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K-W-L: A Strategy for Learning

The K-W-L chart can be used to help students clarify their ideas about difficult concepts and take responsibility for their own learning. It is also an opportunity for teachers and students to look at possible misconceptions and use them as a vehicle for asking questions and finding ways to answer them. A simple, yet effective strategy, the chart itself is divided into three columns: K what I know, W what I would like to know, and L what I have learned. Creating the charts and keeping them accessible at all times as they work on light and optics enables students to easily keep track of any new ideas or information they may encounter, as well as any new questions that arise.

Required Materials

  • K-W-L charts
  • Science notebooks

What will the students do?

Students will think about lenses and make entries regarding them on their K-W-L charts. Since the class should have already completed Activity 1, students will have most likely already discussed microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, and other devices that assist us in seeing things that cannot be perceived by the naked eye. The prior discussion will largely serve as the basis of their K-W-L entries. However, depending upon their backgrounds and personalities, students will have varying numbers of entries in each of their charts' columns. Encourage students to make entries in the W column in the form of questions, further emphasizing the process of asking and answering questions.

Students can be motivated to make additions to their K-W-L charts as study progresses or as a culminating activity, entering what they think they have learned at the end of an activity or at the end of the entire unit of study. In addition to being used in regards to light and optics, this learning strategy can be used with other areas of inquiry and as an ongoing assessment of student mastery of difficult concepts.

For younger children, making a K-W-L chart on butcher paper on their table or desk so it is accessible as they are working might be helpful. Also, completing a class K-W-L with children who cannot write may help some students learn to articulate their ideas by talking them out with others.

Have older students react to each other's K-W-L charts by answering the following questions in their science notebooks: How is your K-W-L chart like your classmate's? Are there changes that you wish to make on your chart? What are they and how can you change it? What information is missing from your K-W-L that would help you?

Assessments - Check K-W-L charts either periodically or at the end of a set period of time. From time to time, remind students to write on their charts so that they will not have to try and remember everything at the end when you are ready to assign a grade. If students are filling in their charts in a way that makes sense to them and they can discuss their ideas with you, then they have successfully completed this task.

Activity Extensions

Expanding the K-W-L - You can add a column to the K-W-L chart in which students identify sources for answering their questions. It then becomes a K-W-W-L, due to the addition of a column entitled where I can find the information. For some students, this would be listing books, magazines, people, or places where they could find answers to their questions. It could also be a list of web sites students can access to find information.

Research - Have students design a plan for gathering the information that would help them answer their questions. After all, a student putting something in the W column that he or she wants to learn about serves no purpose unless the student has a strategy for acquiring that knowledge. A research plan or list of possible ways to find the desired information will help some students begin their search for answers.

Presentation - Students should design a way to present their completed K-W-L chart to the whole class, to a group of students, or as part of a class poster session. If you are doing a class K-W-L, students may wish to present their findings to other classes or to younger students. This will encourage others to ask questions and students will have to explain their findings. When all students have had a chance to see what others have done, brainstorm a class list of questions that remain unanswered. Use this list for students to plan and implement a way to test new ideas and answer questions.

Expository Writing - Scientists ask and answer questions, and so should students. Have your class members choose one question from their K-W-L charts and think about how they answered the question. Tell them to write a description of how they discovered the answer to the question.

History Vignette: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is known for many inventions, sayings, and accomplishments, but is important here for his development of the bifocal lens. The invention was spawned by the frustration he incurred when he discovered that he was both near-sighted and far-sighted. At first, he had two pairs of glasses and was constantly switching from one pair to the other, but then he decided to cut the lenses of both pairs in half, mounting one on top of the other in a single frame. The new design allowed him to read small print and see objects far away with the same pair of glasses.

Franklin was the son of an Englishman who moved to America in 1683. His father had been a textile dyer in England, but became a candle and soap maker in his new homeland due to a need for these items among the colonists. Since he had to change his occupation to earn a living, Franklin's father insisted that each of his sons learn a marketable trade. Franklin, however, showed the most academic promise in the family and was, therefore, enrolled in school at the age of 8. Yet, he had difficulty in mathematics and was soon withdrawn from school to serve as an apprentice in the printing business.

Franklin's older brother, James, was already in the printing trade and through his brother's connections with booksellers, Franklin began reading the classics in literature and philosophy, learning on his own as he apprenticed. Then, when James established a newspaper known as the New England Courant, Franklin's cleverness and talent contributed to the success of the publication. Only 16 years old, Franklin wrote stories using the pseudonym Silence Dogood and slipped them under the door of his brother's newspaper. No one knew who the author was, but the articles were published and made the newspaper, and Silence Dogood, famous. A certain amount of jealousy arose between the two brothers, however, and after a fistfight Franklin left Boston and his brother's shop.

Franklin used his skill as a printer to find work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and eventually became a success in his own right. He married, started his own printing business, and lived a full life as an international diplomat, scientist, statesman, philosopher, musician, and economist. Franklin's experiments with electricity are well documented, as are his many inventions, which include the Franklin stove, the catheter, and the lightning rod.

Reading - Encourage students to read Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin As Written by His Good Mouse Amos (ISBN 0316517305) by Robert Lawson. This is the "true" story of Benjamin Franklin and his many adventures and accomplishments as told by his mouse-friend, Amos. Discuss the biography genre with your class and how the telling of one's life story can be accomplished with humor and fun.

Activity - Have students choose a famous person and imagine what pet that person would have. Then, students can write a story about something that happens to that person from the pet's perspective or point of view. Encourage students to include events that they have researched to provide a feeling of realism to their writing.

Artist Vignette: Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was chosen for this vignette because of the influence of political events upon his work. His art was largely used for political means, preserving major events and prevailing attitudes at the time of the French Revolution. After being imprisoned for voting for the King's execution and participating in political rallies, David was released because of his loyalist wife's influence. After his release, David transferred his efforts to painting Napoleon and his exploits. When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, David fled to Brussels, where he died ten years later.

David's work is filled with the minute details of political life in France around 1800. However, his attention to detail did not always portray reality. One famous work, Napoleon in His Study, is David's interpretation of Napoleon. Although the furniture and surrounding accessories are true to the style of that time, David clearly took liberties with Napoleon's dress in order to indicate one of his health problems.

David's works are housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and in the Musee Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels. His combination of portraiture with the neoclassical style of painting contributed to the establishment of what is known as the French Empire style.

Activity - Have students choose a contemporary or historical political person and imagine that he or she has commissioned a portrait. Either have students create the portraits or simply plan the portraits, determining surroundings, furniture, accessories, and important documents that they may wish to include in the depiction. K-W-L charts may be used to help students determine what research they should complete to make the best choices for their portraits. Students should be able to explain to others the importance of each element of their paintings and how they characterize the subject.

Discussion - You may also want to point out that the portrait of Napoleon discussed previously was commissioned by an Englishman who was trying to gain Napoleon's favor in hopes of having the Stuarts restored to the British throne. This could be used as a starting point for a discussion regarding ways political favor may be gained or lost, and how such actions may sometimes alter the course of history.

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