I teach a class at Concordia University that’s for MAT students teaching them how to incorporate literacy and comprehension strategies into their secondary content area classrooms. It’s only my third semester, but I think I’ve heard about teachers-in-training using KWL charts 8,000 times. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a KWL chart, I just think that sometimes it can lose it’s way - it becomes an activity as opposed to a strategy, it doesn’t help students dig deeper into the text, or it doesn’t shed any new light on misconceptions. The problem with KWL and with any strategy or plan a teacher uses comes when teachers don’t TEACH.
So, I don’t use KWL a whole lot. That’s a personal choice. Use KWL all you want. Make it awesome.
My fourth graders are spending the first quarter steeped in learning strategies for determining Main Idea and Detail. I found an awesome activity on TPT (duh, my favorite) that has students learning comprehension strategies through visuals and applying them in stories. It’s been great for building up vocabulary, too, because students have to make observations at the beginning and identify as many things in the pictures as they can. Love it. We’ve watched Mystery Doug videos and talked about main idea and details. We’ve read a biography of Cesar Chavez. Now I had a short informational text for students to read on Mount Everest (from Reading a-z).
The article didn’t have pictures, so we couldn’t do a picture walk, and I wanted to make sure that we activated background knowledge in an authentic way before we got started (just as we had been doing for all of our other readings). I knew that in third grade they read the story Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest by Steve Jenkins, which talked about Mount Everest, so I was hoping they would remember some details from that story and they ended up remembering a LOT. They were a little confused about whether or not it was a volcano, and since some of their questions started to get on that path, I decided to just tell them it wasn’t. As we were talking about what they knew, they were coming up with questions, so we added those in as well. The whole time we’re talking about why we do this as readers and how getting our brain ready for information helps us to focus on the important parts. Next, we read the article. We started with the title and predicted our main idea (mostly about climbing), then we took notes along the way on vocabulary, answers to questions, and confirmations of our prior knowledge. We went back to our main idea prediction from the beginning and confirmed that it was correct based on the details from the article.
But we hadn’t answered all of our questions! We split them up and each student was responsible for finding the information for the rest of us. They researched on the Chromebooks and shared their information. They we explored some of the important vocabulary from the article, our discussions, and their research. Each student researched a word and then graphically represented it and presented it to the class.