The Language Experience Approach- Magical Reading Readiness Learning!

g. kirklandholmes By g. kirklandholmes, 23rd Jul 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Education

Ask a pre-school-kindergarten teacher who used the language experience approach with children ages 2 to 9 about a real-life approach to early literacy learning. While many advocate using workbooks, worksheets and many uncreative activities and materials, I propose the language experience approach, because it WORKS!

What Is the Language Experience Approach?

When I first started my teaching career, I was delighted to find out that he school where I was teaching used the "language experience approach." The School that was located on the campus where I did all of my graduate work also used an approach where children were allowed so many opportunities to use their creative thinking abilities in early literacy experiences. I was so honored and privileged to have received my educational teaching experiences in these two great institutions!

Learning centers were arranged such that children could go there, use every day experiences and imitate, emulate and duplicate actions of adults in their lives. They could use materials such as telephone books, calendars, diaries, notepads, writing paper, writing tablets, stationery, envelopes, invitations, newspapers, coupons, tickets,
magazines, books, help them use their imaginations while learning the value of the printed/written word.
Adding a variety of creative writing materials to the area also made it so much more meaningful for these young readers and writers. Magic markers, of varying colors and sizes, colored pencils, pencils, pens, chalk, glitter pens, crayons and a host of other writing utensils on construction, easel, drawing, lined, wrapping, corrugated, and other types of paper made it a very interesting classroom experience for all of the children!

Why Use the Language Experience Approach With Young Children?

During the early days of my teaching career, I thought the Language Experience Approach was a fairly new one. But with research, I learned that the components of this approach were used as early as the 1920s. Today, many educators and literacy experts share in the fact that it is one of the more recognized comprehension strategies that can be used to help children learn to read.

What I like about this approach is that it uses the child's natural or existing language, prior experiences and help them develop early reading strategies.

Some advocates beam about the fact that this strategy seems to provide a positive bridge between the written and spoken words.

What I liked best about using the approach was that there was an obvious relationship between children's thinking, their oral or verbal use of language and reading.

These strong factors serve as support mechanisms for the children. This helps assure that the child will feel comfortable mostly because of their familiarity with the information captured and to be used in the literacy development strategies.

How Does the Language Experience Approach Work?

There are some teachers who like to use the photo-narration approach as a variation of the language experience approach. This is used to support the language development of young children.

Teachers use the child's personal experiences as a basis for language and literacy experiences.

This allows them to extend the practice of writing down (scribing) what the child says (narrative) as the text for them to be able to read back independently or with the group or teacher.

Research has shown that the language experience approach is a developmentally appropriate method for gathering the language (words) of young children. Thus using their on language and experiences as teaching tools make this a unique learning experience.

The children enjoy seeing their own language in written form especially on their individual paper or on group language experience chart paper.

Then the children are able to read back what the teacher wrote because it was their own personal language.

It really works like magic because it gives the children a magical sense of confidence that they "can read!"

What Are Some Advantages to Using the Language Experience Approach?

Some of the advantages of using the language experience approach are obvious from the start.

1) It is an approach that is beneficial to the child- It is a win-win learning style for the child! It gives them confidence and builds their interest in trying.
2) It is an approach that is beneficial to the other children in the classroom. Other children learn as much from their classmates' language just as well as their own.
3) It is an approach that is simple, basic and easy to implement. All it takes is the child's language, experiences, writing utensils and paper.
4) Children are able to observe the written language and see the interconnectedness between their spoken word and the written word.
5) The child views the teacher as a supporter of their learning to read through this approach.
6) The child views self and classmates as leaders in learning early literacy. Each child is able to use and understand this approach on an individual basis.
7) There are no limits on how many times this approach can be used throughout the day.
8) The child learns about creativity and literacy development. There are so many forms that can be used for this purpose- such as paper, cardboard oak tag, word strips This allows the child to see different materials and strategies being employed.

Photo Narration- A Real Cool Part of the Language Experience Approach!

Photo narration is not only used as a variation to the language experience approach, but as a unique way of yet personalizing the learning experience. It is a process whereby a person or persons take photos. Then after taking the photos, descriptions of what is happening in the photos are given so that a child's language can be built to a higher level.

One of the popular methods used is to have the child take photos with the camera, then describe what was taken in the photo. This really puts meaning for the child as they share their great "work."

One such project took place in a preschool environment where the children were of a culturally and linguistically background. This proved to be very meaningful to them. This allowed the teacher the opportunity to have the child's parents look at the pictures and help them develop the language descriptions. for those children who spoke a different language, the family was asked to write the narratives in their native language. Then the teacher could write them on chart paper to share with the entire class.

It was amazing how the narratives were so beneficial in early literacy experiences, So some of the skills acquired during these approaches :
1) acquiring operational skills- how to operate the camera and connect the written word, the visual clues and the spoken word.
2) extending knowledge and understanding of the world
3) developing dispositions to learn
4) understanding the role of camera use in everyday life and the connection between
the pictures, the spoken and written word.

What A Teacher Says About the Language Experience Approach

As a teacher, I can truly say that I was proud of what I saw the children do after being exposed to the language experience approach.

I realized how important it as for me to share with the children's families about the values of the language experience approach. Many parents wonder why we were not using workbooks, worksheets or a reading series for the children, but I was able to help them develop a confidence in this approach. The old saying, "Actions speak louder than words,"
was really true in his case.

In the beginning of the school year, I invited whole families to an introductory meeting. While sharing with them the program goals, I also was able to emphasize literacy
approaches that would be used. Once easy childhood curricula is introduced, the number one question that is asked is, "will my child learn to read?" This is a great time to help the parents to begin to look closer at their child's progressive development during the school year.

I was able to help them to begin by focusing on their child, and sharing the benefits of using this language experience approach .

Benefits of the Language Experience Approach

1. It brings together a child's writing, reading, art and language developmental skills!
2. It helps the child to use his/her imagination in the process of storytelling.
3. It extends the child's creativity, creative thinking abilities in the storytelling process through writing experiences.
4. It helps young children to begin to understand that there is a relationship between what they think, say and write.
5. It is a learner-centered learning experience for children because it focuses on their language and experiences.
6. It allows the child to know that their thoughts, values, ideas and language are valued.
7. It provides familiar reading and re-reading material for the child.
8. It provides reading material that is predictable for the beginning reader.
9. It provides material that they can easily read back because of personalization of their own language.
10. It allows the child to see their natural/native language in writing!

How to Make the Language Experience Approach Work For You

You the parent, teacher, educator, professional or para-educator can really make this approach work for you and the child. Just keep in mind the thoughts of the children when it comes to the language experience approach

"What I can say, I can write. What I an write, I can read. I can read what I write. It is also a
blessing that other people can write what I say. I can read what other people write that I said!"

How to make it work for you and the children!

1) Start by assessing each of the children's literacy skills.
2) Know if the children are familiar with letters, sound-symbol relationships
3) Have information on any children with special needs that may need accommodations
or adaptations- such as speech, hearing, language delays, physical limitations
4) Know the children who may need additional support to get them started
5) Know the students who may have some advanced skills that can be shared to enhance their learning.
6) Have children actively involved in the process!
7) Allow them to choose topics of interest or group selected ones
8) Allow the child the freedom to use additional materials to enhance the language experience approach- i.e glitter when writing and drawing about "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
9) Allow children the opportunity to explore using the approach independently, in small groups as well as large groups.
10) Make sure that time is provided in the schedule for children to share their readings, writings and spoken word! This step is critical to the success of the effective use of this approach!

Examples of Language Experience Charts

Every teacher is different. How, when and why they may or may not use this approach is a personal decision. I was able to allow my children to use this approach throughout the day. So a teacher who is able to use the integrated approach can really allow this experience to be very natural for the children. They will develop a habit of integrating their thoughts and ideas in every subject area and naturally integrate the language experience approach.

Teachers can practice having creative and open-ended language experience charts to correspond with each unit of study, subjects, topics and some just for fun. Here are a few examples and remember, write exactly what the child says- they are depending on us to write every word- after all it's their language!

Circus Unit
1) If I Were An Elephant, I Would...
2) If I Were A Tight rope Walker, I Would...

Dinosaur Unit

1) I Think Dinosaurs Are...
2) If I Could Give A Dinosaur A Name, I Would Name...

Fruits and Vegetables

1) My Favorite Fruit Is...
2) If I Could Be A Vegetable, I Would Be A...

I Am Special

1) Something Special About Me Is...
2) My Name Is Special Because...

These are just a few examples to help you begin to think with the children on topics. As children grow and develop during this process, they will start coming to the teacher
saying, "I think we should do a chart on...!"

Extending Activities Beyond the Language Experience Charts

Having activities and experiences that extend beyond the group or designated time for the language experience approach can enhance this for all of the children. Here are some activities that can be extended beyond the language experience charts that are typically used:

Ways of Emphasizing and Extending this As An Effective Approach

1) Ask the child about a subject or topic that they enjoy. (These can include a favorite move, song, game or recent experience.
2) Ask the child to speak about what interests him/her and allow the child to do this in a comfortable non-threatening way.
3) Have the child illustrate a picture for a class book- Write about the picture
4) Have child use a camera to take pictures of something important happening, then write about it.
5) Make copies of a variety of language experience charts for the children to take home and share with family members.
6) As in number 5, if the child speaks a language other than English, this is still a great opportunity for the child to share with the family. Encourage the child's family to interpret
in their native language. Send back to school and share with others.
7) Students can "publish" their language stories by putting it in the classroom publications library. Other children can check out and read or share at home.
8) Students should be allowed o retell group experiences such as field trips, a science project, a story, etc. Remember this approach is based on personal experiences and are told by the students.
9) Have children participate a physical activity such as creative movement- then have them draw, tell and write about the actions used during this time.
10) After children have drawn, painted or made a collage, have them write about it or the teacher can scribe for them!
11) Add your own to this list!

Assessing and Evaluating Your Language Experience Approaches

Other teachers share that if you have a struggling reader or a child who just doesn't seem interested, try the language experience approach. Many teachers end up using this approach only after children have failed in the use of other approaches. Still they report of the excitement and enthusiasm of the child after feeling initial success while involved in this approach!

Now while some teachers happily share their feelings of use of the language experience approach as a method of reaching reluctant or struggling readers and writers, it is my recommendation the his approach be used early. It will build the child's self-confidence and self-esteem.

There are often questions such as < "what should you do if the child pouts about the books you have made available for them during reading and writing?" Of course experts talk about the importance of motivating children by also allowing them to select some interest-based materials. Because the language experience approach is a child-centered approach, it usually takes care of the interest and motivation areas.

A teacher shared that her own personal assessment and evaluation of this approach confirmed the effectiveness by writing, "The language experience approach" is a wonderful way to get ALL students motivated to read and write.

University tutors who assessed and evaluated the approach shared, "We took dictations from the students or had them write on their own, then we used the students' own words
as reading material. Sometimes we did activities before using the language experience approach to encourage them to find topics that would give them ideas to talk and write about.

It is important to assess and evaluate the experiences of the children to make sure the maximum opportunities for success are available!

An Early Literacy Approach that Works- Give it A Try

As you can tell from all of the information shared during this article, this approach does work. However, it is not a convincing matter, rather it is a "try it for yourself." It may work for one teacher, and maybe not another. Some teachers may feel that they have developed an approach that works better for their students.

I was talking to a teacher recently who had completed her first year as a first grade teacher. What she shared with me was a bit shocking, but I really had no comments since I had never been to her classroom, not seen her teach and since the principal was moving her from that position and into one where she would not be in the classroom- like a Title I Reading Teacher or something similar.

She started by sharing that the teachers are under so much stress trying to meet the challenges of "No Child Left Behind." So she was representative of some teachers who have decided to try almost anything to make those test scores look better.
So this teacher said to me that most of her students in her class started out at something like the 20th percentile. Then by midterm she had moved them ALL to the 70th percentile.
But she kept saying but I took out all of the learning centers and all of the play time (she repeated that several times). Then she looked at me as if she was waiting a comment about whether I thought what she did was appropriate. As she repeated the part about how she took all of those things away from the children, she also kept repeating, "I don't think the principal would have liked what I did. But she did not say that the principal didn't like what she did. Then she went on to say that by the end of the school year, every child in her class scored at the 100th percentile!!!!! Well- as she shared that a few teachers told her that she ought to share what she did! Well, she is not going to be in the classroom this fall, 100th percentile or not! But the great thing about this language experience approach
is that it does allow the children to grow and develop! So whatever methods are used, try this one!

Language Experience Charts, Gladly

Thank you for allowing me to share this real and true experience in this article. There are some things that are dear to a teacher's heart. There are some that are cherished and the children who have grown, developed and progressed with them. Many of the children were in my classroom for a two and periodically three year-time period. It was amazing to see their growth in early literacy.
Then when it was time for them to go to first grade, it was always so wonderful. I, their preschool-kindergarten teacher just knew in my heart that they would do well. I knew that they would succeed. I also knew from many years of experience that they would learn to read. I also learned that whether they continued in our school or went to a different one they were among the top students in their class. This continued throughout all of their school years. Not bragging, but I had sixth grade teacher tell me year after year that he could tell the students were in my class because of their creative thinking and writing abilities! He was saying that these early experiences were life long.

Lastly, since the school where I taught was from preschool through twelfth grade the graduation rate was 100% and college entry and completion 99.9%. Now that I am a parent and teaching at the university level, we have a few more days to see if this great school will ever open it's doors again! I'll keep you posted in the future. So whether this school stays open or not there are many years of well-prepared students to help meet the challenge of great leaders in the future! Gladly, I present a teacher's perspective on the language experience approach!


Experience, Language, Language Arts, Language Experiences, Language Learning, Language Tops, Literacy Experiences, Pre-Reading, Reading, Reading Readiness

Meet the author

author avatar g. kirklandholmes
I am an early childhood educator and taught pre-school-kindergarten multi-age grouping classes and early childhood courses at the University of Northern Iowa. I also publish with

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author avatar A K Rao
29th Jul 2012 (#)

A very beautifully presented articl about "Language Experience Approach" ! I congratulate you on your excellent job! Thanks for sharing dear kinklandholmes!

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author avatar g. kirklandholmes
29th Jul 2012 (#)

Thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate it very much!

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author avatar A K Rao
29th Jul 2012 (#)

You are most welcome dear friend!

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author avatar Tsitsi mushipe
27th Sep 2014 (#)

what are the disadvantages of language experience approach

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