Usage of the KWHLAQ: Upgrade your KWL Chart to the 21st Century

This is the second post in a three part series of posts around the KWHLAQ chart and its use for reflection, metacognition and documenting learning.

Embedding 21st Century Skills & Literacies

The term 21st-century skills refer to a broad set of knowledge, skills, and work habits that have always been believed to be important skills but have taken on a broader scope and importance, as we prepare ourselves to learn, teach and work in the second decade of the 21st century. These skills are increasingly important as educators are charged to prepare students for unknown future. These so-called 21st-century skills (also known as contemporary skills, modern skills or the “now” skills) have been identified as the 5 Cs:

  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Connect
  • Create
  • Critical thinking

In addition, we identify several 21st-century literacies:

  • global literacy– the understanding of how the world is organized and interconnected. The four competencies, according to Global Competency Matrix,  are the ability to investigate the world, recognize perspective, communicate ideas and to take action.
  • media literacy– In our media culture, media literacy means the ability to read and write beyond text format only. Being media literate includes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.
  • network literacy– The ability to see and understand networks and use them to your advantage. According to Eric Hellweg from the Harvard Business Review, the four attributes of network literacy are the ability to obtain a basic understanding of network technology, craft your own network identity, understand network intelligence, and understand network capabilities.
  • information literacy– We live in an era of information to the point that many consider it information overload. The growth of information and access to it is at a historical high with the understanding that it will continue to increase at an exponential rate. Information literacy is the ability to filter and find information, analyze, evaluate, tag, categorize, organize, archive, store, find it again, connect, curate, present, re-mix and create new types of information.
  • digital citizenship – Digital citizenship is defined by what society considers to be the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior in the digital world. Terry Heick further identifies digital citizenship as “the quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.”

These literacies expand beyond the basic literacy of knowing how to read and write in the mainly text-oriented environment of our lives before the 21st century. The skills and literacies mentioned are key for students to be exposed to, supported in and given the chance and choices to learn in environments that provide opportunities to strengthen these abilities.

In the KWHLAQ chart, the “H”, “A” & “Q” steps are specifically tailored towards supporting 21st-century skills and literacies.

HHOW will we find the information to answer “What we want to know?”

Information Literacy presents a great challenge for many educators and students. The OVERLOAD of information being produced and disseminated online, as well as the fact that ANYONE can contribute, often gets blamed for wasted time, misinformation or frivolous or inaccuracies, when conducting searches online. Not being able to find the information that is needed in the sea of search results or having to wonder if the information is accurate, is often used as an excuse to exclude or minimize the use of online search skills as part of the curriculum.

We need to have the skills to be able to deal with an abundance of information by learning how to filter that information through a variety of lenses. What better way than to integrate the “H” into our learning inquiries in order to find, evaluate, analyze, organize, curate and remix information.

A– What ACTION will we take once we have learned what we set out to know?

There once was a time, when most of us were going to school (K-16), that information was set in stone, or better said,  it was written in black and white on paper and/or bound in a book. The learner could not add his or her perspective or new information that was learned on their own, from their teacher, family, friends or from experience to the “book.”  Issues that were learned about, were (mostly) far removed (time and geographically) from the learner’s own reality. How could one learner accomplish change beyond his immediate surroundings? The reality of the feeling that one can’t have an impact beyond one’s own neighborhood has changed drastically in recent decades. Tools to reach and collaborate with a worldwide audience are available and free to use. Making learners aware of their power and the opportunities available to take action is imperative.

Q– What QUESTIONS do we have?

The “Q”, immediately brings this quote from the book Curriculum21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs to mind:

“ It isn’t the answer anymore… it is the question!” -Bill Sheskey

Sheskey has summed up a main component of the upgraded KWL chart. In education, it is not about delivering the answers anymore. In the 21st century, being able to ASK the questions (and continue asking), is a vital skill we must instill in our students. Learning is not confined to a textbook, the walls of a classroom or peers and experts who are physically in the same location. Learning is open-ended…we strive to be lifelong learners. Why would a chart end with the question “What have I learned?”.

While all steps of the KWHLAQ chart provide opportunities to have learners read, write and communicate their thoughts and ideas, there is ample opportunity to embed the above mentioned 21st-century skills and literacies.


Take step “K” and “W”– What do I know? and What do I want to know? Instead of having students simply fill out the chart using text,  ask them to record a brief video or audio journal (> create media) entry sharing what they know about the topic.

Take step “H”– How will I find out? Instead of having students use traditional, text-heavy sources to research (ex. Books or Internet searches), ask students to “search people,” by interviewing people they know in person or via e-mail or video conferences (> network literacy > information literacy). Ask students to go beyond traditional web searches and search specifically for images, videos, podcast or through slide decks of presentations shared online (>media literacy).

Take step “A”– What action will I take? Instead of having students share their action steps (what they plan to do with their newfound knowledge and understanding of the given topic) with their teachers and classmates alone, find ways to have students teach others on a larger scale by creating a website/blog/ Instagram or other social media account (>communicate > create> digital citizenship > media literacy > network literacy, information literacy)

Take step “Q”– What further questions do I have? Instead of accessing questions that one person with one perspective, interpretation and pre-knowledge of a topic comes up with, ask your students to crowdsource further questions to investigate (>collaborate >network literacy)


John Dewey is often quoted as saying “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience.”  The KWHLAQ chart gives the learner the opportunity to stop, pause and pay attention to individual phases/steps of their learning process. While it seems obvious that step “L – What have I learned?” is more reflective in nature, in fact, all steps support reflection by the learner. Bob Dillon, in an Edutopia article, reminds us of the importance of reflection:

“Cementing learning takes reflection. Long-term memory and the ability to organize and access information at a later time requires making sense of the information that you’re retaining shortly after you acquire it.“

Take a look at Paul Solarz’ students as they respond to the following prompt: Tell me how completing the KWHLAQ chart gets you to reflect and process what you learned during Passion Time? Why do I have you do a separate reflection at the end of each round?

For Example:

Take step “K”– What do I know?
During this step, we are building background knowledge. We recall previous learning experiences, list facts, separate facts from opinions and make connections. We also look at our own perspectives and/or prejudices and how these can influence our learning, our knowledge, and understanding.

Take step “W”- What do I want to know?
During this step, we are looking ahead. We build awareness of the necessary curiosity that leads and supports learning. Questions, such as “Where will my investigation lead?” and “How do I overcome that I don’t know what I don’t know?” aid in the metacognitive (thinking about your thinking) process of reflection.

Take step “H”– How will I find out?
This step requires critical thinking strategies to select the best tools and platforms to conduct our investigation and research. Being metacognitively aware to successfully plan, monitor and evaluate the investigation process is critical to the ever-changing skills and aptitudes of being information literate.

Take step “L”– What have I learned?
During this step, we are looking back at learning that has occurred as well as the steps that led to our new knowledge & understanding. We look intentionally at information and how it changes our thinking.. We develop abilities to articulate and make our learning visible to ourselves and others.

Take step “A”– What action will I take?
This step offers the opportunity to apply new knowledge. It becomes essential to reflect on “Who will be my audience?” when designing these actions. We ask ourselves “What impact will my actions have in the community, on a local and/or global scale?

Take step “Q”– What further questions do I have?

In our era of exponential change, it is more important than ever to possess the growth mindset of “learning never ends.” Lifelong learning includes our constant reflection and wonderings on the nature of our own learning process. We ask ourselves what further questions emerge out of that reflective process and how did the action(s) taken influence our learning?

Platforms and Reflective Experiences

Platforms and Reflective Experiences

Reflection can be a very personal experience. It is about your own train of thoughts, your own connections, your own conclusions that you took away from an experience. Not all media support the same type of reflections. Sometimes using a specific platform or media type gives us the opportunity to look at an experience(s) from different perspectives.   We should allow learners choices in how they express and make their reflections visible. The myriad of platforms available give us opportunities to reflect in different forms and from different angles, to think about our experiences through different lenses and to notice patterns and trends that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

Using text, we can simply reflect with the KWHLAQ organizer in a journal using a diary style writing genre. On blogs and websites, we can use hyperlinked writing to make connections and relationships visible. We can also use annotexting to add value to existing content by adding notes of our thoughts, connected to the KWHLAQs we are reading a given text.

Web 2.0 tools allow us to be interactive with content, use different media to create and reflect on our experiences with different types of tools. Creating our own Google Maps to reflect on geographic perspectives or using tools, such as Voicethread to react to content with text, voice or video responses, responding to each step of the KWHLAQ chart. Prezi, as a presentation tool, for example, allows us to create in a format to support a non-linear reflection.

The KWLHAQ tool can be used to reflect orally as a prompt or part of a classroom discussion or to allow students to conference in pairs or small groups.

An audio reflection can take shape in a podcast format, resembling a radio show, a newscast with interviews or even a sound seeing tour of a location which shares thoughts, impressions, and feelings via audio, guided by KWHLAQ.

Video can be a format for the KWHLAQ chart as a guideline. This guideline can help create the script of a video log/journal or support the annotations of a video filmed to make learning explicit. The KWHLAQ organizer can support video dubbing, by adding additional or supplementary audio recording on top of the film footage.

Mind mapping tools as a reflection platform support thought organization and concept ideation.

Using images to make different steps of the KWHLAQ  organizers visible, can extend the reflection process as it might activate different areas of the brain and serve as memory triggers.

Screencasting platforms (if you want to learn more), that allow us to teach others via tutorials or create virtual show & tell opportunities to support the KWHLAQ process beautifully. Screencasting can break down and make the process visible, allowing the learner to embed reflection in this process.

Twitter, a microblogging platform, serves as a medium to not only synthesize our learning in 140 characters or less but also to connect and network with a global audience. By breaking the KWHLAQ steps into manageable, shareable, connected and archivable chunks on Twitter, we not only open ourselves up for feedback, but also to amplified learning.

Examples from the Classroom

Teachers use the KWHLAQ chart to support a variety of pedagogical programs.

Maggie Hos-McGrane uses the PYP model (IB Primary Years Programme) as the base for her rationale of the expansion of the traditional KWL chart. She wrote a great post explaining the letters that make up the Alphabet Soup- KWHLAQ.

Maggie shows how the acronym applies to the PYP model at her school. She assigns the following explanation to the three “new” letters in the acronym

“H – How will we find out the answers to our questions?  Students need to think about what resources are available to help them find the answers. A – What action will we take?  This is another way of asking how students are applying what they have learned.  Action is one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP and it is an expectation of the PYP that inquiry will lead to responsible action initiated by students as a result of the learning process. Q – What new questions do we have?  At the end of a unit of inquiry there should be time to reflect on whether we have successfully addressed our initial questions and whether we have come with other questions.  Actually, if the unit is successful I believe there should be more questions – we should not be “done” with learning.”

Paul Solarz, has mastered the student-led classroom. In his book “Learn like a Pirate”, he uses the KWHLAQ chart to have students regularly check in with him about the progress of their work during a Passion Project. The KWHLAQ chart is published and shared via a post on their classroom blog. Paul gives students time to complete the first three steps KWL; the other three steps will be completed towards the end of the six week project. Answering the questions on the  KWHLAQ chart “supplement the formal, written reflection and encourage students to do something with their newfound knowledge. Rather than quickly move on to the next project, students are encouraged to teach others (outside of the classroom) about what they learned and/or take it a step further and actually make a difference in the world somehow.”

Take a look at some Paul Solarz’ students’ KWHLAQ chart-

Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi share in their book “The Genius Hour Guidebook” the moment when “ Denise first tried the KWHLAQ chart, it was during science class with seventh graders. In a genetics unit, she asked students to complete the KWHLAQ chart, and she was so excited to see them take seriously the Action column. Students began to create and dream about how they could take action in fighting genetic diseases.”

You can read more about Denise’s experience with her students on her blog post: Such a Simple Question: What Action will I take?

Pedagogical Documentation

Pedagogical documentation can be “described as visible records (written notes, photos, videos, audio recordings, illustrations) that enable teachers, parents and children to discuss, interpret and reflect upon what is happening from their various points of view, and to make choices about the best way to proceed, believing that rather than being an unquestionable truth, there are many possibilities.”

The KWHLAQ chart purposefully and strategically scaffolds practices that articulate and capture the thinking associated with visible learning by using a variety of media forms. Each step in the chart gives the learner opportunities to capture a moment in the learning process. The documentation can serve as memory triggers, connectors between previously unconnected relationships, patterns or trends or supportive components of reflection.

For Example:

Take step “K”– What do I know? How can you make what you know visible to others? Collect artifacts (in analog or digital form) that demonstrate background knowledge. Record a short video or audio clip of the learner narrating their understanding. Create a mindmap or a sketchnote to list individual components and visually represent the relationships between them

Take the step “W”– What do I want to learn? Make it a point to get what you want to learn out of your head and write it down, sketch it, record it, make it visible. The task of “getting it out of your head” and to make it shareable with others also increases your ability to connect with others through a network (classroom, local or global community) who might want to learn the same things as you. Making documenting this step part of the learning process, increases the possibilities of learning with and from others who are interested in the same topics.

Take step “H”– How will I find out? Information literacy is one of the fastest changing domains in our information age. Documenting our skills and our abilities to search for information will not only bring it to the metacognitive level but also makes us teachers to others by sharing our strategies and methods to filter, find, evaluate, analyze and choose information.

Take step “L” -What have I learned? The ability to articulate what we have learned adds another layer to our learning. We are put in the role of teachers when we make learning visible and understandable to others. The awareness of our learning over time can come as a surprise or it can go unnoticed when we have no documentation to be able to look back to a time when we did not know or understand “yet.”  Documenting our learning creates awareness of our learning process, supports the recognition and analysis of the learning outcome as well as process and gives us ownership and competence.

Take step “A”– What action will I take? What we will do with what we have learned is, in a certain sense, even more important than the act of learning in itself. The action can take the form of making connections to future learning, it can be an act of making a difference in the world or taking on the responsibility to teach someone else. Documenting and sharing our work via websites, a product or face to face interaction can be the action in itself.

Take step “Q”– What further questions do I have? By documenting what further questions we have, we open the possibilities for others to gain an insight into our thinking and to possibly connect with our questions. The step of documenting our questions, (instead of simply thinking about them and leaving them in our head) is critical in order to make them concrete and available to others

Looking for Learning

Part of our job as educators is to not only impart content knowledge to our students but also to understand the development of learning and thinking. Looking for learning is the process of identifying, improving and then increasing learning in ourselves and our students. It is essential that our students understand that learning is not about memorizing content through facts to be regurgitated on a specific date for quizzes, tests, and exams. Learning is understanding, making connections, applying and internalizing ideas and knowledge. Learning how to learn draws on ideas of metacognition (thinking about your own thinking) and involves a set of skills that are based on principles of lifelong learning, self-directed and self-motivated learning, understanding the structures of learning techniques, and identifying methods that best serve us as individual learners.

The KWLHAQ chart can help in making thinking and learning visible as it highlights each step of the learning process. The chart can provide answers to the following questions:

  • How can we find answers to questions we want to learn about?
  • How will we find the information?
  • How can we find out what we want/need to learn?
  • How did the learning take place?
  • How can we learn more?

Take step “K”– What do I know? This is the starting point of all learning. Where do I stand? What abilities and knowledge do I have? Does “what I know” mean I understand? What does this mean in terms of the larger scope and big ideas? Allow yourself to answer these questions in a variety of media forms that support your way of brainstorming and organizing your thoughts (ex. Mindmapping, doodling, list making, narrative, etc.)

Take step “W”– What do I want to learn? Lifelong learning is based on knowing, that “we don’t know, what we don’t know”. That realization drives us to be curious, connect to others, to read, to view, to listen, to inquire, to conduct research, to go beyond our current knowledge and understanding.

Take step “H”– How will I find out? We used to find out by looking in books or other published material, by asking friends or family, consulting teachers or librarians, waiting for a program of interest on radio or TV or taking a class on the topic of our interest. The options available to anyone with an internet connection have drastically changed. We no longer rely on mostly print options but are able to learn from Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), video platforms (YouTube, Vimeo), slide decks (Slideshare), visual bookmarks (Pinterest), etc.

Take step “L” -What have I learned? Take time to reflect on the process. What type of learning has occurred? How has learning occurred?  What will we consider evidence of learning? How does learning manifest itself?  Looking for learning, seeing the value of learning in what we do, contributes an important piece to our overall attitude towards learning.

Take step “A”– What action will I take? What is the value of learning, if we do not do something with our gained knowledge and understanding? How will we apply what we have learned to other situations and in other contexts? Will we not make our learning even more visible, if we can demonstrate that we “learned” from past experiences, are able to apply and adapt to new situations and grow even further in our understanding?

Take step “Q”– What further questions do I have? Learning does not end, with the end of a project, lesson or unit. Learning is found in the understanding that things are interconnected and related in one shape or form, one that we might still have to uncover. Looking for learning supports the notion that we continue to look for further connections and relationships. We are in the constant flow of looking, of research and inquiry.

Action Steps

action steps

There are many ways you can try out the use of the KWHLAQ chart. There are analog and digital forms to use it with your students. There are also many different tools and platforms that allow you to use the graphic organizer.

Analog Format (no technology necessary)

  1. Individual student working on filling out a paper version of KWHLAQ chart to keep track of his/her learning journey
  2. Pairs: Using the Visible Thinking Routine (VTR) of Think/Pair/Share have two students use the routine to give structure to their work.
  3. Small Group of students collaboratively filling out a paper version of KWHLAQ chart as they work on a group project, research, passion project, etc.
  4. In Class Discussion uses the KWHLAQ steps to guide a discussion, connect conversations, reflect on learning and plan for next steps.
  5. Conferencing Student and teacher use the KWHLAQ steps to structure and guide individual conferences throughout the learning process or student uses KWHLAQ steps to present their process of learning to their parents in student-led conferences.
  6. Anchor Charts are displayed in the classroom to make the KWHLAQ structure and steps readily available. Students and teacher continually refer to chart and complete each step to make the thinking and learning process visible.
  7. Using Journals, students use the KWHLAQ steps to structure their writing and reflection of a lesson, unit or project.
  8. Sketchnotes allow for a visual representation of each step of the KWHLAQ chart and support the visual thinking that activates different areas of the brain, prior knowledge and a more creative approach to thinking about content.
  9. Sticky Notes are easily placed, moved, removed and re-arranged. They facilitate interacting with the KWHLAQ steps and content. Using sticky notes also support collaboration

Digital Format

  1. Individual students use a word document or a presentation software template to fill in the steps of the KWHLAQ chart to document, save, archive and access the file over time.
  2. Using a Collaborative Google Doc with a KWHLAQ table embedded, students access and use the chart to crowdsource their learning.
  3. Audience: Students share their learning with a Global Audience
  4. Students create a Website, Blog or other Social Media Presence to share the KWHLAQ chart, their knowledge, the steps in their learning process, their action and questions.
  5. The use of a digital Graphic Organizer, such as Mind Mapping tools, allows students to brainstorm, create, share and collaborate on KWHLAQ steps.
  6. For many people, technology can serve as an assistive tool when creating Sketchnotes (visual notes) in digital form. Incapable of interacting with paper, pencil or colors in analog form, the digital version allows the creator to focus on the content, not the medium. Learners would sketch the individual steps of the KWHLAQ chart with visuals and text annotations.
  7. Transmedia is a technique, that can be used to telling one’s learning experience across multiple platforms and formats. This could mean that a student would narrate the “What do I know?” step in a video journal entry, while another step might be documented through images that show different stages of a prototype model creation and yet another step might be shown through an audio file.
  8. The Smartphone, as a device to document, visualize, annotate in order to populate the different sections of the KWHLAQ graphic organizer can’t be beaten. It’s versatile ability to create different forms of media on one device and its ever-present handy nature, makes it the ideal documentation companion.

This was the second post in a three part series of posts around the KWHLAQ chart and its use for reflection, metacognition and documenting learning.