K-W-L—or what we know, what we want to know, and what we learned—is an active learning strategy that helps to improve retention and comprehension. This metacognitive strategy aids learners in identifying and activating prior knowledge and making connections with the information being learned, resulting in generating new knowledge. It can be used for independent learning as well as small group or whole group instruction.
This simple strategy spans a lesson from start to finish, asking students to create three columns of information. In considering an identified topic to be covered through instruction, students are asked to brainstorm and list in the first column the information they already know about the topic being taught. In the second column, they are asked to list questions they would like to have answered or information they would like to know about the topic being taught. Finally, after completing the lesson, in the third column, they are asked to list the information they have learned as a result of the instruction they received or the learning activity they participated in for the topic being taught.
How to Use K-W-L
The following are some of the ways this teaching approach is used to engage students:
- Introduction to a topic
- Structured investigation—independent research paper
- Structured review—determine where students are in learning the content and where the instructor needs to start in covering the topic
- Note-taking—rather than taking notes in the traditional method, students can fill in a K-W-L chart and add notes as they answer the identified questions in the W phase
- Blended learning—determine who understood the reading assignment and what the instructor needs to cover in class. Helps to identify misconceptions.
- Study tool—inventory what you know, skim the material to come up with questions, complete the lesson, write what you learned
- Formative assessment—quantitative and qualitative participation of students on a specific topic
Impact on Learning
Using the K-W-L strategy in instruction can impact learning through:
- Making content relevant and interesting based on students’ prior knowledge.
- Longer retention of new information.
- Deeper learning of new information.
- Creating meaning from what was known and what was taught.
Students can be asked to present their K-W-L chart for a particular topic, showing what knowledge was gained as a result of a particular learning activity.
K-W-L is an excellent tool for formative assessment to determine prior knowledge or current understanding after instruction for the whole class as well as individual students.
Using K-W-L in Canvas
In Canvas, a simple K-W-L chart can be posted by creating a page as a wiki and allowing it to be edited by anyone so that students can add to the chart.
Instructions for creating a page are available from Canvas at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-1842.
Online collaborative tools: Use tools like Padlet to have students create a K-W-L either synchronously in the classroom or asynchronously for an online course. Learn more at http://practicaledtech.com/2014/06/02/practical-ed-tech-tip-of-the-week-padlet-as-kwl-chart-and-more/.
VoiceThread: Create three slides for students to add their comments to, using one slide to record for K, one for W, and one for L at the end of a lesson or topic.
Google Docs: Allow students to create a K-W-L for the whole class or a small group, either synchronously or asynchronously.
Discussion board in a learning management system: Before beginning a new unit, ask students to complete and post a K-W-L on the discussion board to assess background knowledge and to find out what types of things students would like to learn. At the end of the unit, they can write about what they learned.
Things to Consider
For successful implementation of using the K-W-L method you should consider the following strategies:
- K-W-L works best when students have some prior knowledge about the topic. In cases where students may not know much about the topic, there should be some initial activity that introduces the students to the topic, such as a video, class discussion, or research assignment.
- In circumstances where students have little prior knowledge about the topic, it is helpful to formulate a specific question for students to focus on that is a subtopic of the information to be learned, rather than asking a broad question about the big picture or overall topic.
- Be sure to include many activities between W (listing questions), and L (what was learned).
Crout, Anne, Becky Bridwell, Linda Hyder, Nina Ledford, and Paula Patterson. “Revisiting the KWL: What We Knew; What We Wanted to Know; What We Learned.” Reading Horizons 37, no. 3 (1997): 233-242. http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgiarticle=1290&context=reading_horizons.
Drake, Eron. “Know-What to Know-Learned (K-W-L).” Central Michigan University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. October 27, 2014. https://www.cmich.edu/office_provost/facit/Pages/Teaching%20and%20Instructional%20Design/know-what-to-know-learned-(K-W-L).aspx.
“KWL Diagram Generator.” Teachnology. http://www.teach-nology.com/web_tools/graphic_org/kwl/.
Nishadha. “KWL Chart Templates by Creately.” Creately. Last modified April 3, 2012. http://creately.com/blog/examples/kwl-chart-template-example/.