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What is the Language Experience Approach?

The Language Experience Approach is one of the most efficient ways to initiate reading
and writing. It is child-centred and shows that the child's thoughts and language are
valued. Children will generate and learn to read material that stems from their own
experience as the approach uses children's own words as the basis for beginning reading
and then for writing. Ideally this material will be predictable and readable as the child
will begin to read words they already know and use. In this approach reading and writing
are seen as reciprocal processes. The Language Experience Approach demonstrates to
children the link between what they say and its written form.

The advantages of the Language Experience Approach for EAL learners

The Language Experience Approach will give the child who is new to English, the
opportunity to begin to use the social vocabulary they are acquiring through their
interactions with peers and teachers. In the early stages of this kind of writing, the child's
vocabulary will be mainly restricted to conversational English, but the method allows the
child to build their confidence in the reading and writing process, providing a basis on
which academic language can be encouraged and developed.

In the early stages, children may also want to include words or phrases from their home
language in their written work, and this practice can be encouraged. The children are
using the opportunity to switch codes between languages and are drawing from their
existing levels of literacy in their first language.

Methodology for Language Experience Approach

1. Child composes a story

2. Teacher writes the story for the child
3. Child sees the text written
4. Child and teacher read the story together
5. Child reads the story on her / his own and teacher listens
6. Teacher reads the story and the child listens
7. The child then edits the text

How is Language Experience Approach implemented?

1. Discussion

Generate a topic for a story. This story may be based on experience such as a class trip, a
class reading or it may be a seasonal topic. Whatever topic is chosen, it is discussed

Barbara O’Toole, Coláiste Mhuire, Marino Institute of Education

2. Constructing the story

Children dictate the sentences to the teacher. All children are encouraged to contribute to
the story. The teacher writes the sentences down.

3. Reading the story

The teacher reads the story. The group read the story together. The teacher may call on
the child to read his / her own contribution. At this stage the children may think of a title
for the story.

4. Analysis and follow-on activities

Children practise reading the story in groups / in pairs / individually.

Advantages of a Language Experience Approach

The Language Experience Approach recognises the importance of the language the child
brings to school. It is a 'total process' in that it involves thinking, speaking, listening,
reading and writing, and it requires more personal involvement from the child than
merely reading a story book. The non-competitiveness of the Language Experience
Approach means that there is a positive impact on the child's self esteem, something that
is essential for all learners, and particularly so for children who are new to the English

Disadvantages of Language Experience Approach

The Language Experience Approach requires a significant time input from the teacher. It
is particularly suitable as an approach in a small group approach. It is important that
teachers use modelling and re-casting sufficiently to help a child progress their language
skills. The content of the story is dictated by the child's experience, and if this is limited
then it may restrict the material available to work with.

Sample story from a Language Experience Approach

Max, aged 8, told the following story:

"My next door neighbour has cat. My neighbour has moved in short time ago. At the
moment is gone on holidays. This morning I got up half seven. I went next door to fed the
cat. I played with cat for twenty minute, then went my home and had breakfast. I brush
my teeths then go out door to school."

Max has lived in Ireland for almost one year. You can see from his use of language that
he has a degree of fluency, that he can make himself understood and that his story has a
logical sequence.

Barbara O’Toole, Coláiste Mhuire, Marino Institute of Education

You can also see from the story that there are opportunities for the teacher to 're-cast'
some of his sentences in order to help him with grammatical structures.

Follow-on questions for language development

Analysis text level:

• What do you know about cats?

• What do you know about wild cats? Domestic or pet cats?
• Do you know any stories about cats?
• What do you need to know about cats before you get one?
• How do you go about feeding a cat? (Note: Encourage Max at this point to use
time connectives appropriately - "First I take the tin of food from the fridge. Then
I ....")
• How do you care for a cat?

Analysis at word level

• Vocabulary extension: "My next door neighbour has a cat." Do you have any
other pets on your road? And so on...
• Temporal vocabulary: "My neighbour moved in a short time ago" When did your
neighbour move in? (Month, day, and so on...)
• Letter strings: "half past seven"

seven / eve / ever / eleven / never / every

• Structural Analysis: e.g. adding suffixes and affixes to a word e.g. see play below

play / played / player / playing / plays / playful / replay

• Compound words:

lighthouse / cowboy / postman / playgroup / mailbox/ playtime

Barbara O’Toole, Coláiste Mhuire, Marino Institute of Education