Using 'KWL-Plus' With Sound Learning

KWL Plus is a classroom activity that can be used in lessons involving MPR content. Teachers of social studies, literature, science, math, and all other subject areas will find such activities to be especially effective for training students to be successful independent readers of electronic texts, as well as other classroom materials.

The KWL-Plus procedure (Ogle, 1986; Carr and Ogle, 1987) works especially well with providing a structure for thinking while reading and learning. KWL is an acronym for Know, Want to Know, and Learned. This activity parallels the proficient reading strategies outlined above, and thus conditions students to engage in these thinking behaviors when they independently access electronic texts. The KWL-Plus activity includes pre-reading, during reading, and after reading phases for student learning.

For example, students studying viruses in a science class might be reading the Minnesota Public Radio story "West Nile Virus Reaches Minnesota." How could the KWL-Plus activity be used to create a successful lesson to support student learning from this informative article?

The KWL-Plus activity is centered around a three column graphic organizer designed to guide student thinking as they read. The graphic organizer could be created as an individual student worksheet or the entire class can participate as the teacher outlines the grid on the chalkboard or overhead transparency.

Follow the steps below and refer to the Sample KWL Grid.

Students record these items in the K column, as the teacher models with the entire class. For example: It is carried by mosquitoes; People can die from this disease; Birds can be infected by the virus.

Step 1: Identify What You Know or Think You Know—The K

Students contribute what they know, or think they know, about this topic. One technique is to ask each student to take a couple of minutes and, independently, make a list. Ask students what they currently know about the subject, what they have heard or read. Student contributions are recorded in the first column (K-What We Know).

  • How would a person know if they had it?
  • How deadly is this virus to people?
  • What areas of the world have the most cases?
  • Is there an effective treatment or medicine if you get it?

Step 2: Identify What We Want to Learn—The W

Sharing information is likely to bring out questions that students have about the topic. Some questions might be about the accuracy of the information recorded in the "Know" column. Other questions may be things students are wondering about. Record these questions in the middle column (W-What We Want to Learn).

Step 3: Categorize the K and W

Guide the students with determining meaningful categories for the items in the K and W columns. Under "Categories of Information We Expect to Use" students might decide upon the following categories: location, causes, effects, prevention.

Organizing information is the first step toward being able to effectively summarize it.

This step is especially important to help students see that their lists do not merely contain isolated snippets of information, and it helps them sort information as they read.

Step 4: Read the Article

While they read and listen to the story, students lookout for information that answers their questions or expands their understanding of the topic. When they encounter specific answers to questions and new information, they use the third column (L-What We Have Learned) to record their notes.

Step 5: Identify New Information

After reading, students identify new information discovered from their reading, which is also included in the third column. New information is integrated into the previously identified categories and additional categories may need to be added.

Step 6: Create a Concept Map

After completing the KWL grid, students work individually or in groups to create a concept map which connects all the information under each category into a visual display.

The concept map allows students to see the big picture from the article, and helps them summarize and synthesize what they learned from reading this material. Information is organized for student writing assignments, test preparation, or other projects.

See sample concept map. (PDF)

Step 7: Identify Further Investigation

After completing the concept map, students clarify what they know and make decisions as to how to obtain additional information. Questions from the middle column (Want to Know) that are not answered by the reading provide impetus for further investigation.

Sample Lesson

Students studying viruses in a science class might be reading the Minnesota Public Radio story "West Nile Virus Reaches Minnesota." How could the KWL-Plus activity be used to create a successful lesson to support student learning from this informative article?

Topic: West Nile Virus
"West Nile Virus Reaches Minnesota"

K (Know) W (Want to Know) L (Learned)
  • Is carried by mosquitoes
  • Is a disease that can kill people
  • Crows can be infected
  • Carried to US from Africa
  • Has appeared in the Midwestern US
  • You should use lots of mosquito spray
  • You can get a high fever
  • You get sick like you have the flu
  • They have it in Minnesota now
  • Is there an effective treatment or medicine?
  • How can you tell which mosquitoes have it?
  • If you get it once, can you get it again?
  • Can you get it from a diseased bird?
  • How deadly is this virus to humans?
  • Does the virus affect animals other than birds?
  • What part of the US or world has the most cases?
  • P-long-sleeved clothes, insect repellant, avoid outdoors dawn & dusk
  • E-100 types of birds have it; poultry have natural antibodies
  • P-horses should have vaccination
  • E-1/3 unvaccinated horses die from it
  • L-1st found in New York in 1999
  • L-found in 32 states
  • C-only spread by mosquitoes that feed on infected birds
  • E-infects birds, horses, people
  • C-can't get it from infected animals
  • E-1% of people get encephalitis, swelling of brain, can die
  • P-no treatment
  • E-hits elderly & weak immune systems
  • E-usually like flu: headache, high fever, convulsions
  • E-low risk to people

Categories of Information We Expect to Use:

  1. Where is it located (L-Location)
  2. What causes it (C-Causes)
  3. What impact it has (E-Effects)
  4. What can be done about it (P-Prevention)