Writing Biographical Essays of Authors: Using KWL Charts to Focus Reading and Notetaking During Research
Looking for a culminating project to draw your 7th or 8th graders' school year to a close? Compiling biographical essays on authors is just the trick. Don't be fooled by this seemingly mundane assignment, however. The novelty is packed into the KWL approach for gathering and organizing information, a technique that will keep students engaged in the research process and will arm them with a valuable information seeking strategy for the future.
While reinforcing students' prior experiences with the conventional location and access of information resources, the construction of bibliographic citations, and the paraphrase of significant details in notetaking, this series of activities introduces an innovative way of making research most relevant for students and absorbing them in focused reading and organized extraction of pertinent information to build a final product.
Still having doubts? Share just the first motivating segment of this lesson, and watch students' attention and curiosity grow. Build students' confidence by modeling each manageable phase of this KWL method, and when the time for independent researching arrives, they will welcome the personal control this approach grants them in compiling a final essay meaningful to them.
NOTE: Includes activities that take place over 5 sessions.
Goals & Objectives:
1.) To use prior knowledge to enhance relevance and comprehension of research articles
2.) To develop skill in constructing appropriate questions to focus reading during research and in extracting relevant information from resources in an organized way
3.) To paraphrase information into accurate notes to build future author biographies
Materials & Sources:
1.) Marguilies, Stuart and Maria Goudiss. â€œThe Great Stilt Race.â€
PSSA Reading Coach. New York: Educational Design, 2001.
36-37. (OR another brief, informative article to capture students'
attention and build curiosity)
1.) O'Conner, Eileen. â€œClassicNotes: Biography of Sandra Cisneros.â€
Gradesaver.com 30 Mar. 2000 1 May 2003. (OR another
article conveying biographical information on an author of
2.) Three large sheets white poster board and colored markers
1.) Unlined white paper (1 sheet per student)
1.) Individual student KWL charts from previous class
2.) Individual articles on selected authors collected by students during previous day's library session (at least 1 per student)
Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. AASL.
Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.
Small, Ruth V. and Marilyn Arnone. Turning Kids on to Research: The
Power of Motivation. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited,
1. Generate students' interest in the activity by stimulating curiosity with the introduction of an unusual or mysterious topic for discussion, for example stilt races.
2. As a class, brainstorm what students know about stilt races (or whatever topic the chosen article covers), and encourage them to consider their existing knowledge of â€œstiltsâ€ and â€œracesâ€ to prompt participation.
3. Record responses in a column on the board, and when all ideas have been noted, label the column â€œKnow.â€ Be sure to emphasize this as the list of items students already know.
4. Tell students to imagine they are journalists. Inquire what questions they still have concerning stilt races, and encourage them to consider the types of questions journalists ask, for example who, what, when, where, why, how.
5. Number and record questions in a column on the board, underlining the key question words (who, what, when, etc.). When all questions are noted, label the column â€œWant to Know.â€ Be sure to emphasize this as the list of questions students still have about the topic.
6. Distribute to students the brief, informative article â€œThe Great Stilt Raceâ€ (or another article selected for this activity).
7. Tell students to listen with the purpose of locating answers to questions as the teacher reads the article aloud. The teacher should pause during reading to allow students to volunteer answers they hear in the reading. Model paraphrasing those details before recording them in the "Learned" column. Be sure to number each note to correspond with the number of the question it answers.
8. When the article is complete, label this final column â€œLearned.â€ Be sure to emphasize this as the list of notes that answer students' questions and inform them of details they did not previously know about the topic. (At this point, note that any unanswered questions indicate the need for additional articles to be read with the focus of identifying responses to these unanswered questions.)
9. Assess students' comprehension and build their confidence in the KWL process by reviewing orally the three manageable steps for focusing reading and gathering information, and introduce this concept as the KWL method.
10. Establish the importance of learning these information skills by relating this process to students' immediate needs. Introduce the related author biography assignment and explain how students can follow this procedure in collecting information for that essay.
11. Motivate continuing information exploration by announcing a new opportunity to apply this strategy the following day by noting the class will construct another KWL chart on an author to model and reinforce the process they will use for their project.
1. Maintain students' interest by providing variety in the method of constructing the class KWL chart by using poster board and colored markers to compile KWL columns. (These posters can reinforce students' confidence in their skills if displayed as models as they begin to work independently over the next few days.)
2. Introduce the day's topic, author Sandra Cisneros (or another author of teacher's choice).
3. Begin shifting control to students. Hang first sheet of poster board on the wall and ask students questions to elicit what information belongs in this column based on the previous day's lesson. Title the poster â€œKnowâ€ and record the topic and other known facts volunteered by students. (Talking through creating columns will assist the teacher in assessing students' ability to utilize the KWL method, and it also reinforces the thought process for developing KWL charts.)
4. Hang second sheet of poster board on the wall and ask students questions to elicit what information belongs in this column based on the previous day's lesson. Title the poster â€œWant to Know,â€ list key who, what, when, etc. questions across the top, and record numbered questions volunteered by students.
5. Hang third sheet of poster board on the wall and ask students questions to elicit what information belongs in this column based on the previous day's lesson. Title the poster â€œLearned.â€
6. Distribute article on Sandra Cisneros (or other selected author). As a group, create a bibliographic citation for the article and record it on the chart. Be sure to remind students of the importance of recording the citation for each source on its related KWL chart to track what information was extracted from which article and to have appropriate information for creating a work cited page for an essay. If students need to search a second article for responding to unanswered questions, they can record the new citation on a new KWL chart and use the unanswered questions to focus reading. (Students without prior instruction in writing citations will need a mini-lesson on proper format.)
7. Allow student volunteers to read aloud as classmates listen with the purpose of locating answers to questions and pointing out pertinent information to others.
8. Elicit students' paraphrasing of details identified in the reading to answer the designated questions. Be sure to review with students numbering each statement to correspond with the number of the question answered for easier organization of the essay they construct on their authors later. Assess students' ability to extract pertinent information and report it accurately in their own words as â€œLearnedâ€ column is charted.
9. To maintain relevance of the activity, remind students they will select an author and independently construct a KWL chart for that person over the next few classes, and reinforce how a carefully planned KWL chart will provide the organized, paraphrased information necessary for writing a brief biographical essay on that author later.
1. Allow students to choose an author from a list of those whose works are on required reading lists or whose writing will be studied in the following year's literature class. Students can also indicate a favorite author as an alternative. These will be the authors they research.
2. Distribute one sheet of unlined white paper to each student, and demonstrate folding it into three equal columns.
3. Direct students to the model KWL columns posted from the previous day's lesson to begin independently completing the â€œKnowâ€ and â€œWant to Knowâ€ columns for their individual authors.
4. Assess students' progress by circulating the room to answer questions and to facilitate the construction of individual charts.
5. Instruct students to go directly to the library media center next class to search for author articles, keeping in mind what they â€œWant to Knowâ€ to help in selecting appropriate resources. Remind students of the most effective print and electronic resources to search.
1. Students meet is the library media center where they locate and access at least one biographical article containing information on their author's life, motivation for writing, awards, and/or other questions they hope to have answered for their KWL charts. The teacher and library media specialist facilitate as needed.
1. Students return to class with research materials on their selected authors and the KWL charts begun in the previous class.
2. Following models from previous classes, direct students to construct and record independently the bibliographic citation for their articles on their KWL charts. Circulate the room to assess who may still need practice here.
3. Following models from previous classes, direct students to begin independently reading their articles with their â€œWant to Knowâ€ questions focusing and guiding that reading.
4. Students paraphrase details that answer their questions and record information in â€œLearnedâ€œ column. Remind students to number responses in correspondence to the number of the question answered. (If students run out of space, they can continue columns on the back of their sheets.)
5. Assess students' progress and mastery by circulating the room to offer guidance and encouragement and to ensure charts and paraphrases are accurate. (Assessment through conferences optional if time permits)
In subsequent classes, students can participate in conferences with the teacher to assess KWL progress. They can then take part in a writing workshop where the teacher models transferring paraphrased notes from the â€œLearnedâ€ column of charts into organized paragraphs. Then, students can use individual KWL charts to create their essays independently. Teachers should emphasize how the KWL format for focusing research and organization of notes in the â€œLearnedâ€ column lend themselves to transferring information into a written product, strategies that are applicable to all researching, reading, and writing situations. A final oral presentation of key biographical details from essays provides another means of assessing the quality and depth of information gathered and compiled, gives all students insight into authors they will study the following year, and encourages students to read works of authors with whom they can relate or whose writing now seems appealing. The final essay can also be assessed based on focus, content, organization, style, and grammatical/mechanical conventions.
1.) Directly question students to assess understanding of steps in the KWL process.
2.) Elicit student participation in class generated KWL columns.
3.) Circulate the class to monitor individual understanding of the KWL method, progress in creating charts, skill in paraphrasing, and need for reinforcement/reteaching.
4.) Provide time for teacher/student conferences.
5.) Provide time for oral presentation of key details to demonstrate the depth and quality of information gathered and compiled.
6.) Collect final essays for scoring on focus, content, organization, writing style, grammatical/mechanical conventions.