KWL (what I know, what I want to learn, what I learned) is an old technique (Ogle, 1986) that basically informs you, the teacher, about what students already know about your topic unit, and what they want to learn. After the unit, they go back to their chart and tell you what they learned. Here’s the problem. In the middle school on, I find that KWL is a mood killer rather than a motivator. According to my KWL expert (my senior in high school), the problem is really that teachers pass out the KWL worksheet too early. He says, “how am I supposed to know what I want to learn if I don’t know what the possibilities are?”
His advice: teach a little bit of the topic first, like a movie trailer – just enough to tease out the WONDER. As a parent, that’s always my hope for my children, that the institution of SCHOOL will not kill my child’s natural wonder.
A workshop on non-fiction reading and writing with Stephanie Harvey offered an idea that sounds like an alternate to KWL. Let’s take a sample unit: slavery in America
1. Start with images – post the images around the room like a gallery walk. Students silently walk around the room, look at the images, then on post its with their name, they write a wonder statement and an inference statement, then put it near the photo.
I wonder how heavy these chains are and when they were used?
I infer that the shackles were not the only way that slaves were controlled by their owners.
This activity will also show you what kind of background knowledge the students are coming with.
2. Use picture books about the topic to form book clubs (literature circles) where students choose a kids book, they read it with their group and discuss it. Within three days, since the pieces are short, they’ll trade books. This gives them enough background information to tease out some “I wonders.”
Once they have a little bit of information, then they can do a KWL chart, or you can bring in your resource materials and let them do personal or group inquiry research.