My Perspective: Why I Don't Use KWL Charts | Science in the City

Jun 11, 2013

My Perspective: Why I Don't Use KWL Charts

My son recently did a unit on earthworms, in first grade. He learned a lot, and they had a vermicomposting bin, as well as reading and writing about earthworms.  It was a really cute unit, and he learned a lot.

However, they started off the unit with a KWL.  What he wanted to know is "How do worms communicate?"  A very interesting question, and one I didn't know the answer to (chances are his teacher didn't either).  Many times throughout the unit he came home saying "Guess what I learned....but I still didn't learn how worms communicate."

At the end of the unit, a sad boy came to me....we still never learned how worms communicate.

As a teacher, and a parent, I went online and looked it up and discussed with him.  However, how many parents don't have the knowledge or resources to do that? Or how many kids wouldn't ask, but on some level would know that their question hadn't been answered.

What does that teach kids about education and school?  If you do use KWL charts, how do you address the questions that kids come up with that are just not in your curriculum, you don't have time for, or you don't know the answers? 

In a perfect world, we could pursue their interests, but since we are all on such tight curriculum schedules and standards, I think this sets a bad precedent.  What do you think? 


  1. When I have had a question come up on a KWL chart that I know we won't answer within the unit, I always make sure I tell the child what a great question it is. Then I ask the child to do independent research on the question and report back to the class. I usually offer extra credit for this. I LOVE when students can come up with something they are interested in learning more about within a unit! I teach 6th grade, btw.

  2. You bring up a really interesting concept here. It's definitely something to think about. Like Karen, I teach middle school as well, but I still think my thoughts would line up with any age. I believe in teaching through constructivism and inquiry-based learning. If students don't get the chance to ask questions and get their minds full of ideas, excitement, and possibilities, I think learning becomes the teacher's journey of what they would input into their students' minds and not the students' journey. Teaching students to dig for the answers to their questions makes learning authentic. It definitely doesn't always have to be in the form of a KWL chart because that would get a little sickening, but as teachers, it seems we must keep encouraging that inquiry-based spirit in students in order to keep them engaged. I teach reading and writing, but sometimes the best learning experiences are when my students ask something that I don't know the answer to, and we discover it together.

  3. Hi Tara! I found your blog on Mrs. Harris' science teacher blog hop. I couldn't agree with you more about the sad message this sends to the children in our schools. If we stop to think about it, I'll bet we can think of other tools teachers use in class that serve a great purpose for generating ideas and information but leave students feeling like they really didn't learn what they hoped to learn by the time they were done. No answers here other than as teachers we should ask ourselves how we plan to address those student requests for knowledge, learning, and information that just doesn't fit the scope of classroom learning. It's a shame because we hear about developmentally appropriate and there is nothing more developmentally appropriate in my mind than addressing the questions that are actually posed by the student. I agree with Karen's solution but that is difficult in primary grades. The way you handled it as a parent was great so perhaps the teacher needs to step in and make time to do that with the questions that don't "fit" within the curriculum. Maybe a lunch bunch group where they talk about those questions or something?
    Anyway, love your blog and I'm your newest follower!

  4. I just thought of another way this issue can be handled. I have a blog for my classroom. It is mostly to list homework and to share classroom news. There could be a tab for the subjects in which we do a KWL chart, maybe even posting the class KWL chart. Parents can then help their children find the information the children want to know more about. As teachers, we could provide additional resources through links and suggested books or articles that may steer parents in the right direction. It would take a few extra minutes of our time, but not too much since we are doing the research for planning, most likely, anyway.

    One thing I've noticed is that many parents want to help their children, but don't know how. This would be a great family activity if parents knew where to start. The KWL chart on the blog would really make a nice bridge between school and home.

  5. Heather and Karen,

    Thanks so much for the suggestions! I really like the idea of helping to give parents some resources to work with their children. I haven't done a class blog yet, but maybe next year.

    I LOVE that this is stimulating some discussion :)


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