Updating the K-W-L Brings the Focus Back to Literacy, Evidential Thinking

The K-W-L chart has long held a prominent place in elementary teachers’ toolkits. Using the chart, their students answer the questions “What do I Know about the topic?” and “What do I Want to learn about the topic?” before a lesson, activity, or unit. Later they return to answer “What did I Learn about the topic?” The chart was originally designed as a preparation for expository reading assignments. However, it has successfully transitioned to the science classroom – so well, in fact, that its roots in literacy instruction are often forgotten.K-W-L charts are a wonderful method of assessing student knowledge pre- and post-instruction. Like most everything else, the chart can be modified in a number of ways to make it even more valuable. In this article, we’ve highlighted two modifications that integrate literacy skills more fully and require students to carefully examine evidence before drawing conclusions – a science and literacy skill that is in keeping with our focus on fossils and clues from the past.

Both of the articles listed below are from archived issues of the National Science Teachers Association’s magazine Science and Children. The articles are free for downloading by members and nonmembers through July 1, 2008 thanks to a special agreement from NSTA. After July 1, nonmembers can download the article for $0.99. Articles are always free for NSTA members.

Methods and Strategies: Strategy Makeover — K-W-L to T-H-C

Authors: David T. Crowthe and John Cannon, associate professors of science education at the University of Nevada, Reno

The authors of the article maintain the essence of the K-W-L chart but completely revamp the column headings. “T,” which stands for “What do you Think?”, encourages students to freely share ideas without fear of being incorrect and also models the nature of scientific hypotheses and theories.

“H,” or “How can we find out?”, asks students to explain how they could test their ideas. The “H” column could lead to reading, inquiry, or a hands-on investigation.

“C,” or “Conclusions,” asks students to make conclusions about what was learned during the activity. The authors give suggestions for nonwriters and beginning writers, as well as ways in which the conclusions can be used for assessment.

Overall, the T-H-C chart provides an opportunity for the traditional K-W-L chart to be more closely aligned with science instruction. It is also a strategy to encourage purposeful communication and fully integrates language arts into a science lesson.

Methods and Strategies: Evidence Helps the KWL Get a KLEW

Kimber Hershberger, third-grade teacher (State College, PA)
Carla Zembal-Saul, associate professor of science education at Penn State University, Mary L. Starr, consultant and professional development specialist (Plymouth, Michigan)

While the “K” seems to be the same as the traditional K-W-L, the authors encourage rewording the question to read “What do I think I Know?” As with the previous article, the authors explain that the inclusion of the word “think” encourages students to share all ideas. It also helps students understand that their ideas can change as a result of investigation and activity, supporting the notion of conceptual change. As in the traditional K-W-L, the “K” column is completed at the start of an activity, lesson, or unit.

The “L” and “E” columns are interdependent and interconnected. As students complete active investigations, they “Learn” about the topic. Students are asked to record “What am I Learning?” – conclusions that result from their investigations in the “L” column. However, as a reflection of the nature of scientific inquiry, students must also provide evidence for their claims. “What is our Evidence?” is thus the question that is answered in the “E” column.

The final column, “W” is the last to be completed, unlike a traditional K-W-L. In this column, students record “What am I Wondering?” or further questions that have resulted from their investigations. These wonderings are phrased as testable questions and can be incorporated into lesson extensions.

As the authors discuss, the K-L-E-W chart assists students in constructing evidence-based claims – an important skill in both science and literacy. While the authors tailor their discussion to the K-L-E-W chart’s application in the science classroom, it also could be used to help students activate prior knowledge before reading, draw conclusions supported by the text, and pose further questions to be answered through continued reading or research. With these modifications, the traditional K-W-L is a new and improved strategy for use in science, reading, language arts, or any other content area.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org .

Copyright April 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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