PLAs #1 – The KWL (and the KWHLAQ)

by / Wednesday, 17 June 2020 / Published in Instruction, PLAs

My favorite activity of all is the KWL. KWL is a graphic organizer used primarily as a pre-assessment and post-assessment tool, that frames the main part of any activity, lesson, unit, project, or term. It inspires critical reflection, creative thinking, curiosity, and a love of learning and research like no other activity. With three simple questions on the organizer, you have a gateway of opportunity to foster intrinsic motivation of learning more than anything.


  • What do I KNOW about [the topic] – this is the K of KWL, and is done as a pre-assessment.
  • What do I WANT to know about [the topic] – this is the W of the KWL, and also part of the pre-assessment.
  • What have I LEARNED about [the topic] – this is the L of the KWL and done at the end of learning as a reflective review.

You can do this on paper, in Nearpod with the Collaboration tool, or, my preference, the Draw It! tool (where I put a .png image as the background and ask students to use the text tool in Draw It! to write fill in their columns). Padlet is also a great tool for the KWL, as you can configure a Padlet page to have the three columns and make it more of a group brainstorm for the KW pieces.

After using the KWL for awhile, you can more easily move into KWL 2.0, or the KWHLAQ. The three additional questions are…

  • HOW will I find out? – This invites research and investigation into learning how to answer the W questions that they’ve developed. This is usually added on later into the pre-assessment activity.
  • What ACTION will I take next? – Here’s where the learning moves on through the end of learning and into actual application of learning. Action is a critical and creative skill that is easily incorporated into project-based or task-based learning approaches. Now that your students have learned something, here are the ways to apply it.
  • What further QUESTIONS do I still have? It’s always imperative to make sure that learning never actually stops, so pushing the Q is vital. This assures further support of intrinsic motivation that is needed to push students toward excellence.

What is brilliant about the KWL is that you can more than likely use any of the other nine activities from this series in many parts of the graphic organizer. If you look carefully at the KWHLAQ graphic embedded inside the KWL graphic, you’ll see a long list of sub-activities you can use with each of the six parts of KWHLAQ, many of which are explained in more detail in this series. These include brainstorming, mindmapping, and TPS.


Activity type: A combination of several activity types including pre-assessment, post-assessment, and summary.

HOTSKWL pretty much utilizes all aspects of Bloom’s Taxonomy, depending on how each of the three sections are done. In the end, this and all graphic organizers tap into higher order thinking more than anything.

Grouping: This is also flexible. Start with the KWL as a class activity, then progress to groups, then to individuals in a TPS mode, where they will then pair up with others, then share back with the entire class.

Online tool: Nearpod and Padlet are your best bet for having everyone participate. I use Nearpod’s DRAW IT feature and upload a KWL organizer as the background with the topic written into the three questions. For Padlet, you might use separate pages for all three parts of the KWL and all six parts of the KWHLAQ. Kahoot! and Quizziz can be used for the L as a review of all things learned while adding a fun twist to reviewing.

This is the final installment in the Top Ten Participatory Learning Activities (PLAs) Series. Each week, Dr. Larry Davies described PLAs that are effective to use online. Your use of these PLAs will foster better learning and higher motivation in your learners. Each PLA contains an illustration that contains four elements:

  • The name of the activity.
  • Which one of the four types the activity is (that’s the lightbulb), including,
    • Creative/critical thinking activity (inside the lightbulb, top left – the brain);
    • Small group conversational activity (bottom left – the speech bubbles);
    • Exit activity (given at the end of a lesson, unit, or project) (top right – the exit sign);
    • Timed activity (where learners are under pressure to complete it within minutes) (bottom left – the clock).
  • Whether it’s a Higher or Lower Order Thinking Skills Activity (HOTS or LOTS) (the HOTS/LOTS lever with “the pail”).
  • A suggested grouping to maximize the benefit of the activity (the circles arranged in many ways).

Also, the description will contain suggestions for one or more online tools you can use with the PLA.

Previous blogs in this series include:

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