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Exercise: The Power of Previewing—The KWL Reading Method

Exercise: Reading to Learn—The KWL Reading Method: Know, Want to Know, Learned             

Grab the text for your next reading assignment. If it’s a long text choose one bite-sized piece (such as a chapter) for this exercise. Bear in mind that what follows is an instructive exercise, not a model for how you should approach all reading assignments in the wild!

On paper or your computer make three columns like this:

What we know already

What we want to know

What we learned

 

 

 

Now go through the three steps below to fill out the chart.

1. Know—To begin, give yourself a "preview" of the text at hand. Read the abstract (if applicable), title, subtitle, and author’s name(s). Likewise, if you are reading a textbook, you should glance ahead to the end of the chapter, where there may be helpful material such as review questions, vocabulary lists, and so on. Allow this data to jog your memory and form an idea of what topic(s) the reading will address. Do not begin reading yet!

Reflecting on this preview, list everything you already know about the topic in the “What we know already” column. Bullet points are fine—be general, but not vague. For example, you might remember that “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell,” but you should not claim that you know everything there is to know about mitochondria (the next step considers the gaps in your understanding).

What we know already

What we want to know

What we learned

  • Mitochondria are organelles, found inside cells
  • “The powerhouse of the cell”
  • Red blood cells lack mitochondria
  • Contain ribosomes
  • Have their own DNA

 

 

2. Want to Know—In the next column, list all the questions you can formulate about the topic based on what you already understand and on the other cues from your "preview" (section headings, review questions). You are encouraged to glance ahead to the headings, charts, photographs, and so on to inform your questions. Remember, the goal of reading is learning, so be ambitious with what you want to learn from this text! Make sure you frame every point in this column as a question.

What we know already

What we want to know

What we learned

  • Mitochondria are organelles, found inside cells
  • “The powerhouse of the cell”
  • Red blood cells lack mitochondria
  • Contain ribosomes
  • Have their own DNA
  • How exactly do mitochondria produce energy?
  • Why do some cells lack mitochondria?
  • What do ribosomes do for mitochondria?
  • Why is it important that mitochondria have their own DNA?

 

3. Learned—Now, with your questions in mind, read the text! As you do so, add new information to the “What we learned column.” This will include answers to your questions from the previous column, but will also include totally new information that you did not expect.

What we know already

What we want to know

What we learned

  • Mitochondria are organelles, found inside cells
  • “The powerhouse of the cell”
  • Red blood cells lack mitochondria
  • Contain ribosomes
  • Have their own DNA
  • How exactly do mitochondria produce energy?
  • Why do some cells lack mitochondria?
  • What is the functional link between ribosomes and mitochondria?
  • Why is it important that mitochondria have their own DNA?
  • Range from 0.5 to 1.0 micrometer in diameter
  • Provide energy by producing ATP through several chemical processes
  • Mammalian red blood cells lack mitochondria (and all other organelles) because it leaves more room for hemoglobin and also makes viral infection of these cells impossible
  • Divide by binary fission (like the nucleus); can reproduce independently according to the cell’s energy needs

Some questions (italicized) may not be answered in the course of reading, and that’s okay! These are the kinds of questions you should bring to office hours, or save for a later reading that you think may better address them. Furthermore, new questions will likely arise in the course of reading that you should add to your "want to know" list.

As mentioned above, the KWL Method is not meant as a strategy to use for all your reading assignments. Rather, it is intended to illustrate a guiding principle that you can apply as you move into the realm of active reading: It is helpful to reflect on your background understanding of a topic before tryiing to learn new material on that topic.  Think of this as setting up a mental scaffolding on which to build your understanding. In the exercise, you consulted your memory to see what you already knew. You might take this one step further and review your class notes to jog your memory, or perform a cursory Google search on the author and topic. We encourage you to develop your own practices to prime yourself for what you are about to learn.

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