You are on page 1of 5

University of New England Module 2 Brian Edwards

As a Social Studies teacher, there is a lot of reading that you must have students do in the classroom in order to cover the necessary content. In order to keep reading fresh and engaging for students, different strategies need to be employed. One of the strategies I use often in the classroom is known as KWL. This strategy is a pre and post reading strategy that employs a number of different ways to keep a reader engaged in the reading process and I have found it to be very useful in my classroom setting. KWL stands for what a student Knows, what a student Wants to know, and what a student Learns from the reading. What students do is take a piece of paper and break it into three columns. The first column, K, is where a student lists what they already know about a subject. For example, if the topic is on the Civil War, a student would list details that they already know about the subject, e.g. Union vs. Confederacy, slavery issues, etc. The second column, W, lists questions that the student wants to know about the subject, e.g. what were some of the battles in the Civil War?, etc. The third column is what a student has learned after reading the assigned section. In this column, students answer the questions they listed in the second column. This column is also used to list any other things the student learns from the reading that they think are important. The KWL has students prepare for reading and then, after the reading has occurred, list their findings on the same page. One of the greatest things about this strategy is that all it requires is a piece of paper and a section of text to read.

This is a strategy that I use very often in my classroom. The KWL lends itself very well to a Social Studies curriculum, because, in Social Studies, concepts are well defined. I use KWLs about once a week in my room and they can be used in many different ways. They can be used in independent reading assignments. If a particular text section or hand out is to be read independently, students may make up their own KWL to be used while they read. I have been used this independently and it has been successful. I also do it with group reading. If reading is to be done aloud by students or teacher, students can fill in a KWL as a group with important information being stressed by the teacher prompting students to fill in their appropriate sections. KWLs can also be created as a group. I will often do the KWL set up on the board before reading with the students assisting by giving ideas for what should fill in the K and W columns. This engages students in the creative process. KWLs also have versatility for activities that are not straight reading assignments. They can also be used for watching films and for viewing student presentations. They can be used in any avenue that requires students to absorb new material from a media source. I have my students maintain accountability by having them keep an individual KWL folder that is checked weekly for completion. This helps to keep students interested in staying current with their KWL and, by having this folder as a reference, they have a folder of physical sheets that they can use to reference important information for future assignments. I believe that the KWL does a lot to promote active reading skills. One reason I believe this is because of the W column. In the W column, students describe what they want to learn from the reading. This allows the student to involve their own interests in the process. By allowing students to explore their interests, they are inherently more engaged in the reading process. KWLs also promote active reading in the L column. This can be facilitated by either

the student or the teacher. The teacher can go a long way to make this a more active process for struggling readers by pausing the reading and giving effective prompts to when new information should be recorded on the sheet. I have found that the teacher has to be careful with this however because if the teacher pauses and directs too often, it can interrupt the flow of the reading and frustrate the more independent learners. KWLs are great tools for differentiation in the classroom. As a teacher of adult learners in the correctional setting, I have many different students at many different reading levels. There have been some classes where I have literally had one student reading at a college level and another student from Turkey who was just learning English. The gap between students can be very vast at times. I have found that the KWL can do a lot to bridge that gap. First, it doesnt limit the advanced readers. When a student already reads well, a KWL only facilitates organization of thought. I have found that this keeps advanced readers organized and actively engaged in the reading, even if they feel that have surpassed the difficulty of the passage. Second, for my students who struggle reading or have a language barrier, a KWL gives them a clear framework of what they should be looking for in a reading passage. They are no longer thinking, What should I be looking for? They have it written down in the W column. Also, the K column fosters a sense of confidence in all students. There is something very powerful in having a student write down what the already know. It gives gifted students a chance to show off what they already know and it gives struggling students a chance to see what they know on paper. KWLs also employ visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning channels during the activity. In Subjects Matter: Every Teachers Guide to Content-Area Reading by Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman, there are many different theories and research discussed that deals with effective reading strategies. The KWL falls into many of those categories. In one chapter,

Daniels and Zemelman discuss ten major conclusions that research has made about reading. One of these conclusions was, the classroom should become a reading community, a group of people who regularly read, talk, and write together (Daniels and Zemelman, 2004). The KWL constantly meets the requirements of a community. Doing KWLs as a group, the students talk about the reading beforehand, read together, and write what they learned together. It fosters that sense of community in the classroom by having all students engage in the same process. In the same chapter, Daniels and Zemelman state that an important strategy to have students use to facilitate effective reading is, question generation, where readers ask themselves questions about various aspects of the story (Daniels and Zemelman, 2004). This is the second step of the KWL. By having students generate their own questions, they are more engaged with what they want to get out of the reading. Earlier in the Daniels and Zemelman text, they discuss how smart readers think. One of the important aspects they identify is that prior knowledge is the main determinate of comprehension (Daniels and Zemelman, 2004). In the K column, students list their prior knowledge right on the page before the reading. This lays an important foundation before the reading occurs. This enhances the reading experience of the gifted readers and helps to guide the struggling readers towards learning more. The KWL is a strategy that uses many aspects of modern literacy research to enhance the reading experience for students of all skill levels. The KWL works very well in my classroom. By having a clear organizational pattern, it helps to make the reading experiences of my students much more valuable. It differentiates the instruction utilizing strategies championed by modern research. It is a strategy that I plan on using throughout my educational career.


Daniels, Harvey and Zemelman, Steven. 2004. Subjects Matter: Every Teacher's Guide to Content Area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.