Friday, December 12, 2014

Not your normal KWL

Hi there!  This is Melissa from First Grade Smiles and I'm back this month to share something I do in my class when I begin a new nonfiction unit.  

I don’t know about you, but when I went to school I was told that the KWL chart was one of the best ways to begin learning about a new topic.  It accomplished the task of activating prior knowledge, had students asking questions and setting a purpose for learning, and then they recorded any new information that they learned.   I’m not saying that a KWL chart is bad or outdated by any means, but I have personally found a new way of beginning units and I won't go back - a Schema Chart.  
*The idea for this cutie penguin chart came from Cara Carroll*

Here’s why I love me some schema charts: When students share what they “know” about a topic on a KWL, sometimes they are not correct.  For example, Penguins can fly.  As a teacher, what do you do when that happens?  Do you tell them they are wrong or do you write the incorrect information on the KWL only to have to cross it off later?  I never liked that decision because I didn’t think either one was a good solution to the problem.  By using a Schema Chart you don’t have to make students feel bad anymore and you can let them DISCOVER their own misconceptions while learning.  

We begin each unit by sharing all of our schema about the topic we are about to study.  I use post-its so we can easily move them around later if we need to.  When I first introduce the terms SCHEMA and MISCONCEPTIONS I explain that schema is what we “think” we know about a topic. Sometimes we “know” something and then realize that we didn’t have all the facts.  This is called a misconception.  I’ll say something like: “Is it ok to be “wrong” when we really thought we knew something?  Of course - it happens to the best of us!  Is it fun to be wrong?  No, but in our classroom we don’t make anyone feel bad when they get an answer wrong.  It’s all part of learning.  None of us, including me, knows everything there is to know, so we won’t make anyone feel bad if they had a misconception.  We just move our ideas over to misconceptions and write down some of our new learning.”  Give them a quick explanation of how we will handle misconceptions and how that is all part of the process of learning.  Of course, it’s all in the way you, as the teacher, deliver it.  

The next two parts of a schema chart are the same as a KWL - QUESTIONS and NEW LEARNING. We think of questions we want answered and as we move through the unit we add new learning to our chart.  And again, we move misconceptions over as we discover our new learning.  

When I started using schema charts to begin my units I  really saw my 1st graders using the language of schema and misconceptions.  I heard them support each other when they learned they were wrong and say, “Oops, that was a misconception!  Now we have some new learning!”  It was a great thing!  

Now,  you can make your charts look cute and more engaging like my penguin or reindeer, which of course take a little longer.  
Or you can just use a piece of chart paper with columns for each part.  Personally I like the visual, but sometimes I don't have the time or might forget to prepare my charts ahead of time.  Here is one that I did on the fly about 5 minutes before we started learning about The First Thanksgiving.
The kids were eating snack while I was making it and it was actually so fun for them to see me put this together and talk about what they thought we would be doing next.  Bad teacher planning on my part, but it did spark curiosity.  

After I realized how much I really loved using schema charts to begin my units, I created a little pack called Be a Fact Finder that I could use with ANY nonfiction unit.  It includes chart pieces and a student component of the schema chart, as well as tons of other activities that can be used during whole group or guided reading and writing.  Click HERE if you want to check it out in more detail.  

I would love to hear any other ideas you have for sparking interest and activating prior knowledge when you begin a new unit.  Comment below and share :)

Have a wonderful holiday!!  See you next month!!



  1. That is so brilliant!!! I think KWL charts are perfectly fine, but I've never been in love with them. The schema chart this is true love! It makes misconceptions just a natural part of the learning process. Plus, your charts are absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing!

    Kindergarten Teacher at the Wheel

    1. Aww thanks for the kind words Amanda!! These have really changed how I approach new units. :)

  2. I like how more thought out this is than the KWL chart! This really kids the students thinking and processing new information! I MUST try this in the future! :)

    Fishing for Education

    1. I agree! I really think you will love these if you do try them out. :)

  3. Awesome post Melissa!!! Your charts look amazing. I also prefer the schema charts over the KWL but mine don't look near as cute as yours! I absolutely love those!