KWL Teaching Strategy

KWL as a Teaching Strategy

In an earlier post we introduced the topic “Teaching Strategies” which included reference to a rather unique strategy called KWL. Here we examine exactly what KWL is and how you can put it into practice in your classroom.

What is KWL?

KWL is a visual/graphic Teaching Strategy that helps learners build on their prior knowledge of a subject and highlight what they have learned during a lesson. It can be a highly effective strategy in the classroom and is used at the beginning and end of the lesson.

What does KWL stand for?

There are 3 elements to the KWL strategy. Each of the 3 letters stands for one element;

  1. What do learners KNOW
  2. What do learners WANT to know
  3. What have they LEARNED

How does it work?

The KWL teaching strategy is used best when introducing a new topic. It can be done on a large whiteboard or with flip charts, or simply by using sheets of flip chart paper pinned to the wall.

The teacher starts by creating 3 columns on the board, representing each of the 3 elements outlined above. So we get something like this…


Element 1: What Do We KNOW?

With a topic in mind, the first element involves checking what learners already know. This can be opened up to the entire class, “What do we know about this topic?” The key to this part is that everything goes up on the board, there are no wrong answers at this point. What we want to avoid here is the teacher correcting learners or learners correcting each other. It might sound counter intuitive to accept wrong answers and put them up on the board for all to see but the success and value of the KWL teaching strategy is dependent on getting a true reflection of what learners know, whether it’s correct or not. So, in essence, EVERYTHING goes up on the board at this stage in the process.

In this example I am teaching a First Aid class and the topic we are discussing is “Asthma.” The class are asked to shout out everything they know about the topic. Here’s what we get…

As you can see here, we’ve gotten back a range of responses. Many are correct, some others are obviously incorrect. This is the knowledge that our learners have about the subject. We now know where they are in relation to Asthma, and, as a result, we indirectly know what we need to work on and how far we need to go to get there.

Element 2: What Do We WANT To Know?

Next up we need to ascertain what exactly our learners WANT to know about Asthma. Again, I would simply ask learners the question. A wide variety of answers come back, ALL of which are mapped on the board.

With this section, you should see a set of questions that learners are looking to have answered. You might find that some of the requests are outside of the module content. You can explain this to learners but also answer the questions. You could also take these out and use them at a later stage as “nice to know” items where you could get learners to research the answers as part of extra learning or homework.

At this stage in the lesson you need to stop the exercise and start the module content. You can explain to learners that you will get back to the exercise at the end of the lesson.

Element 3: What Did We Learn?

You will now deliver the core module content as normal. Once delivered you can return to the whiteboard and finish the final section. For this final element you will be asking the class a series of questions and writing up their answers on the board. You can do this two ways, either as a Whole Group Discussion involving the entire class or in small groups. You should use the relevant questions outlined by the class in Element 2 (What do you WANT to learn) as the basis for this section. You should also have prepared your own questions that you want answered. These should be based on the learning outcomes.

So, in this example, we can see that learners came back with the following answers…

I can see from my learners answers that they are on track with the topic, they are showing to me that they have learnt the topic sufficiently. This is effectively me assessing them, but in a subtle way!

And Finally…

The real beauty of this teaching strategy is when you step back at the end and view your learners’ answers and their learning.

As we can see from the above picture, the journey learners have taken from the start of the lesson right through to the end is displayed in a very visual manner. We can clearly see what they knew prior to the lesson and now what they know having being taught the topic in detail. For learners, this is a highly interactive and illustrative visualisation of their progress.

That’s it, the KWL teaching strategy in use in the classroom. Let me know how it works for you.

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