step three: Complete column 2
Have students respond to the prompt in Column 2: What do you want to know about this topic?
Some students may not know where to begin if they don't have much background knowledge on the topic. Therefore, it can be helpful to put the six questions of journalism on the board as prompts (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?). We suggest that students’ questions are used to direct the course of study. As students’ share what they want to learn, this step provides an opportunity for teachers to present what they hope students will learn in the unit.
Step four: Complete column 3 and review columns 1 and 2
Throughout the unit, students can review their K-W-L charts by adding to column 3: What did you learn? Some teachers have students add to their charts at the end of each lesson, while others have students add to their charts at the end of the week or the end of the unit. As students record what they have learned, they can review the questions in column 2, checking off any questions that the can now answer. They can also add new questions. Students should also review column one so they can identify any misconceptions they may have held before beginning the unit.
You could add other columns to this chart such as, “Why is this information Important?”, “Where did I Find this new information?” or “Something I hope to Remember.”
Below are specific examples of how to use this strategy in the classroom:
Example One: Before beginning a unit on World War II and the Holocaust, the teacher could ask some of the following questions:
What do you already Know about World War II?
- What images and words come to your mind?
- Where does your knowledge come from? How have you seen this time period portrayed in books, the arts and the media? Do any names come to mind when you consider this time period?
- Does any time period or geographical location come to mind?
What do you Want to know about World War II? (If students aren't sure, some of the following prompts might help)
- What might the motivations have been behind the war? What were the precipitating events?
- When did these events take place? What has been the legacy of World War II?
- How were individuals involved? How did ordinary people impact key events?
- How did the environment or geography impact the events?
Example Two: This activity can also be used on a micro-scale before doing a particular reading. For example, before reading "A Commandant's View" in chapter 7 of Holocaust and Human Behavior, students can be asked to do a K-W-L chart about Nazi death camps.