We began a new unit on Ancient Greece today. Early on in my teaching career I would have started the lesson with a KWL. I would have created a lovely KWL on chart paper and posted it in class. During the class I would have asked the students to raise their hand if they "knew" anything about Ancient Greece. I would have looked at their blank stares and wonder why no one was raising their hand. (Insert cricket sound here.) After a few years, with a little more experience I would have added a partner talk into the mix to try and generate a discussion. ( Insert cricket sound again.) I would then have started to prompt the children or model my thinking to start the chart.
About ten years ago, when I left teaching elementary school and returned to middle school, I was given a book by Janet Allen from the school's instructional specialist. In the book, More Tools for Teaching Literacy Content by Janet Allen I discovered the Content Pass. I have been using it ever since.
What I do is I break the kids up into small groups and provide each group with a text set and a graphic organizer. The text set could include any or all of the following: Textbook chapter - clearly marked, internet site, article or non fiction texts. I encourage the children to use the text features ( index, table of contents, headings etc.) to help them find important information such as the geography and religion, or something that is interesting to them. They are given 4-5 minutes to peruse the text and complete the chart by finding 3-5 facts and coming up with 2-3 questions. After 4-5 minutes the students pass the text to the person on the right and start the process over.
Once this is done, no more crickets when you ask what you do you know about ... Instead, you get a room full of engaged students who can't wait to answer, a great discussion and a filled out KWL chart if you so desire.