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The KWL Chart: A Clear Way to Take Notes

By Marlene Gundlach

When students first learn how to take notes from a class discussion, they are often confused on what material they need to focus on in the chapter. Using a KWL chart to preview a chapter can help students focus on the material being presented.

Take Note

Teaching children to take notes is often a difficult task, especially in fourth or fifth grade when this skill is first utilized. You can begin by having students study a chapter before you lecture about it in class. The night before you will begin discussing a new chapter in class, have the students look through the chapter as homework. You can even break it down and have them work with one section at a time if your textbook is set up this way. For each chapter or section, give them a copy of the KWL chart. You can download a copy of a KWL chart from the media gallery.

The Chart in Practice

Using the KWL chart, the student will read through the chapter headings, captions for pictures, and any highlighted vocabulary words. The headings in the KWL chart stand for:

K: What I already know. This is where the student will list if there is anything in the chapter that they are familiar with. It can be a name they recognize, a vocabulary word, or a topic.

W: What I want to know. Here, the student will list any information that they want to learn more about. Maybe there is a photo that interests them, or a particular vocabulary word. If the chapter is about an individual, they may want to learn more about why this person is important.

L: What I learned. This will be completed when you are done discussing the chapter or section. Here, the student will list what they learned.

With each, you may want to give them guidelines or goals about how much to write for each section. Maybe ask for at least two citations for the W and L column, and maybe try for at least one in the K column. If possible, have each student copy the table into a notebook so that they can go back to complete the L column when the chapter is completed. Then it is also there for them to study when the chapter is completed. You may also request that they use a small three ring binder or a folder with prongs so that you can three-hole punch the tables you give them and they can be saved this way.

The Goal

The goal here is to get them thinking about the text being presented even before you discuss it. This gives them a sense of what will be discussed and they can listen in particular for those items in their W column...those items that they want to learn more about.

These tables can also be used when reading chapter books to help preview what the student will be reading. They can look at pictures or a synopsis on the back cover to get an idea of what they will be reading.