KWHLAQ Chart: Developing the Thinking Process

Summary of the KWHLAQ Chart

KWL charts have been a mainstay of most classrooms for many years. Students are often asked what they know, what they want to know and then later on what they have learned. Several years ago an alternative was created called KWHLAQ (see Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog ). Using the chart with your students can provide teachers with the opportunity to pre-assess and learn more about their students' thinking during the process of learning, giving ample opportunities to differentiate for individual students, use data from the chart to inform further teaching or revise previously created lesson or unit plans.

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Source: A Principal's Reflections Blog

K - What do we think we know about this subject?

This step asks the learner to brainstorm what he/she already thinks they know about a given topic. It allows for space to connect previous knowledge to a current topic of inquiry. Some students may think they know something at the beginning of the unit, only to find out that it is in fact a misconception as they delve in deeper. It's ok to think something and then later on to revise what they are thinking .

W - What do we need to find out?

This step embodies the answer to the question of “Who owns the learning?” It supports self-motivated learning which is a critical component when looking at depth of learning. It allows the learner to think about their needs and interests and to develop an articulation of deeper level questions. Students need to think about what they need to find out in order to address the provocation, solve the problem or to answer questions they may have.

H - How will we find out the answers to our questions?

This step is at the heart of information literacy and the skills to find, analyze, evaluate, connect and curate information that will serve our learning. This step allows for exposure to and amplification of traditional means of locating information (traditionally from books, articles, magazines, online websites) to potentially include information crowdsourcing through a social media network or platform, from images or video searches, through hashtags or video conferencing. Students need to think about what resources are available to help them find the answers.

L - What are we learning and what have we learned?

This step is the reflective component in the process. John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from the experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience.” Reflection can be added at the end of the process or be compiled as the process of learning is unfolding. This step allows the learner to stop, look back, look ahead, make connections, make predictions, pay attention to patterns and trends and look for the implications of their learning. We can ask this question every day as students find out new information.

A - What action will we take?

This step connects what you have learned in the classroom to the real world. How will the learner apply their new-found understanding creatively in other contexts or with other content? The action taken gives the learning content authenticity. The response in this step will give the student the answer to the question “Why do I have to learn this?” This is another way of asking how students are applying what they have learned. Action is one of the 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. (Connects to student agency)

Q - What new questions do we have?

This step helps to reinforce the idea that learning is a lifelong, interconnected process, and that one question leads to another. This step reinforces that we are not “done” when a unit is over, a book is read or a project is completed. Learning is not contained to a single subject area, limited by the calendar age of a learner or the curriculum dictations. 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 there should be more questions - we should not be "done" with learning.

Sources: the book "Why are School Buses always Yellow?" by John Barell & Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog )
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21st Century Skills & Literacies

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The term 21st-century skills refer to a broad set of knowledge, skills, and work habits that are believed to be important for students to learn and demonstrate in the 21st century. These skills are increasingly important as educators are charged to prepare students for unknown future. The core of 21st century skills have been identified as the 5 Cs:

    • Communicate

    • Collaborate

    • Connect

    • Create

    • Critical thinking

In addition, here are several 21st-century literacies:

    • Global Literacy– the understanding of how the world is organized and interconnected. The Global Competence Matrix offers a framework of Global Competencies of what global education is, how it functions, and outlines the skills needed to be globally competent. Globally competent students are adaptable, life-long learners who have the knowledge and skills 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 behaviour 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.

H– HOW 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 neighbourhood 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 Curriculum 21 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)

Sources: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog ; Globalocity: A Global Education Resource Guide; Harvard Business Review
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Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog
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Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog

Visible Thinking Routines & KWHLAQ

There are specific thinking routines well suited for each step of the KWHLAQ chart. Revisiting a Visible Thinking Routine is also good practice to document changes in thinking over time. (See Visible Thinking page)

Step “K”– What do I know?

  • Headlines A routine for capturing the essence

  • Colour, Symbol, Image A routine for distilling the essence of ideas non-verbally

  • Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate A routine for organizing one’s understanding of a topic through concept mapping

  • Chalk Talk A routine that asks learners to consider ideas, questions, or problems by silently responding in writing both to the prompt and the thoughts of others

Step “W”– What do I want to learn?

  • Headlines A routine for capturing the essence

  • See Think Wonder A routine for exploring works of art and other interesting things

  • Chalk Talk A routine that asks learners to consider ideas, questions, or problems by silently responding in writing both to the prompt and the thoughts of others

  • Compass Points A routine for examining propositions

  • Connect Extend Challenge A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge

Step “H”– How will I find out?

Step “L” -What have I learned?

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Step “A”– What action will I take?

Step “Q”– What further questions do I have?

Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog

Reflection & KWHLAQ

One of the key elements of the "Enhanced PYP" is the role "reflection" plays throughout each step of the learning process. Formally one of the 8 key concepts, reflection now is now embedded as a guiding concept from the beginning to the end of a learning engagement. 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?

How Does Reflection Connect to KWHLAQ

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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?

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?

Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog

KWHLAQ Platforms and Tools

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There is nothing written in stone that says that you or your students need to use a paper and pencil to “fill out” the KWHLAQ chart. Nothing holds you back from doing so, but there are many other options you can mix and match to learn and document with the KWHLAQ chart. Try out these different platforms and tools, add your own, and see which ones suit your students' learning, thinking and documenting style best.

Step “K”– What do I know?

    • Mind Maps & Brainstorming - Use mind maps and brainstorming tools (on paper or in digital form) to capture your thoughts and arrange them in ways that make sense to you.

    • Blog Posts - Create a separate blog post for each step in the KWHLAQ chart, to be connected by links to later steps in the KWHLAQ process

    • Video Journal - Use of video to brainstorm and reflectively think about pre-existing knowledge of a topic

    • Sketchnoting - Use visual note taking techniques to represent pre-existing knowledge of a topic

    • Analog Sticky Notes - Use paper sticky notes to brainstorm and organize your thoughts. There is a possibility to scan, organize and archive them digitally afterward with the Post-It app (iOs)

    • Collaborative Pinwalls - Collaboratively contribute knowledge of the group with websites such as Padlet or Linoit

    • Graphic Organizer template (analog) - Using pen & paper to fill out the KWHLAQ chart as you move along the learning process. You can also use chart paper to create an anchor chart for collaborative classroom use.

    • Graphic Organizer template (digital) - Use a Word Processor (ex. Google Docs), a Spreadsheet (Google Sheets) or presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote or Google Presentation to create your own template of the KWHLAQ chart.

Step “W”– What do I want to learn?

    • Blog Posts - Create a separate blog post for each step in the KWHLAQ chart, to be connected by links to later steps in the KWHLAQ process. Reflectively think about your needs and interest in the area of the topic.

    • Paper Journal - Have students write each step in their paper journal to have documentation that can be re-visited later in order to draw conclusions and make comparisons. Reflectively think about your needs and interests in the area of the topic.

    • Mind Maps & Brainstorming - Use mind maps and brainstorming tools (on paper or in digital form) to capture your thoughts and arrange them in ways that make sense to you.

    • Analog Sticky Notes - Use paper sticky notes to brainstorm and organize your thoughts. There is a possibility to scan, organize and archive them digitally afterward with the Post-It app (iOs)

    • Sketchnoting - Use visual note taking and doodling to create visual representations of the learners’ expectations regarding what they want to learn further about a given topic and specific areas to investigate.

Step “H”– How will I find out?

    • Online Search - Information literacy requires from us the skills to find, evaluate, analyze, filter, categorize, tag, archive, remix and create new information. We need to know to possess search skills that allow us to use specific keywords and apply filters to be able to narrow down and sift through hundreds of thousands of search results.

    • Learning Network Search - With the ever-increasing information available online, we need to learn how to not only rely on algorithms of search engines to get the information that we seek but increasingly rely on members of our learning network to filter and curate the information that we desire.

    • Books/Magazines/Journals/Newspaper - Traditional information sources in analog or digital version

    • Face2Face Interviews - We can’t underestimate the power of our network that we know personally

    • Contact with Experts & Authors - The middleman is gone. Many subject area experts and authors are available to be contacted directly via their social media presence. Part of the 21st-century mind shift consists in being aware of the option and taking the necessary steps to get in contact.

    • Video Conferences - Through the power of free video conferencing tools, being able to hold a conversation, conduct an interview and to receive information from people who are geographically not available to ask them in person.

Step “L” -What have I learned?

    • Blog Posts - The blogging platform is ideal to post a reflective entry about what was learned.

    • Reflective, hyperlinked product - Create an audio or video journal that demonstrates your reflective learning process and learning evidence.

    • Artifact serves as evidence of learning - Create any artifact, in any media (text, image, video, audio, multimedia, analog or digital) to show evidence of your learning.

    • Visually represent learning - Don’t discount the power of visuals. Demonstrating what you have learned does not necessarily have to be in text format. How can images, illustrations, or videos serve the purpose of making learning visible?

    • Sketchnoting - “Visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines” are a popular option to demonstrate what you have learned.

    • Visual annotated Image - Using photographs or images and adding text to make learning that occurred evident and visible for the viewer

    • Infographic - Infographics are a visual representation of content and data. Infographics can be an ideal medium to show your understanding of what was learned.

Step “A”– What action will I take?

    • Blog Posts - Continue writing on your blog by posting a new entry (and linking to the other blog posts of each step of your KWHLAQ). Share the action steps you plan to take, now that you have gained new understanding.

    • Lessons - Create lesson plans to teach others what you have learned

    • Teach someone else - Create sharable tutorials to teach someone else what you have learned

    • Create/make something new - What can you create, now that you have knowledge and understanding that you did not have before? How can you solve a problem by creating something new and useful?

    • Share/disseminate your learning on a local/global scale - Take the next step to amplify your learning and do not keep it to yourself. Find a way to share your learning with others in your classroom, school building, community, city, country and the rest of the world.

    • What? So What? Now What? Use the last segment (Now What? To help you think about what action you will take)

      • What? Describe the experience; outline what happened that compelled you to think about and change your behaviour (i.e. learn).

      • So What? Describe what difference it makes; outline what impact or meaning it has for you (or why it should matter to others).

      • Now What? Describe what’s in store for the future now that you’ve learned from this experience; outline what you are going to do to continue your professional development in light of this learning.

Step “Q”– What further questions do I have?

    • Reflect on the process of learning metacognition - Thinking about your thinking can be messy. It is nevertheless a vital component of our learning process. Use reflection routines, such as

    • Google Sites - Use a platform, such as Google Site, to create a website to collect further questions you have and link resources and answers to your questions as you are continuing to investigate

    • Continue exploring questions around the topic collaboratively - Find a platform, such as a Wiki, Google Docs, Google Presentation or a Google Site where you can collaboratively collect questions with other learners about the topic you have learned about. Find ways to connect with others who seem to have the same questions to continue the investigation into a topic and to continue learning.

Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog
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Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog
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Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog

KWHLAQ Student Template

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Source: Silvia Tolisano- Langwitches Blog

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