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What is a KWL Chart?

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.

KWL Charts Help You:

  • Reflect on Known Information
  • Engage Curiosity on a Topic
  • Record New Information

Breaking Down the KW(H)L Chart

A KWL chart can easily be made with the traditional, grid, or T-Chart layouts. The blank KWL template below uses a cell-only T-Chart layout to emphasize the separation of the columns.

There are three columns in a typical KWL Chart.

  • K - What I Know
  • W - What I Want to Know (or What I Wonder)
  • L - What I Learned

There is also an optional “H” column allowing for a KWHL chart.

  • H - How I Will Learn

In order to understand the KWL Chart and its uses, let's pull apart each of the sections.

What I Know

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.

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.

What I Want to Know

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.

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.

What I Learned

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.

How I Will Learn

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 is an example of a completed KWHL chart for learning about seasons.

Using a KWL Chart in the Classroom

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.

Make Custom KWHL Worksheets!

If you're looking for another step or an alternative assignment, you can create KWL/KWHL worksheets to use in your class. It's helpful to keep a record of how students have progressed through each lesson so they can look back on their work at the end of the year. These worksheets can be customized and printed out for students to fill out with a pencil, or they can be completed in the Storyboard Creator like a digital worksheet. You can even create multiple versions for students who might need a little extra help, and keep them on hand for future use!

Applications for Special Education

These graphic organizers 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.

KWHL Charts on Storyboard That are great for special education:

  • Typing rather than writing by hand allows inclusion of students with fine motor difficulties or poor handwriting.
  • Storyboard That has the ability to add images, which is great for the students who like (or need) visual representations.
  • The storyboard is printable for those who require the paper reference. The storyboard can be printed as a blank template, or after it has been completed.

Related Activity

How to Use the KWL Chart for Formative Assessment


Introduce the KWL Chart

Introduce the KWL Chart to students, explaining its purpose as a tool for formative assessment. Discuss how it helps track their learning progress and identify areas of growth.


Complete the "What I Know" Section

Guide students to fill out the "What I Know" section of the KWL Chart by brainstorming what they already know about the topic. Encourage them to draw on their prior knowledge and experiences.


Engage in Learning Activities

Engage students in various learning activities related to the topic. These activities could include reading texts, watching videos, conducting experiments, or engaging in discussions. Encourage active participation and exploration.


Update the "What I Learned" Section

After the learning activities, prompt students to update the "What I Learned" section of the KWL Chart. Have them record new information, insights, and discoveries they have gained from the learning experiences.


Reflect on Learning

Guide students in reflecting on their learning by comparing their initial knowledge (from the "What I Know" section) with their new learning (from the "What I Learned" section). Encourage them to identify gaps, misconceptions, or areas where their understanding has deepened.


Provide Feedback and Set Goals

Review students' KWL Charts and provide constructive feedback on their progress. Offer specific praise for areas of growth and provide guidance on areas that need further development. Collaboratively set goals with students to guide their future learning.

Frequently Asked Questions about KW(H)L Charts

How can teachers incorporate KWL and KWHL charts into their lesson plans and are there any specific subjects or topics that are particularly suited to KWL charts?

Teachers can incorporate KWL charts into their lesson plans in a variety of ways whether it is in the context of introducing topics, setting goals, research and exploration activities, or reflection-based activities. KWL and KWHL charts can be used in almost any subject area, including language arts, social studies, science, and math. In general, these charts can be used in any situation where students are engaging with new information and need a framework for organizing their thoughts and tracking their learning.

How does a KWHL chart differ from a KWL chart, and when might teachers choose to use one over the other?

Teachers might choose to use a KWHL chart instead of a KWL chart when they want to encourage students to be more intentional and reflective about their learning process. More specifically, KWHL charts are suited to long-term projects and inquiry-based learning. By including the "H" section, students are prompted to think about not just what they want to learn, but how they will go about learning it. This can help to build metacognitive skills and promote a growth mindset. However, KWL charts might be more appropriate for shorter lessons or activities where the focus is on introducing new content or building background knowledge. They are simpler, more straightforward, and suitable for younger and less experienced students.

How can KWL and KWHL charts be adapted for students with different learning styles or abilities?

There are several different ways to adapt KWL and KWHL charts for students based on their specific challenge. For instance, for students who struggle with written expression, providing sentence starters or prompts to guide their thinking can help them to better articulate their ideas. For students who benefit from collaborative learning, you can allow them to work in pairs or small groups to complete the chart together. This can help to build social skills and foster a sense of community in the classroom. Furthermore, incorporating visuals, technology, graphic organizers, and considerations like physical activities for kinesthetic learners, teachers can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.

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