December 11, 2014

Use a K-W-L chart to know when you are DONE studying

Everyone has a favorite tool for studying. Some students make flashcards, others create color-coded study guides, and even more burn the late night oil, rereading textbooks and class notes. But how many students actually know when they’ve finished studying? How many students can say, with certainty, that they’ve covered and understand everything that will be on the exam?

The answer is very few. It is rare that a student knows how much studying is appropriate. Most study too little, and a few study too much, exhausting their brains long before their time to shine. A lot of students have regrets after taking a quiz, thinking, “I should have spent more time on [this],” or “I can’t believe I didn’t review [that]!” While no solution is entirely foolproof, there is a strategy to help: KWL Charts.

KWL stands for “Know, Want to Know, and Learned.” KWL Charts provide an opportunity for students to practice self-monitoring skills (an important  executive function skill) as they assess their progress toward their studying goals. Having great study skills is important, but being able to monitor progress, and ensure that the job is done right, makes an immense difference in your students’ grades, confidence, and overall understanding.

KWL: Know, Want to Know, Learned

A KWL chart includes 3 columns, labeled from left to right with the headings “Know,” “Want to Know,” and “Learned.” Used in conjunction with a teacher’s “review sheet” or “study guide,” KWL charts help your child track which topics he does and doesn’t know. Here’s how it works:

  1. First, your child looks over the topics (content) to be covered on his exam. He records the content (terms, themes, formulas, etc.) he feels he understands thoroughly, without question, already. Those terms go in the “Know” column. Given his clear knowledge of those terms, your child can choose to “brush up” on them briefly, or move on and devote his studying to more pressing topics.
  2. Those “pressing topics” — any content your child doesn’t know immediately, or feels unsure about ― go in the “Want to Know” column. This list serves as your child’s guide, showing which topics still need to be learned. The “Want to Know” list directs your child’s attention to only those specific chapters, units, or problem sets that pose difficulty and require sustained attention. The “Want to Know” column is also a great place to generate questions to ask the teacher in class.
  3. As your child studies, he can transfer “Want to Know” topics into the “Learned” column when he feels she has mastered that content. If he learns additional facts along the way that he thinks may be important, he can record that in the “Learned” column too. The “Learned” column builds your child’s confidence by showing him exactly how much progress he has made. Your child can point to that column and say, “Look how much I know! And look how hard I worked!” To make the “Learned” column an even more active studying technique, your child can record “Learned” items only when he is able to teach those subjects clearly to someone else.

KWL Charts are simple and effective and the benefits are many:

  • First, KWL increases your child’s efficiency while studying, which allows her to study smarter. By first noting known topics, your student avoids needlessly reviewing mastered content.
  • Second, the “Want to Know” column keeps students from straying from the topics at hand. It assembles a clear to-do list to follow and check-off along the way.
  • Finally, the “Learned” column both monitors progress and celebrates accomplishment. If students study over the course of several days, they have a clear log of the previous days’ achievement, and they know where to begin again to continue their progress. Perhaps most importantly, when all the “Want to Know” items have been transferred to the “Learned” column, your student can make an informed decision about when to stop studying. He won’t stop too soon, because there is still more to be “Learned,” and he won’t overdo it when, at last, the “Want to Know” column has been exhausted.

Engaging Minds tutors use KWL Charts in our sessions to train important executive function skills like self-monitoring, planning, and time-management. KWL charts are versatile, which make them a good choice for many types of assignments. They can be used not only to prepare for tests, but also to track research for projects, memorize vocabulary for the SATS, aid reading comprehension, and more. With your child’s midterms just around the corner, urge him to begin using a KWL Chart. He’ll most certainly go into each exam feeling confident and better prepared.