Activities & Lessons

Guiding Student Research with a KWL Chart Template

3 Min Read
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In the classroom, students often have many ideas swirling as they begin a research project. An important first step in the research process can be to guide students towards an organizational aide, such as a KWL chart template.

Once students have one–or a few!–ideas that they want to explore, suggest that they use a KWL chart to dig deeper into topics that they want to pursue for their research project.

KWL Chart Definition: What is a KWL Graphic Organizer?

A (K) (W) (L) chart is a tool that students can use to organize their research when starting on a project. It helps students to synthesize what they know (K), what they want to know (W), and what they have learned (L) about a topic. The chart is a valuable tool for students to focus their research and guide them in a direction to pick a topic and dive into the subject.

KWL Chart download

How to Use a KWL Graphic Organizer

You can start on a project with your class by asking them to research a particular topic. This could be an event in history, a science principle, or a book you are teaching in class.

You can encourage them to think of each column in the KWL chart as,:

  • What I know: “At first I was thinking….because…”
  • What I want to know: “When I was reading, I was thinking…because…”
  • What I have learned: “By the end, I was thinking…because…”

Once they have a starting point, use the process below to help them think about the subject.

Image credit: HMH Into Reading

Preview the Chart

Guide students to explore the KWL chart, emphasizing these key points:

  • When you synthesize information, you combine what you already know with what you learn to develop a new understanding.
  • Readers apply their own knowledge, or their background knowledge, to what they read. Background knowledge is also called prior knowledge.
  • Reading is a way to learn new things. When readers learn something new, they think about how it fits with what they already know.
  • When readers synthesize their background knowledge and their new learning, they form new ideas.

Apply to Topic

Supply a new or familiar text. As applicable, use questions and prompts such as those below to support application of the concept.

  • What are you learning as you read? Did you learn anything new that you did not know before?
  • What new knowledge do you have on the topic after reading?
  • What information did you synthesize to form your new knowledge?

As appropriate, tailor instruction, as needed, by prompting students to . . .

  • Respond to guided questions asking them to identify background knowledge and new information on a topic.
  • Draw diagrams that illustrate how their background knowledge plus added information resulted in new knowledge.
  • List what they already know about a topic before reading and rewrite the list after reading to illustrate how their thinking changed.
  • Write a paragraph explaining how their thinking changed after they synthesized information.
  • Synthesize information across multiple texts about the same topic to arrive at a new understanding.

Build Independence

Have individuals or partners finish the current topic and begin a new one, using the graphic organizer as a scaffold for synthesizing text information.

Download the Graphic Organizer

Download the free printable KWL chart template. Ask students to brainstorm their research topic and pose questions about it. You can do this as an entire class or each student can work on this individually. As students start their research, have them ask what they know (K), what they want to know (W), and what they have learned (L) about a topic.


For more free graphic organizer resources, check out these blogs:

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