How the KWL Strategy Improves Reading Skills

This visual organizer can help students comprehend information

A teacher helping a student in a classroom.
A teacher helping a student in a classroom.. Ragnar Schmuck/Getty Images

The KWL reading strategy is an instructional technique used to improve reading comprehension. It also improves a student's ability to remember the material. KWL is most often used with expository reading materials such as classroom textbooks, research articles and journalistic pieces.

If you're the parent, caregiver or teacher of a child with a learning disability in reading, consider whether the KWL strategy would meet the child's needs.

The technique can also serve students without learning disabilities who struggle in reading and adults who'd like to improve their comprehension skills.

What KWL Stands For

The letters KWL form an acronym for "Know, What, Learn." In the KWL technique, readers are first asked to consider what they already know about the subject before they read the material. For example, say they're reading a book in class about Italian food. In the "know" column, they would jot down the names of Italian foods they're familiar with, such as pizza, pasta and lasagna.

When students finish the "know" step, they move on to the "what" column. Here they write down what they hope to learn about the subject from the passage. Given that Italian food is the subject at hand, they could write that they hope to find out how to make pizza from scratch.

Third, students read the passage and then summarize what they learned from the reading.

Perhaps they didn't learn how to make pizza from scratch in the column but found out how gelato is made. They would write this down in the "learned" column.

KWL in the Classroom

Students can fill out KWL charts alone, but teachers frequently have students use the graphic organizer in pairs or small groups.

The group notetaker can write down what each student knew about the topic, what they wanted to know and what they learned.

Alternatively, students can fill out KWL sheets independently and discuss each step with the group. Students are encouraged to share their results with others to increase understanding, active participation and interest, which improves overall comprehension and retention of materials read.

Can KWL Help with Homework?

Yes. KWL can be used at home to improve comprehension of homework reading assignments. Keep KWL worksheets in a folder or notebook for students to use as study guides for tests as the school year progresses.

KWL Suggestions

Use a long KWL worksheet for longer reading passages. Use a short KWL worksheet for shorter reading passages. Students with learning disabilities and attention deficits may do better when chapters are broken into subsections using several shorter worksheets rather than doing the whole chapter with one KWL worksheet.

KWL notes can be brief but must include enough detail to be meaningful to the student in the future.

Children can discuss what they've learned with parents at home.

KWL is just one of many graphic organizers students can use to give their literacy skills a boost. If KWL proves ineffective for your children, consider using another strategy to meet their needs.

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