KWL charts aid reading comprehension. That's what they were designed for at least.
What's a KWL chart? Let me explain.
Before reading a book each student writes down what they already know and what they want to know. Then afterward they write down what they've learned. They do this for two reasons. First, by forming questions they activate prior knowledge, which makes it easier them to learn. Second, it's easy for both the teacher and student to see exactly which ideas the student is and is not getting from the text.
That's the theory anyway. In practice, every kid hates KWL charts. Or at least I did.
They're completely useless. That's how they seemed at least. Plus they were annoying. "I already know know how to read, I already get the story, why are you making me fill out this dumb chart??"
But ultimately all this kvetching may have been a mistake.
As it happens, KWL charts are probably the single most important tool to improve creativity.
The reason is this. Every brilliant idea starts with a question. For example, let's say I want to know more about how it is that institutions and organizations use social status to exploit people. Chances are if I'm asking myself this question then this isn't my only question. Chances are I have a bunch of related questions. Like, how can one use the promise of social status in business to get employees to accept lower wages? How is social signaling corrupting our schools and universities? And so on.
The point is that when thinking about any sufficiently large topic you'll probably have one main question and then a whole bunch of sub-questions.
The problem is that when you start researching these questions you begin to learn. That doesn't sound like a problem, but it is.
What ends up happening is that you acquire all these new models that sorta answer your questions. For example, maybe you read Rosabeth Moss Kanter's academic papers on why people join cults like scientology. This all seems really insightful and intellectually gratifying. The problem is that this new knowledge displaces your original questions, even if they aren't fully answered. And what happens is that your original questions often don't seem as relevant or important in light of your new learning.
Even when they are.
Breakthrough insights always come from thinking about the space in between established knowledge and a good set of questions. And unless you write down your questions and theories in advance, what always happens is that you read a few books and then forget your original theories about how things worked. Which is bad, because they're often at least partially correct. So you had this brilliant idea, or at least the start of a brilliant idea, but thanks to your research it's been lost forever.
Even if you haven't completely forgotten your original theories, your new insights become inextricably bound with background knowledge in a way that makes it impossible to communicate your learning to the outside world. What happens is that you end up sounding like Shulgin trying to explain his experience with mescalin: "I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us." What the fuck.
Here's how to avoid this problem.
Whenever you're thinking about a big problem, write down all your questions and background knowledge in advance. Don't just write down your main question, write down every question whose answer could conceivably be insightful or useful to your intended audience. Then write down all your background knowledge. Not just a paragraph or two, but write down all your subject knowledge and all your theories of how you think things are working. (Preferably in a mindmap.) Don't do any research until this is done. Not even a Google search.
What ends up happening is that when you have both your questions and your background knowledge written down, it becomes ten times easier to think clearly about whether your reading is truly answering your questions. It's infinitely easier to come up with and recognize new ideas. And what's more, you still have your original questions written down so you have a clear framework for expressing your ideas to others.
The takeaway is this. You don't need a new method for coming up with brilliant ideas. You already have them. But sadly as you continue to learn these brilliant ideas are often lost. By using the KWL method you not only preserve your original insights, but you can use your research to expand upon them as well. By setting up a purposeful system that allows us to diff our background knowledge against existing models we can generate far bigger insights than would otherwise be possible.