Teach the Election: Use the Student Centered K-W-L

Let Students Decide! "Know-Want to Know-Learn"

What do students KNOW; What do they WANT to know; What did they LEARN=the K-W-L. DigitalVision Vectors/GETTY Images

The Know-Want to Know-Learn strategy (K-W-L) is an instructional reading strategy that is used to guide students through a text or topic. This strategy was explained in  The Reading Teacher, (Vol. 39, Feb 1986), in an article titled K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text  The author, Donna M. Ogle, noted that the K-W-L strategy allowed teachers the opportunity to "honor what children bring to each reading situation." 

Ogle also noted that:

"...the K-W-L strategy is a simple procedure that can be used with nonfiction selections at any grade level and in any content, whether in reading groups or in content learning situations."

Purpose of K-W-L

The K-W-L strategy serves several purposes:

  • Determines students’ prior knowledge of the topic or the text.
  • Provides students a purpose for research or reading.
  • Helps students to monitor comprehension during or after research or reading.

Using the K-W-L to teach the 2016 Presidential Election:

With students who use Google at every opportunity to find answers or who use social media as a way to gain information, teachers must also teach students how to determine opinion from fact. Students will need the ability to separate false/slanted/or biased information from authentic information from in order to make informed conclusions.

The 2016 campaign is covered in our current  24/7 news cycle.

This constant coverage, including some ugly comments made by or about the candidates, offers educators an unprecedented opportunity to engage students in the messy democratic election process. 

Educators can use this election to help students become critical thinkers. The first steps are to determine what students already know...and how to separate their own opinions in doing research.

Create K-W-L charts 

Ask students to create three columns (fold in thirds/draw columns) on a sheet of paper: 
At the top of the page, write these questions across each column:

  • Column One: What do you Know about the topic?  
  • Column Two: What do you Want to know?  
  • Column Three: What did you Learn?  

1. KNOW:  "What do you already know about this election?"

​The first column should not be limited to an individual. In her article, Ogle encourages straightforward brainstorming of what the group knows about the topic for reading. Ogle suggests, "During this step the teacher's role is to record whatever the students volunteer about the topic on the board or an overhead projector." 

Often teachers will create a master list of all students’ responses. This brainstorming process is also an opportunity to address misconceptions students’ share. Sometimes it is appropriate to correct false information at this point in the process.

Given the volatility of this year's election season, a brainstorming session is also important to set some ground rules.  Teachers should allow students the chance to correct misconceptions as they learn new material.

2. WANT: "What do you want to know about the election?"

According to Ogle,

"The stimulation of questions, of uncertainties, is a key part of the brainstorming that goes on prior to reading." 

In brainstorming, many students do not know where to begin because they lack background knowledge on the topic. A teacher can jumpstart this process by listing the six questions prompts (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?) that most journalists use in order to begin the brainstorming. As students’ share what they want to learn, teachers should mark those questions they hope students will learn in the unit.

The following questions could be used in the "want to know" column for the election:

  • Who can run for President?​**(sample example answer to this questions below)
  • Who can vote in a Presidential Election?
  • What is the Electoral College?
  • How many Electoral College votes are available in your state?

    *Who can run for President?

    • ​example: No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. (Section 1 of Article Two of the United States Constitution )

    Other questions can be developed around each candidate's position on the most pressing issues facing the nation. Students can frame their questions as a compare or contrast. For example,

    "What is the position of Donald Trump (Republican nominee) versus Hillary Clinton (Democratic nominee) on the topic of climate change?"  

    Students may not limit their questions to the presidential election. Students may brainstorm questions on other candidates who may be running in state or local races.

    Some of the issues in 2016 that students could research or read about include:

    • Immigration
    • Health Care
    • Jobs and the Economy
    • Social Issues
    • Education/College
    • Environment/Energy
    • Terrorism
    • Guns and Violence

    Personal interest should guide the students' choice on which question(s) they would like to read about or research. Educator Robert Marzano in The Highly Engaged Classroom (2010) presents research to support student choice as critical to engagement:

    "providing choices to students of all age levels often increases their intrinsic motivation. Choice in the classroom has also been linked to increases in student effort, task performance, and subsequent learning." 

    Choice of topic is critical to motivating students. In this way each student develops a commitment that will keep him or her engaged in reading and researching the election. 

    3. LEARN: "What have students learned about this election?"

    As they learn about the election, students can return to their K-W-L charts and  add what they learn to the last column. The emphasis on separating opinion from fact must be part of an ongoing exercise as student complete their research.  

     As students record what they have learned, they can check off any questions that they can now answer. This is also the opportunity to correct any misconceptions they may have held before beginning the unit.
    Sharing the results can also be one way that student can fact-check their research. 

    Variations on the K-W-L strategy include adding an "S" for what students still want to know (K-W-L-S)


    In explaining the K-W-L process, Ogle noted that the strategy was particularly effective because it was student-centered:

    "The number of students participating generally shows real gains over time; the quality of their thinking improves; and the involvement in and enthusiasm for reading nonfiction goes from lukewarm to really keen."

     Rather than fear teaching the 2016 election because of the controversies, some of which become enflamed on social media, educators can take the opportunity to help students ask questions about this year's electoral process.They can guide students to select questions that are meaningful to them.

    Finally, after students read and research the answers to these questions, they can share what they have learned. The K-W-L helps teachers honor what students bring to the class on this year's election.

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    Your Citation
    Bennett, Colette. "Teach the Election: Use the Student Centered K-W-L." ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/teaching-the-2016-election-4096468. Bennett, Colette. (2017, February 21). Teach the Election: Use the Student Centered K-W-L. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-the-2016-election-4096468 Bennett, Colette. "Teach the Election: Use the Student Centered K-W-L." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-the-2016-election-4096468 (accessed January 21, 2018).