Getting a Handle on KWL (pt. 3)

Today was a culminating day in our exploration of student-generated questions. (Please check out part 1 and part 2 of this discussion to get up to speed.)


I was a bit nervous for several reasons:

  • This is really uncharted territory for both me and the students. I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know where things were going to get hung up, and I really wasn’t sure how the students were going to respond.
  • Things have been very disrupted recently. PSSAs last week and I was out of the classroom twice this week. Once for field trip and a second time for a unexpected family matter. Any break in routine automatically means lost time to get us back in the groove.
  • I invited my supervisor and our literacy coach to observe the lesson. (For what it’s worth, they both seemed generally pleased with what they saw. I will be following up with them next week for a debrief.)


But whatever, no guts no glory.

1. Students read over the list of questions they created and put a check mark next to any that they thought they could answer. Then, I gave them about ten minutes to compile their questions on this graphic organizer. I made a requirement that they needed at least 5-7 (depending on the class) questions for each side of the organizer. If they did not have enough questions for one or both of their columns, they could make up new questions on their own, or get additional questions from a partner.

2. We discussed the difference between “open” and “closed” questions. Closed questions are fact-based questions with one clear and uncontested answer. The answers are usually short and straightforward. Open questions are based more on opinion and interpretation, and have multiple possible correct answers. Students coded their questions with a (C) or (O) to represent closed or open. We discussed a few examples as a class, and the students could help other out with the coding. I think this is an important distinction for students to consider, but I also told them to not over think it when categorizing the questions.

3. Students picked their most important closed and open questions from both their “answered” and “unanswered” list.

  • Their “answered” questions will be used by the students on their test. That is, each student has created an individualized response section for their test.
  • Students may ASK me one question from their “unanswered” list. I will respond in writing when I grade their tests.


Here is the test that I am handing out tomorrow. Students will have two days in class, and extra time at home if necessary, to work on their responses. The test will be open notebook, they can refer to any materials we used during instruction. Students must cite the source of all of their facts. Responses can be typed or handwritten according to student preference.

Everyone must answer: (30 points) 

Summarize the French and Indian War. Be sure to include:

  • What caused the war?
  • What different groups were involved in the war? What were their motivations?
  • Where was the war fought?
  • In your opinion, what were the two most important battles and why?
  • How did the war end?
  • What were some major changes or effects of the war?

Pick one of the these: (20 points)

Mr. Walp says that the Native Americans were not important during the French and Indian War! Prove him wrong with multiple examples.

Mr. Walp says that the British had better military leaders than the French during the French and Indian War! Prove him wrong with multiple examples.

Do both of these: (20 points each)

Pick the most important fact question from your “answered” list.

  • Write the question.
  • What is the answer? (cite your facts…)
  • Why do you think that this is the most important fact question on your list?

Pick the most important opinion question from your “answered” list.

  • Write the question.
  • In your opinion, what is the answer? (cite your facts…)
  • Why do you think that this is the most important opinion question on your list?

On the back of your Question Organizer, write one question from your “unanswered” list that you want Mr. Walp to answer. (5 points)

Staple the Question Organizer to your test answers. (5 points)


My thoughts:

Timing during the lesson was very challenging for me. It felt as though I was trying to stretch out a 20 minute activity to fill a 40 minute period. Some of that was my own self-consciousness, like I don’t feel like I’m hitting my mark unless I push an aggressive timeline for the lesson. But I think it also had to do with the fact that I was not clear on my own goals. Was this a fairly straightforward administrative task, or a more complex analytic/discussion task? In the end, I defaulted to completing an administrative task with time to spare, rather than trying to have a deep discussion that was cut short because of lack of time.

Overall, I am very happy with this first run through. There were a lot of distractions during the unit, and I had to content with my own learning curve on the content. So all in all, it could have fallen apart in a lot of places.

I have to make a student reflection to get their feedback.

I think I am pushing them a bit for this test. There are just so many things I am asking them to keep track of at this point. For the most part, they are not losing points anymore for what they write, but rather losing points for what they forget to write (e.g., improper citations, lack of detail to support an argument).

One the one hand, it’s really cool to see them developing and growing as writers and junior historians, on the other hand, there are some students that just refuse to budge. No details. No opinions. No personal connections. No citations. Just a dogged regurgitation of the bare minimum of facts. No amount of coaching or feedback on my part seems to help at all.

    • Is it me? Have I been unclear about my expectations? Am I not reaching them? Should I structure things differently to help them?
    • Or is it them? Do they just not “get” it? Do they not care? Are they stubbornly abiding by an internal clock that regulates the amount of time they are willing to spend on an assignment, regardless of the outcome? Are there circumstances in their life that are negatively impacting their ability to do the work at a high level?
      • No doubt the answer is, as always, D. all of the above.


Go to KWL Student Reflections


Comments and feedback welcome!

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