Teaching Tips: K-W-L Charts

  Teaching new concepts to students, in school, youth group, or on Sunday mornings, can be a daunting task. Students bring with them a variety of background experiences, varying levels of knowledge and interest, as well as unique personalities and needs. Teachers must focus every student’s attention on the subject matter and modify the lesson on-the-spot in order to meet the needs of the group.

One strategy to make this task easier is a K-W-L chart. By using this tool, teachers can tap the students’ background knowledge, prepare them for the lesson ahead, and assess their learning.  AND…This strategy requires virtually no prep time nor materials.

Here’s how it works:

1. On a piece of chart paper or on a chalkboard or white board, the teacher creates a three-columned chart, as shown.  At the top of the chart, the teacher should write the subject that the group will be studying. For today’s example, we’ll be talking about Moses.

2. The teacher asks the group, “What do we KNOW about Moses?” As the students begin to respond, the teacher writes their statements on the chart paper. For example, students might say, “His mom put him in a basket in the river” or “He was a leader” or even “He made up the 10 Commandments.” This step serves several purposes. First, it introduces the concept to the students, and lets them know the purpose of the lesson. Next, by discussing what they know, students are accessing their background knowledge. When they do this, they are more likely to remember and apply the new information they will receive. Finally, this serves as an assessment tool for the teacher; he or she can gauge the students’ understanding and also be aware of any misconceptions the students might have (e.g. “He MADE UP the 10 Commandments…”) The teacher should emphasize that as the class learns together, they can make any necessary adjustments. If other students question a statement a student has made, the teacher can simply say, “I wondered that, too. Let’s just put a question mark there so that we can check all of our facts for accuracy.” This step also allows the teacher to model kindness, good group-discussion etiquette and turn-taking.

3. The teacher then focuses the group on the next section of the chart. “What do we WANT to learn today?” As students begin to formulate questions, the teacher their questions on the chart. It is important to note that creating questions about a topic is a higher-level language skill. Teachers should model this by thinking aloud, “I wonder what Moses said to God when he was praying?” or “When did Moses know he was supposed to be a leader?” Writing the “ 5 W’s and H”~ who, what, when, where, why and how~on the top of this section can help students to ask similar questions. This stage of the strategy sets anticipation for active learning; students are now on a mission to find the answers to their questions! This, along with the first step, also help students to pay attention.

4. The teacher reviews all of the  questions and reminds the students to be listening for answers! Then, the teacher reads the Bible (or, for some classes, the students read aloud to the group or silently) and presents the information to the students. After the information is presented, the group returns to the chart, listing facts LEARNED. The teacher writes these new facts in the third column. During this stage, the teacher should also have the class look at the first column and correct any inconsistencies: “As we learned, Moses didn’t make up the 10 Commandments; God did! Moses helped the people learn the commandments.” When making corrections, teachers can reflect, “That was a little confusing. I’m glad that we could learn together” or “I have really learned a lot today; some of my ideas about Moses weren’t exactly what the Bible tells me.” This emphasizes that learning is a life-long process and that the church community is a safe and supportive place to learn. This final step allows teachers to assess the students’ new knowledge and also begin the planning process for the next lesson.

This strategy can be used not only for factual information, but also for concepts such as love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

Please let me know if you have questions about this strategy! Wishing you enriching conversations with your students, along with LOTS of learning!


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