Language Experience Approach

Originally developed to teach reading and writing to preliterate monolingual students, this approach was later used to teach literacy skills to adults, including those learning English as an additional language. Supporters of the language experience approach (LEA) believe that students can learn to read and write by using their own level of oral vocabulary. In addition, because students are using subject matter familiar to them, the information will be relevant to their needs.

Strategy of Language Experience Approach

English Skill Level: Beginning to Intermediate
Grade Level: Primary (Lower Elementary) to Adult

  • The student tells a story, usually based on a real-life experience, to the teacher.
  • The teacher writes down the story exactly as it is told including the errors made.
  • The student reads the written story with the teacher helping as needed.
  • After the student is comfortable reading the story, individual words, grammar points, and so on may be studied.
Strengths of Language Experience Approach
  • Schema is already present so students have immediate understanding of text.
  • Students can see that the symbols of reading have personal and authentic meaning.
  • Students are learning literacy skills at their own level.

Weaknesses of Language Experience Approach

  • Because it requires some knowledge of oral L2 vocabulary, it may not work with adults or older children with limited speaking skills or who are afraid to speak in the target language.
  • Some believe this approach may reinforce errors if there is not enough adequate follow-up.
Modifications of Language Experience Approach
  • Stories may be done as a group with students giving sentences that the teacher writes on the board. Students may take turns giving sentences to create a narration. Editing can also be done as a group.
  • Teachers may decide to write the story (or some aspects of it) correctly at the same time as the student shares the story.
  • Students can be put in multilevel groups to write stories so that those with more writing skills can help those just learning.
  • Students can write plays or act out stories.