The Language Experience Approach is a teaching tactic that uses experience to improve students’ communication skills. This approach capitalizes on students’ attention and interest in their own experiences to develop their skills. It mainly targets reading and writing skills. LEA-based exercises usually involve listening, speaking and storytelling too.
Focusing on a compelling or new experience, instructors design lessons and actionable steps that lead to students writing or helping to write down the experience. The instructor may design it with both pre and post-experience activities. This help teaches and reinforces vocabulary the student would need for written communication about the main experience.
Imagine the example of taking a class field trip to a restaurant after learning vocabulary for food or a certain ethnicity’s cuisine. Afterward, the instructor will help the class capture their experience in writing. Learner-generated ideas often drive the text. That’s because when students try to formulate strings of ideas, they’re getting exercise that leads up to them writing alone. The instructor’s narration, suggestions or corrections can provide correct modeling if students can’t yet produce strings of correct communication.
When to Use the Language Experience Approach (LEA)
Most importantly, the Language Experience Approach (LEA) should be used when a class needs an excuse for a fun or fascinating experience! Overall, it succeeds whenever students will benefit from guided help to improve their language-producing skills. It assists in creating a strong, illustrative link between spoken language and written text. This can be used with young students in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class or a foreign language class.
Most specifically, the Language Experience Approach develops students’ writing ability. It’s popular for early childhood and elementary school students. Adults and children learning a foreign tongue (or enrolled in an English language class) benefit tremendously because just producing the words can be strenuous before worrying about grammar. An instructor helps bridge the gaps.
The Language Experience Approach is usually heavily facilitated by an instructor, so adults learning alone would need to be very strategic to use it. That’s because an instructor uses “scaffolded talk. ” They can make correct, descriptive communication interesting and accessible to be digested by students. The experience the communication is based on, like a field trip or a cultural practice relating to a foreign language, makes the instructor’s proper communication more compelling than in the average lesson.
LEA can close gaps in ability between the teacher and their students. When it works well, this written text language approach achieves large jumps in language ability. Reading and writing are usually the most improved.
How Is It Used?
The Language Experience Approach is designed with a compelling event in mind. It could also center around the exploration of a novel object or an experiment.
Returning to the example of a class taking a field trip to a restaurant makes it easier to see how LEA plays out. Adult or youth foreign language learners might visit a French or Spanish restaurant. Young children may visit a run-of-the-mill restaurant, or a fun one. In either case, the instructor has the students learn, or at least be familiar with, restaurant-based vocabulary before the trip. A foreign-language teacher may teach restaurant-based verbs, too, like “eat,” “pass,” “serve,” and “place on.”
The main focus is for students to develop their writing and story-narrating ability. Narrating a story well, as in consistently using the first person and past tense (though not always identified in those terms) consistently is a skill. Children can easily write something like “the waiter gived my teacher her plate” instead of gave, for example. In a foreign tongue or for someone with lower literacy in their first tongue, any wording situation can be a challenge. Simply recalling all of the necessary words can be a feat. With the guidance and the correct modeling the instructor provides, students can keep digesting their input and the written text to learn more.
Other examples of the Language Experience Approach that could take place inside the classroom show the diversity of experiences that develop reading-writing skills. Young students have Russian stacking dolls presented to them for the first time. Then they would get a turn to play with them. In this case, LEA could be used to talk about containers or relative sizes. If they were learning Russian, this might target prepositions of location, like “outside of” and “inside of.”
For a science version, a teacher may have students use a microscope to see the tiny organisms that live all around us, amoebas and parameciums. This would be a science experiment for older children. They could work on correctly using all of the related science and microscope vocabularies.
LEA For Young Students
Young students benefit from the Language Experience Approach when developing their everyday writing skills. As mentioned, LEA can establish ties between speaking, reading and writing. Young children may still need to learn the connections between spoken stories and written language.
Teacher modeling is important because of the superiority of their vocabulary and grammar. Their developed intellect and life experience drive the language experience to recall too. Capturing memories and improving writing together with the teacher and other students helps build confidence in young children.
For adult students, the Language Experience Approach is used with foreign-language learners and in cases of low literacy. In either case, the instructor’s modeling is still important. Their vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures are valuable. Also, students will observe correct spelling and pronunciation.
Adult students usually have more precise or detail-oriented vocabulary available from their first language that can be brought into the foreign language with the instructor’s help. One positive element is that at least when learning an additional language, adults tend to be more interested than children to learn proper grammar and sentence structures. While calling grammar “fun” might be a stretch, the Language Experience Approach is one of the more pleasant and compelling ways to learn grammar. Hopefully, the arranged experience is interesting!
The Language Experience Approach in Action
Two main options for composing the text are possible. Both rely on collaboration. In the first, the teacher listens to, digests and perhaps edits student ideas when writing the text. Learners can also generate a text.
Teacher-Generated Written Text
Students can recount their individual experiences or the group’s collective experience. Sometimes the instructor uses pictures or other visual aids to prompt memory. They may also help students remember words or prompt student input with questions or key vocabulary. In a literacy classroom, there is more emphasis on showcasing transcribed words and spelling.
For example, a teacher may hold a picture of the interior of the restaurant. They’d ask learners: “Let’s describe the decorations in the restaurant. How can we describe the pottery placed on the wall divider for people who weren’t there? [Points to the first pot.] What is this first pot like?” Students might call out the colors and the size of the first pot. An advanced student may say “The first pot that decorated the wall divider was small, red and blue.”
Learner-Generated Written Text
The alternative method of learner-generated text is useful with older students or when there is not a large gap between the student’s writing ability and the desired writing level. Also, learners may generate texts mostly alone when the class is large. If the writing goal is more individual, then composing solo or nearly so can be desirable. The teacher can provide help. Peer-editing sessions can help transfer knowledge and skills between students. They also give students more critical thinking practice and experience.
The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is abbreviated by the acronym “LEA.” But as a regular word, “lea” actually means “an open meadow,” according to many a crossword puzzle. From a teaching perspective, giving students a wide open meadow (or page!) on which to write when their skills suffice is an important opportunity for language development or literacy!
Highly Collaborative Texts
In some cases, it’s not useful to delineate the teacher or the student as the “finalizer” of the sentences being dictated. Students may need more teacher support at sporadic intervals. When the average student can compose well without struggle, pausing or using resources like dictionaries, teachers would be wise to encourage them to at least generate strings of a few words. After all, the goal is to support students so they can take off writing on their own when possible.
When it comes to listening, reading, writing and speaking fluidly, over-editing and over-correcting can be disruptive or corrosive. Overcorrection of adult English-language learners or a literacy class can demean the speaker unnecessarily. A teacher who is correctly using language experience tactics usually knows this already.
Benefits for Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing
While the main benefits come from writing practice, the three other language skills also see benefits. The learners’ gains will vary based on whether they’re foreign or English language learners (ESL), young students or literacy students. The benefits are listed below according to the type of skill.
- Comprehending the teacher’s prompts for narration
- Listening to teacher assistance, feedback or narration
- Listening to other students’ input in the classroom
- Benefits associated with personal experiences (naming of materials, field trip, explanation of a novel object)
- Vocabulary recollection and pronunciation
- Narration exercise
- Attempting precise grammar (often using past tenses and past progressive tense) in oral language
- Reading the vocabulary presented to prep for the experience
- Reading and rereading the text as it’s generated
Of course, the main benefit of the Language Experience Approach comes in the act of composing sentences. Even with a teacher-generated text, students will have their writing skills exercised. That’s because they’ll imagine what they would communicate. Witnessing a group process is advantageous to learning. In cases of low first-language literacy, seeing others write familiar spoken sentences can make many written connections quickly.