Practitioner's Shortcuts: K-W-L

Emily Robinson Leclair, Community Learning Network

1 3 18 November 2019

As CALP staff, you are extraordinary multitaskers. You never know who is going to walk through your door and what they might need. As a result, it is nice to have tools and strategies in your back pocket that work for a variety of learners in any of the five literacy and foundational learning categories, across each of the modes of delivery, with little to minimal preparation. This is the fourth in a series of blog posts highlighting instructional strategies that do just that. Let’s call them Practitioner’s Shortcuts.

With the exception of a one-on-one tutoring match, the reality of CALP learning opportunities is that they are multi-levelled. There are great benefits to a multi-levelled learning opportunity – increased accountability, building community, peer mentorship – but it can be challenging to develop a lesson plan that meets each individual’s learning goals within a large or small group setting. In order to provide strengths-based, learner-centered content we need to better understand a learner’s background knowledge and experience.

The Community Adult Learning Program Guidelines remind us that, “All adult learners bring past experience and knowledge to their learning. A learning environment that does not acknowledge this wealth of experience will minimize a learner’s feelings of self-worth.” (Community Adult Learning Program Guidelines, page 37)

Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of instructional strategies that help us draw on the background knowledge of learners. One of the most common is K-W-L.

CLN often uses a version of K-W-L in our training workshops. To begin, participants are asked two questions:

            What do you know?

            What do you want to know?

At the conclusion of our training day or series of online study groups, participants are asked to reflect on their learning by responding to the third and final question:

            What did you learn?

In order to build a baseline of knowledge, both individually and as a group, it is important to assess what participants know and what they want to learn about specific content. This activity provides participants with reassurance that they are starting with some knowledge in a topic.  It also provides the facilitator with an understanding of the depth of knowledge they have in this area.

This activity can be adapted to any number of participants (from 1 to 100) and can be facilitated in a variety of ways:

  • use the questions as conversation prompts
  • ask participants to work independently on a handout
  • invite participants to share their responses with the larger group by posting flip charts with each question around the room and asking them to capture their answers on post it notes

If you opt for the flip chart and post it option, you can add an additional instruction to the third question by encouraging participants to review their responses to ‘What do you want to know’ and physically move them to the ‘What did you learn’ flip chart.

KWL chart image 

Click on chart to download document. 

For more explanations of K-W-L as an instructional strategy check out these resources:

Tutor Tools explains that K-W-L “is a reading-thinking strategy that encourages readers to ask questions in order to think about what they are about to read and give them something to look for as they read. This helps engage their attention and heighten their interest.”

Rising to the Reading Challenges of Adult Learners: Practitioner’s Toolkit reminds us that the purpose of KWL isn’t necessarily to provide all of the answers to questions posted under the second question “What do I want to know”. Instead learners can use the third question to “identify what they learned or would still like to learn.”

Answers May Vary Guidebook prompts us to use the KWL strategy as an opportunity for coaching and modelling. “Model how you learn something you want to know more about with a subject that your learner is interested in. You can talk out loud about the things you want to know and how/where you think you might find that information. Activities such as this encourage thinking and continuous learning skills, as well as self-monitoring.

As mentioned above, K-W-L is arguably one of the most used instructional strategies.

In the comments below, please share how you use K-W-L in your own practice.

Emily Robinson Leclair
CLN South Regional Support Staff


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