LearningTip #21:
Use a KWL to Help Children
Do What Good Readers Do

By Joyce Melton Pagés, Ed.D.
Middle School Instructional Specialist, President of KidBibs

The KidBibs Virtual Bookstore!
For the convenience of our readers, and in association with Amazon.com, KidBibs offers the following related resources for secure on-line purchase:

For Grades 1-3:
My First Dictionary
Roget's Children Thesaurus
The New Puffin Children's World Atlas
The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia

  For Grades 4-6:
Scholastic Children's Dictionary
Roget's Student Thesaurus
The Kingfisher Young People's Atlas of the World
The Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia

Have you ever read a selection and slammed the book shut; then you realize that you don't remember anything that you just read.  Most school-agers have had this experience as well, especially with textbooks and other informational writing that doesn't interest them.  Certainly teachers can't make children comprehend; but teachers can increase the likelihood that comprehension will occur.  Teachers can  use instructional strategies which get students to do what good readers do.

ResearchBit:  Good readers comprehend by relating what they're reading to what they already know.

The KWL is an easy strategy for teachers, homeschoolers, and parents to implement.  This strategy works well with children of all ages.  In addition, it works with individual children, small groups of children, and a whole class of children.  The following diagram shows the steps involved in implementing this strategy.


What I Think I Know

What I Want to Know

What I Learned





The name of this strategy, KWL, is derived from the key words in each column of the strategy chart:  Know, Want (to know), and Learned.   The steps for implementing the basic strategy follow.  In addition, several  other ways to use the KWL are included.



1.  Construct a transparency that looks like the KWL chart above.  Write the topic to be studied on the top of the chart (as "reptiles" is shown above).  Some teachers (of students in third grade and higher) like to supply their students with paper copies of the KWL to allow them to write down the information as the discussion progresses.

2.  Put the KWL transparency on an overhead projector.   Direct the students' attention to the K, or first, column.  Have them share everything that they think they know about, for example, reptiles.  Write everything down (including the incorrect statements) in the left column.  Number the items.  

3.  Now direct the students toward the W, or second, column and have them phrase questions that describe what they want to know.   Have them phrase questions that will guide their reading.  If they phrase it as a statement like:  "I want to know how many different kinds of reptiles there are," help them turn it into a question: "So, you're asking the question: 'How many different kinds of reptiles are there?'"  Record their questions and number them.  When they generate these questions, they are setting their own purposes for reading (which they're more motivated to use than the textbook author's questions or your questions).

4.  Designate the text that students are expected to read silently.  It can be a small portion of text or a long portion of text (whatever is appropriate for your students considering the amount of silent reading experience that they've had).  Tell them that while they are reading, they should keep the following purposes for reading in mind:

a.  Read to answer their questions in the middle column.
b.  Read to confirm and disconfirm what they thought they knew in the first column.    In that way, if they said, "Reptiles live in water" while working on the first column,  hopefully they'll catch their error while they're reading and share it in the discussion  that follows. This puts them in charge of their comprehension instead of the teacher or parent. 

5.  After the students have finished reading the designated text silently, direct them back to the KWL transparency.  Read each statement recorded in the first column and have students tell you whether it is true or false based on what they learned while reading.  Put a check next to the statements that the students can now confirm.  Draw a line through the statements in the first column that the students found to be untrue.

6.  Look at the questions in the second column.   Read each question; if it was answered in the selection, have them generate the answer and record it in the L column to show what they learned. Record the number of the question by the answer in this L column.   As you go down the list of questions in the W column, put a circle around the numbers of the questions that cannot yet be answered. 

7.  Now record other things that they learned in the L column. You may need another transparency to record everything that the students can collectively recall about the topic.  This strategy can end here or the teacher can add a fourth column.

8.  Some teachers like to add a fourth column (or another transparency labeled K) at this point.  This column would say "What I Still Don't Know."  This is where the students can list the questions in the second column that they weren't able to answer with the first reading.  In addition, the new information that they learned while reading might help them generate additional questions for this last column. 

9.  The teacher may now turn students loose to read available books, magazines, encyclopedias, etc. to find the answers to these questions. This information can then be added to the L column.

10.  This strategy can end at this point or the teacher can provide direction for having the children pull the information together.   The information in the K and L columns can be used to have children write and publish the information. The teacher can help the children group related facts together, put the facts in paragraphs, organize the paragraphs in a meaningful way, and refine the selection.  This can be done with children individually, in small groups, or as a whole class.  The children can put the information in book form, present it to another class, make a videotape, develop a web site, or present the information in some other way.


This strategy helps children become good readers by getting them to do many of the things that good readers do.   This strategy gets children to read silently with comprehension.  In addition, children relate new information to what they already know when they confirm or disconfirm the information in the K column.  Further, the children learn to set their own purposes for reading when they generate questions for the W column.   Their reading to answer these questions helps them concentrate while they're reading as they more actively monitor their own comprehension.  The L column affords students the opportunity to summarize what they read.   When they put the information in their own words, they better understand what they know and what they don't know.  This helps them move into a possible next step which involves having them generate more questions and use a variety of resources to learn more information. Finally, taking this strategy into a publication step helps them organize the information and write it for presentation to others.  This strengthens their learning of the information, involves them in doing what good readers do, and teaches them about their own reading processes.


  Other Ways to Use the KWL

1.  Implement a KWL with an informational video, TV program, or field trip.  Complete the K and W columns before the learning experience.  then provide the learning experience.  Next confirm the statements in the K column, answer the questions in the W column, and add to the L column.

2.   For older students who have experienced the KWL strategy a number of times, help them learn how to use the strategy to support their independent study reading.  Supply them with paper copies of a KWL chart.   Show them how they can complete the K and L columns, silently read the selection, confirm and disconfirm information in the K column, answer questions in the W column, and write down what they learned  in the L column.  This strategy can greatly strengthen students' silent reading comprehension when used in this way.;

3.  Use this strategy to guide students through report writing.   When students ask the questions and read a variety of selections to locate the answers, they do not resort to copying from the references.  The learning and the report belong to them!

Last updated 2/10/01

© KidBibs International