ERIC Identifier: ED350887
Publication Date: 1992-06-00
Author: Taylor, Marcia
Source: National Clearinghouse on
Literacy Education Washington DC., Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy
Education for Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.
The Language Experience Approach and Adult Learners. ERIC
The language experience approach (LEA) is a whole language approach that
promotes reading and writing through the use of personal experiences and oral
language. It can be used in tutorial or classroom settings with homogeneous or
heterogeneous groups of learners. Beginning literacy learners relate their
experiences to a teacher or aide, who transcribes them. These transcriptions are
then used as the basis for other reading and writing activities.
Although the LEA was first developed for native-English-speaking children
(Ashton-Warner, 1963; Spache & Spache, 1964; Stauffer, 1965), it has also
been used successfully with English as a Second Language (ESL) students of all
ages. Adult learners entering ESL programs may or may not have previous
educational or literacy experiences; nonetheless, all come to class with a
wealth of life experiences. This valuable resource for language and literacy
development can be tapped by using the LEA. The approach develops literacy not
only with the whole learner in mind, but also the whole language.
FEATURES OF THE LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE APPROACH
The LEA is as
diverse in practice as its practitioners. Nonetheless, some characteristics
remain consistent (Hall, 1970): Materials are learner-generated.
--All communication skills--reading, writing, listening, and
--Difficulty of vocabulary and grammar
are determined by the learners own language use.
--Learning and teaching are personalized, communicative, creative.
LEA WITH ESL LEARNERS
Krashen and Terrell (1983) recommend
two criteria for determining whether reading materials are appropriate for ESL
learners: The reading must be 1) at a comprehensible level of complexity and 2)
interesting to the reader. Reading texts originating from learners' experiences
meet these two criteria because 1) the degree of complexity is determined by the
learner's own language, and 2) the texts relate to the learner's personal
Both criteria are of particular importance in adult beginning ESL classes,
where the paucity of reading materials can be problematic. Many books written in
simplified English are either too juvenile or too uninteresting to be considered
appropriate reading material for adults.
TWO VARIATIONS OF LEA
The most basic, and in fact the original, form of the LEA is the simple
transcription of an individual learner's personal experience. The teacher or
aide (or in a mixed-ability class, a more proficient learner) sits with the
learner so that the learner can see what is being written. The session begins
with a conversation, which might be prompted by a picture, a topic the learner
is interested in, a reading text, or an event the learner has participated in.
Once a topic evolves, the learner gives an oral account of a personal experience
related to that topic. The transcriber may help the learner expand or focus the
account by asking questions.
In most forms of the LEA, the experience is transcribed as the learner
dictates it, without transcriber corrections to grammar or vocabulary. This
technique keeps the focus on the content rather than the form of what is written
and provides concrete evidence of the learner's language growth over time
(Heald-Taylor, 1989). Errors can be corrected later, during revising and editing
stages of the writing process. The relationship between the transcriber and
learner should be well established before attempting the LEA, and the
transcriber should be supportive of what the learner has to say.
Groups may also develop language experience stories together. An experience
can be set up and carried out by the group, or stories can grow out of
experiences and stimuli from any part of the learners' personal, work, or
classroom lives. The following steps are often involved:
"Choosing the experience or stimulus." In collaboration with the learners,
choose a prompt or activity that can be discussed and written up in some form.
This might include pictures, movies, videotapes, songs, books or articles, class
projects, field trips, holidays or celebrations, or an activity designed for
"Organizing the activity." Develop a plan of action with the class. This might
include what you will do and when, and what you will need. The plans can be
written on the board to provide the first link between the activity itself and
the written word.
"Conducting the experience." The following activities might be done in the
classroom or in the community.
In the classroom
food (sandwich, French toast, salad, popcorn);
cards (thank you notes, get well cards, holiday cards);
projects (simulations, bulletin boards, skits).
In the community
field trips (to the bank, market, malls, library, city hall);
the school or the neighborhood. If the experience takes place within the
classroom, the teacher can narrate it as it unfolds, repeating key words and
For more advanced learners, discussions, as well as actual experiences, can
evolve into group-produced texts. Discussion topics might include work, adult
education, adjustment to life in the U.S., or current local and world events.
Again, the teacher might write key words and phrases on the board as they are
mentioned in the discussion.
"Discussing the experience," including all learners in the discussion and
writing key words and phrases on the board. The class might, for example,
reconstruct the sequence of events that took place. Some learners may be capable
of describing an entire experience or generating an extended text about a
prompt, while others may only be able to answer questions about it. The teacher
may need to stimulate or focus the discussion by asking wh- questions--Who was
involved? When did this take place? What did we do first? Regardless of the
level of active participation of various learners, it is crucial that all
"understand" the discussion.
"Developing a written account." The class works together to develop a written
account of what was done or discussed. Before actually writing a text, the class
might do some planning activities like brainstorming, webbing or mapping,
listing, or sequencing ideas. Learners may dictate a description or sequence of
events in an activity while the teacher or aide writes it down, or a group of
students may work together in groups to produce an account. Regardless of who
does the writing, it should be easily visible to all learners--on the board, on
a flip chart pad, or on an overhead transparency.
The teacher does not correct the learners' language at this point, although
learners may correct themselves or each other as they work together. Formal
correction can be done later, as part of the revising and editing stages.
With beginning students, written compositions may be very simple, just a
sentence or two if this represents their level of English proficiency. Length is
"Reading the account." Once the written text is complete, the teacher or a
learner can read it aloud to the class, focusing on key words and phrases, and
then learners can read it silently on their own. Of course, oral reading of the
account does not need to occur "only" at this stage, but can be done at many
different points during its production, thus promoting rethinking and revision
throughout its evolution.
"Extending the experience." Many language and literacy activities beyond
rereading can be based on the written text. The following possibilities can be
selected and adapted according to learners' proficiency levels.
beginning learners, teachers can
students copy the story themselves;
students match words with pictures or definitions;
every nth word (4th, 5th, 6th, etc.) to create a cloze exercise. Have the
students fill in the blanks either with or without the assistance of a word
bank, depending on their literacy level;
words from the story for vocabulary, spelling, or sound-symbol correspondence
the texts to review a grammar point, such as sequence of tenses, word order, or
the story for learners to write; write the sentences in scrambled order and have
students rewrite them, restoring the correct sequence; scramble key words and
have students unscramble them.
advanced learners can use the group-produced text as the basis for individually
written texts about the same topic, about a similar experience, or as a critique
of this experience. Then they might read each others' texts;
and edit the texts and prepare them for publication;
other texts related to the topic;
comprehension questions for classmates to answer;
other types of texts--songs, poems, letters (for example, a letter to the
editor), or directions for how to do something. In a class with learners at
different proficiency levels, the teacher can use the more basic activities with
the learners at lower levels while the more proficient learners work on the more
advanced activities individually or in groups, with less teacher help.
Although the LEA was developed primarily as a
tool for reading development, this technique can be used successfully to develop
listening, speaking, and writing as well. This integrated approach is unique in
that it begins with students' individual or shared experiences as a basis for
discussion, writing, and finally reading. As students see their personal
experiences transcribed into the written word, they also gain a greater
understanding of the "processes" of writing and reading and can make the bridge
to reading and writing independently.
Ashton-Warner, S. (1963). "Teacher." New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Hall, M. A. (1970). "Teaching reading as a language experience." Columbus,
OH: Charles Merrill.
Heald-Taylor, G. (1989). "Whole language strategies for ESL students." San
Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T.D. (1983). "The natural approach." Hayward,
CA: Alemany Press.
Spache, G., & Spache, E. (1964). "Reading in the elementary school." New
York: Allyn & Bacon.
Stauffer, R. G. (1965). A language experience approach. In J.A. Kerfoot
(Ed.), "First grade reading programs, perspectives in reading No. 5." Newark,
DE: International Reading Association.
FOR FURTHER READING
Bell, J., & Burnaby, B. (1988). "A handbook for ESL literacy." Toronto,
Ontario: OISE Press.
Cohen, J., Della Piana, G., Merrill, J., Trathen, W., & Weiss, S.(1981).
"A reading and writing program using language-experience methodology among adult
ESL students in a basic education program." (Volunteer Tutor and
Administrator/Instructor Manuals). Salt Lake City: Utah State Board of
Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 213 914 and ED 213 915)
Dixon, C. N., & Nessel, D. (l983). "Language experience approach to
reading (and writing)." Hayward, CA: Alemany Press. (EDRS No. ED 236 933)
Rigg, P. (1987). Using the language experience approach with ESL adults.
"TESL Talk," 20 (1), 188-200. Toronto: Ministry of Citizenship.
Special thanks to Susan Huss and Peggy Seufert-Bosco for their helpful
comments on this digest.