Using KWL to Introduce Inquiry

Prepared for

Museum Experiences Introducing Inquiry to Teachers

Molly McLaughlin
The Franklin Institute
Philadelphia, PA
1994 ASTC Annual Conference
Portland, Oregon
October 16, 1994

K-W-L (What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned) is a teaching model developed to encourage purposeful reading by
K: activating and organizing students' prior knowledge,
W: developing questions of personal interest to focus attention during reading, and
L: summing up and reflecting on what was learned, if and how questions were answered.
Ideas, questions, and results are recorded on a chart for the whole class or for individual students.

KWL can also be used to facilitate science learning by
K: pulling together what students already know (or think they know),
W: helping to generate questions for investigation, and
L: summing up findings and further questions.

By providing a recognized "legitimate" structure, KWL may make some teachers feel more comfortable about setting up explorations and investigations even if they don't have specific directions for predetermined demonstration experiments.

KWL is also a useful strategy for built-in assessment and planning. (See "Performance Assessment: Five Practical Approaches" by Anne Grall Reichel in Science and Children. October, 1994, p. 21-25.)

Sample KWL Chart
What l/We Know What l/We Want to Know What I/We Learned

Possible additions to chart and/or topics for discussion:

What we think we know, but aren't sure about

What's our evidence for what we know

How we might find out what we want to know (what would be evidence?)

What could we find out by interacting with or observing the materials/phenomena, rather than by reading or asking experts?

What questions do we still have?

Inquiry Approaches to Exploring Balls and Ramps

Below are some materials and strategies for inviting people to explore the way things roll. A wide range of questions and problems may be explored, depending on the variety of materials provided, the wording of initial questions, and the interests of students.

-Variety of balls, marbles, other rolling objects (cylinders, cars, etc.)
-Tubes: cardboard (paper towels, toilet paper, wrapping paper, etc.; some cut lengthwise, some whole); plastic; other
-"Ramps": pieces of foam core, cardboard; boards or long blocks, etc.
- Blocks or other materials for support; masking tape, scissors.

1. K-W-L Strategy:
a. Ask students what they know about balls and how they roll; record responses on a large chart headed "What we Know."
Depending on age of students, you might ask about the evidence they have for what they know.

b. Under the next category, "What We Want to Know," record questions students would like to find out about. Ask "How could we find out about that?" "What would be evidence?" "Which questions could we find out about using the materials we have here?"

c. Students plan and carry out investigations of their questions.

d. Record results in chart section headed "What We Learned."
Encourage students to recognize and record things they're still not sure about, or new questions still to be explored.

2. Problem/Challenge: Use these materials to: make a ball move around a corner, up a hill, down a ramp as slowly as possible. . .

3. Open Inquiry/Exploration: Find out whatever you can about how these materials interact, how balls roll/bounce, what influences the speed and distance of a rolling ball . . .


What did you learn from this approach?

How would you compare your feelings/thoughts/experiences during exploration with your feelings/thoughts/experiences during more traditional learning experiences?

What do you think might be advantages and disadvantages of this approach for teachers and students?

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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