Schema Maps - An Alternative to the KWL Chart

Activating schema, or prior knowledge, is the foundation to helping students understand what they are reading about any topic. One of the more popular graphic organizers to record students' prior knowledge on a topic is a KWL Chart or a KWL+ Chart. I have used these charts many times to help my students record their thinking and learning about a new topic, but I've frequently run into a specific problem with them...What do you do when the kids think they know something, but as the teacher, you know it's totally wrong?! Do you correct the students right then? Or do you move on? What's the best solution to correcting their misconceptions?


Schema Maps provide the perfect solution to this problem! This strategy encourages students to record their prior knowledge and their new learning. Schema maps require students to distinguish between information that is expanding upon something they already knew and information that is brand new learning.  Schema maps also require students to identify any of their prior knowledge that is a misconception and explain why the information is incorrect. I love schema maps because they have really helped my students deepen their knowledge in different content areas and they are super easy to create. This post will tell you exactly how you can get started using schema maps in your own classroom!


Good news - you don't need any special tools to create a schema map! You can make them on the overhead projector, interactive whiteboard, the wall, a window, or on an anchor chart. I like to use an anchor chart so we can keep it on display during the entire unit.  I love to include a picture of the topic with the schema map to help students visually connect their learning to the topic.


Before you begin teaching anything new about the topic, record their prior knowledge (schema) on sticky notes. Write each schema statement on a new sticky note. I personally prefer to use sticky notes that are all the same color at this time. It will help visually distinguish between prior knowledge and new learning as you add to the schema map during the unit.  Make sure to write all their prior knowledge on sticky notes, even when you know the statement is incorrect. You will not address any misconceptions at this time. In order for students to replace their false schema with correct information that actually sticks, it is important for them to determine which was incorrect later.


During the teaching unit, periodically record new learning onto a new color of sticky notes. I like to review new learning as a closing activity at the end of each lesson during a unit. We write down the main idea from the lesson because it is most important for enduring learning. Sometimes, their new learning is brand new learning and not connected to prior knowledge. These sticky notes will stand alone on the map. Other times, the new learning will expand on their prior schema statements. In these instances, move the schema statement to the New Learning section and attach the new learning statements to the original schema statements. (Seen in photo below.)


During the unit, it is also important to frequently review the students' prior knowledge so the can identify any schema that was a misconception. Once a misconception has been discovered, move the sticky note to that part of the schema map and have a discussion with the students. What made that schema statement a misconception? Have students explain why this information was inaccurate on a new stick note. I like to use a brand new color again! (Seen in the photo below with the orange sticky notes)

At the end of the unit, your Schema Map is just that - a map of where students' learning started and how far it has come! They are a powerful tool to help students activate their prior knowledge, apply it to new learning, and synthesize it all together. It really takes their thinking to new depths!  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Schema Maps are a perfect strategy for my unit on the Constitution because students often have so many misconceptions about it. They are a great way for us to track all that we have learned over the course of the unit. If you would like to use the Constitution Schema Map labels that I used in this activity, it is available as a FREE download here, including written directions for this strategy.

If you are interested in more resources about the Constitution, I have a complete unit available here! It includes a non-fiction coloring book that teaches students about the Constitutional Convention, ratification of the Constitution, and how it created the 3 branches of government. The unit also includes comprehension passages, reader's theater plays, graphic organizers, interactive vocabulary activities, and so much more. It is perfect for teaching on Constitution Day and beyond!

Gluten-Free Play Dough: An Allergy-Free Solution for First Day Fun

Play dough is my favorite activity for students for students to do as they enter the room on the first day of school. It gives them an engaging and hands-on task while freeing me up to help other students get situated or meet briefly with parents that come to the classroom. It also promotes collaboration, creativity, and divergent thinking! But did you know that some students with a gluten-allergy may have an allergic reaction from merely touching play dough?  I always thought students with allergies would need to ingest the play dough in order for it to be an issue, but some gluten allergies are severe enough that even touching play dough can cause children to break out in hives.

Play dough is the perfect first activity on the first day of school! But students with a gluten-allergy can break out in hives just by touching play dough. This recipe for gluten-free play dough is super simple to make and will keep all kids safe from allergic reactions.

For this reason, I started to make gluten-free play dough for my students on the first day of school. It costs a little more than traditional homemade play dough, but it still costs less than purchasing pre-made play dough for everyone! It's also worth the extra cost to know that all my students are safe from potential allergic reactions. 

Play Dough: A Perfect First Day Gift for Students

Play dough is my favorite activity to start the year with on the first day of school! I love the message it communicates to students right from the beginning. I want my learners to know that our classroom is a safe place for creativity and collaboration. I want them to be confident in their abilities to jump right in and get to work. I want them to know that there isn't always one right answer. And play dough does just that! Once I started using play dough, I knew I would never go back to another worksheet.

Play dough is the perfect activity for the first day back to school. It sets the tone and communicates that our classroom values hands-on learning, collaboration, creativity, and divergent thinking!

My first year teaching, I started the first day of school with what I thought would be a fun academic review sheet. I believed it would immediately put the focus on learning and would them busy while I got everyone settled. I also thought it would help my kids feel more confident because, after all, it was just a review. Except I learned very quickly that my kids couldn't ALL do it. Sometimes it was a situational issue. Students hadn't brought the necessary supplies, so they either didn't have a pencil or their pencils weren't already sharpened.

But for some kids, they really couldn't do it because it wasn't academically appropriate.  I hadn't provided the scaffolding necessary for them to be successful because I didn't know them yet, and I didn't know who needed it.  I provided something I thought was one-size-fits-all, except it wasn't. And I inadvertently communicated the wrong message to my students. Instead of feeling capable right away, they were faced with something that wasn't appropriate for their needs. I imagine some of them heard that little whisper in their minds, Look how everyone else can do it, but you can't. You are dumb.

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