Language Experience Approach to Literacy

Language Experience Approach to Literacy
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  • 0:01 Language Experience
  • 1:03 Features
  • 3:21 Group vs. Individual
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How can teachers make children interested in learning to read and write? And, how can they use the students' own experiences to help scaffold learning? Watch this lesson to find out about the language experience approach to literacy.

Language Experience

Alexandra is a teacher. Her students are English language learners, and she wants to teach them how to communicate in English, but she's not sure what the best method is. She worries that if she just drills them with vocabulary and grammar, they'll become disinterested and lose motivation to learn. But, what other options does she have?

Alexandra might want to try the language experience approach to literacy, which involves promoting reading and writing through the student's personal experience. In this approach, instead of spending time on learning vocabulary and grammar through rote practice, students are able to experience language through their own lives. This is why it is called the language experience approach. The language experience approach was first developed for non-native English speakers like Alexandra's students, but it can be used with native English speakers who are just learning to read and write, too. To help Alexandra plan her curriculum, let's look at the features of the language experience approach, and how it can be implemented in the classroom.


Alexandra understands that the language experience approach involves promoting reading and writing through the student's personal experience. But what, exactly, does that mean? What does it look like in the classroom?

Teachers apply the language experience approach in many different ways, but there are certain things that are present most of the time.

1. Materials are learner-generated. Students create their own passages from which they learn to read and write. In a group of beginning learners, a student will tell a teacher or aide what to write, and the teacher or aide will write it down, errors and all. Later, students will write out their own passages.

For example, Alexandra might ask her students to write out a memory of their favorite vacation. The students who are not proficient at writing yet might tell Alexandra what their favorite vacations were, and she will write down exactly what they say. Other students might write it down themselves.

2. Literacy skills are integrated. There are four general communication skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In the language experience approach, all four of these skills are linked. The memoirs about students' favorite vacations are a good example of integrating literacy skills. As they are writing, of course, students are practicing writing. But later, these memoirs could be shared with other students to use for reading practice. Further, class discussions of the memoirs could promote listening and speaking skills.

3. Literacy levels are determined by the students' language use. Unlike in some other literacy programs, the teacher does not decide to teach certain vocabulary words or grammar rules. Instead, the difficulty of vocabulary and grammar is wholly defined by the students themselves, as they use certain words and sentence structures.

For example, perhaps Alexandra asks students to write about what their perfect meal would be. She is prompting them to use a specific verb case by having them write, for example, that the meal 'would be' this or 'would be' that. However, the students may choose to write their essays in a different way, by describing that their meal 'is' this or that instead. Either way, Alexandra won't press them to use a specific tense, but lets them determine what they are ready for.

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