There are many graphic organizers floating around for educational use. Graphic organizers can be created for just about any subject and topic, and graphic organizers for special education are particularly useful for guiding students. Though some are more specific, one of the more general and commonly used graphic organizers for brainstorming and pre-reading is a KWL Chart. The KWL chart is a graphic organizer to record knowledge, questions, and ultimately newly acquired knowledge. Usually used by students in primary grades, the KWL chart is a superb tool for focusing reading and information-gathering.
There are three columns in a typical KWL Chart.
There is also an optional “H” column allowing for a KWHL chart.
In order to understand the KWL Chart and its uses, let's pull apart each of the sections.
The first column of a KWL Chart is the K or “What I Know” column. The purpose of this is to draw upon the students’ prior knowledge of the topic of study they are about to begin. Students are encouraged to brainstorm what they already know, using keywords or short phrases about the topic and write it down.
As shown in the example, the “K” column has broad information. This is common when the topic is open as well. If students are having difficulty thinking about what they may know or if the teacher prefers more specific information, it can be helpful to ask guided questions.
The “W” or the “What I Want to Know” column encourages students to dive deeper and think about what they may want to get out of the text, research, or activity. They have to use their prior knowledge on the topic to think about what else they may want to know about it.
In the example cell for the “W” column, there are a few basic questions. Just like with the “K” column, the types of questions will largely depend on what they already know about the topic or how interested they are in it. This column encourages the students to read with a purpose.
The “L” Column, or "What I Learned", is completed after the students are done with the text or assignment. This is where they will answer the questions they asked in the “W” column. Students should also record any other interesting things they learned here as well. If they were unable to answer their questions from the “W” column, students may be encouraged to use other resources to discover answers, rather than leaving the questions unanswered.
In the “L” column, all of the questions should have been answered. Depending on the students, there may be “minimum” requirement for pieces of information. This is especially true if the teacher wants the students to do more than answer the questions from the “W” column.
There is an optional “H” column allowing for a KWHL chart rather than the typical KWL chart. The “H” column, “How I will Learn”, dedicates a place for students to plan out where they are going to find information. Typically, the optional "H" column falls between the "W" and the "L". Students can use their questions from their “W” column to help them think about what kind of resources they may want or need to use.
The teacher can decide if they want a minimum number of resources they require their students to use. It may be beneficial to include a requirement for a non-web based resource such as a physical book or a person-to-person interview. This would allow students to practice using a variety of research skills.
Here are examples of a completed KWL and a KWHL Chart for learning about seasons.
A KWL chart is a great resource for the classroom and incorporating the storyboard aspect is a creative way to take it to the next level of usability. Graphic organizers are generally thought of as a photocopied paper handout, but as times have changed and technology has evolved, so has education. A lot of schools now have computer or iPad accessibility for their students. With our society’s current dependence on technology, it can be beneficial to have students incorporating digital graphic organizers into their daily assignments.
A KW(H)L chart is a favorite of mine because of its ease and the ability to use it in all grades. In the younger grades, the teacher can use it as a group discussion and act as the scribe. As the students’ independent abilities increase, a KW(H)L chart can become an individual assignment.
KWL Charts are perfect for young students, but they can also be very beneficial for older students, particularly those who need additional guidance. The prompts of the columns can get students thinking about the topic and a very structured way. Teachers can even provide a partially filled-out chart or give images as a prompt.
KWL Charts on Storyboard That are great for special education: