We’ve had lots of snow days lately — school was even cancelled for the entire week! The first few days were fun with sleeping-in, sledding, and way too much screen time — but towards the end of the week I needed to pull in some more structured activities to keep the cabin-fever under control (theirs AND mine!). And this cold winter weather seemed like the perfect time to learn about penguins and make a KWL Chart.
When I’m thinking about a topic to talk about with my kids, my go-to is to always start with a book. Soooo much easier to share information and start the discussion through a shared reading experience!
But even BEFORE we read, I like to find out what they already know about the subject. Sometimes the discussion is more formal and we create a KWL chart, other times it’s an informal chat.
What is a KWL Chart?
K-W-L is an acronym that stands for KNOW, WONDER (or want to know), and LEARN.
A KWL chart is a graphic organizer (typically divided into three columns) designed to help students organize information before, during, and after a unit or lesson. Using a KWL chart can be a very effective way to introduce and engage kids in a new topic, active and access their prior knowledge, and monitor their learning throughout the unit/lesson.
How Do You Use a KWL Chart?
You can use a KWL as formally or informally as you’d like.
When using the graphic organizer as an individual assessment (such as in a classroom or homeschool) you’d probably print a chart for each child to fill out and/or create a group KWL Chart on the wall or whiteboard using sticky notes.
(This may be overkill if you’re — for example — reading at home with your preschooler. In any case, the reading strategy works the same, just simplify for your needs.)
What do you already KNOW?
Before introducing a topic or reading a book, I ask what they already KNOW about the subject. Kids LOVE sharing their knowledge and being the expert of things! And I’m all about sitting back and letting them “teach” ME. I try to show lots of enthusiasm and praise during this conversation to encourage their confidence in sharing aloud and also to keep the conversation fun and engaging. We should model the behavior we want to see them exhibit.
During this pre-reading talk, they don’t realize I actually have a secret agenda and am mentally accessing their prior knowledge so I know which direction to take the reading experience!
For example, Lydia tells me she thinks penguins are mammals because they have fur. And rather than correcting her, I write it in the “K column,” or just take a mental note so I’m sure to emphasize the pages that talk about penguins having feathers and laying eggs.
What do you WANT to know?
After we talk about the things we know, I ask them what they “want to know” or WONDER about the subject. They had all kinds of questions about penguins:
- Are penguins always black and white?
- Do penguins get cold?
- Besides fish, what do penguins they eat?
- Why do penguins huddle in circles?
- What is a penguin’s predator?
Write these questions in the “W column” on your KWL chart, or just keep them in mind as you read. Once we start reading I try to intentionally point out the answers OR guide them towards further learning to answer their questions.
What did you LEARN?
Once I’ve discovered what they already know and what they’re wondering, it’s reading time!
Kids record their new learning in the “L column.” Sometimes they’ll even discover things that are different from what they thought they knew!
For example, Lydia learned penguins are NOT mammals because they don’t have fur, they have feathers. So she crossed that off her “K column” and added her new knowledge to the “L column.”
Ready to Create a Penguin KWL Chart?
Use this reading strategy with your kids and learn all about penguins!
You can find these (and other) penguin-themed printables
in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. COMING SOON