What is the ‘Language Experience Approach’?

What is the ‘Language Experience Approach’?

Student engagement can be increased by bringing a child’s own language and experiences into their reading and writing.

On Episode 80 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, host Sharon Callen was joined by leading Australian educator Diane Snowball to explore the Language Experience Approach.

Sharon and Diane believe this tool belongs in every literacy teacher’s repertoire, whether it’s for younger or older readers and writers.

Defining the Language Experience Approach

Diane said the Language Experience Approach is about taking advantage of an experience you have shared with a student by discussing it and converting it into a written text.

“So if it was a retelling of something your student had done, then you would get them to retell what happened and you would be the scribe. The reason why you are being the scribe is because it’s showing them that what they say can be written down, and then what’s written down can be read. And if I scribe, I know how to write the sentences and how to write the words correctly spelled. And because this is a piece of writing that we’re then going to use for reading, it is important that the grammar, punctuation and spelling is correct, because you want them to model off of what they’re reading,” Diane said.

However, it’s also important for the children to assist at times, and to be given positive reinforcement when mistakes are made in the process.

“They’ll be able to have a go at the areas. And let’s say they don’t spell a word correctly, we can talk with them about what they had written about that word, and perhaps show them how it would be written in a book. So that they’re not feeling badly about not getting it right, rather than saying this is wrong and this is how you do it, you can say, well, yes, that’s a really great attempt, all good spellers try to spell, even if they’re not sure of the spelling,” she said.

“But I think we need to make sure that that’s where language experience work differs from the student’s own writing, because if they’re writing by themselves, you would not be interfering. You would want them to have a go wherever they’re at in their development, and then you can use that to help them. But in language experience work, a knowledgeable writer needs to be a scribe or involved in the writing so that you can help the kids with their attempts.”

Who is the Language Experience Approach for?

The Language Experience Approach can provide entry points for all students across primary and secondary levels.

“It might be with one child who you are trying to help with their reading, writing, and oral language development, or it might be a group. In fact it could be the whole class, and it really can be any age group. It might be adults who had trouble learning to read and are wanting to have another go and learn to read and write. It could be children whose first language is not English, and it’s a specific group of kids that you want to help learn a new language,” Diane said.

“So there’s really no group that you’re not going to work with. All you need is an experience that they have had and you have had with them, or at least observed. And then you help them to talk about that experience and to write down what they say.”

Why you need to continually re-visit the texts

The important part of the language experience is to re-visits the texts and build on them over time.

“We’re not just going to read it once. We’re going to reread it many times, just as you would if you were doing shared reading, because children then become familiar with the text and can read along with you, and you can use that text to teach just about anything. It might be onset rhyme work, phonics work, other aspects about spelling, or whether it’s looking at grammar or past tense when you’re writing something versus present tense etc. So the piece of text is going to be used a lot. We can branch out from it and do a lot of other things,” Diane said.

“We might add to it. If we wrote a recount of what we did in the garden that day, we might then go back and actually write instructions on how to plant something in the garden. So we can do different kinds of writing, because we want the kids to know how to write much more than just recounts.

“So it’s that wonderful combination of experience talking, writing, reading, rereading, and then working from that to do many other literacy pieces of work. And that’s very rich.”

How to establish routines on language experience

There are several routines you can use for language experience, however a particularly effective one Diane has used is ‘class news’.

“I actually worked with a teacher who ended up doing this so well with her foundation class, and the routine really began with sitting in a circle with the class. If they’re sitting in a circle, then they’re talking to the class and sharing with each other, but if they’re sitting in rows, they’re talking to you. So they’re sitting in a circle and she would simply go around the circle and ask the children one by one to tell the class something they were doing or something they might have done at school or at home, or something important that was going on, even if it was current world news,” she explained.

“So from here there are a number of paths you can take. You can try to then write all of those children’s experiences down, but that would be pretty hard. But each day she would choose a different child and just choose whatever their news was. At first the teacher would be the scribe, and then as the year went on, the children became more involved in that interactive writing. But this was something that this teacher always did.

“One example was a text which said, Chris went to the park with his mum, they played with a kite and saw the yellow and orange leaves. The leaves were crunchy. So that was what the child had said, and the teacher wrote those sentences, but she left the word ‘went’ blank, and it was on a chart. So then they moved onto their next activity in class, but while these things were happening, any child who wanted to could come up and try to spell the word ‘went’. And so there was a list, and they would put their name/initials beside their attempt. And it was this whole notion of good writers try words, even if they’re not sure how to spell them, and by trying them, then they learn what they know about it and can learn more about what they need to do to spell it the conventional way.”

This type of exercise can then be expanded to explore other words with similar spelling.

“Then they would say, now that we know how to spell ‘went’, what other words would that help us to know how to spell? So of course, they would say words like bent, dent, tent. And one child would say scent, and we could ask, do you mean something that you have sent away somewhere, or do you mean scent as in smell? Because you’ve said the word sent, but that could be spelled two different ways. And so you could have a discussion about that by looking at the two spellings.

“So suddenly there is so much work to do with rhyming words and the exploration of sounds and spelling patterns. So much work just came out of those words. You don’t even have to have money to go and buy books, because while they’re very rich experiences, this was making use of their own language.”

Learn more on the Language Experience Approach

Find out more on Episode 80 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy below and subscribe on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

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