Language Experience Approach

By Gina Reich Guzman. Reprinted with permission.

What is Language Experience Approach?

Language Experience Approach, or LEA, is a traditional method most often used in Adult Basic Education programs. While I did learn how to use LEA when I was working at an Adult Basic Education center I have since used it with my own children, in classes I have taught as well as with reluctant readers and writers.  It is a very gentle approach that uses the learners own words to teach reading and writing.  I think it is *very* compatible with Ms. Mason’s ideas about teaching reading, writing and could be used in place of some narrations. 

Using LEA with Children

Good Overview of LEA

How to do Language Experience Approach

1. Create a physical experience for the learner. The physical experience will be what the learner “writes” about. It can be as elaborate as a day at the zoo or as simple as folding laundry. If the child is young, and therefore prone to forgetfulness, I recommend taking photos of the experience.  They may come in handy later in the process!

2. After the experience verbally, or using the pictures, talk with the learner about the experience and what they thought was important or interesting. It is at this point that you may want to ask the learner what will be the beginning, middle and end of their story (or whatever writing lessons you may be working on).

3. Now have the learner dictate to you a step by step “how-to” of what you did or have them create a story about the experience. Write down **exactly** what the learner says, errors and all. This is vital!!!! (You won’t be able to help but put in correct spelling and that is usually okay, just don’t correct the vocabulary or grammar.) The key concept here is that you are using the child’s own words!

You can record the story by hand, on the computer, on the chalkboard, etc. If the child talks fast or it’s a long story it is often best to tape-record the child and then transcribe it onto paper. 

4. Read back what the child dictated, asking if they want to make any changes. Some learners will notice any grammar errors once it is read back to them. Make changes.

5. Now you are at the point where you and the learner need to decide whether to make this story into a book with illustrations or just leave it as is.

6. Now you are ready to create “the final draft”.   Either the child will create illustrations for the story (or use the photos) or you will print out the final version by hand/computer.

7. Now read the final version to your child.

8. Next the child “reads” the story to you, which should be easier than reading a book since this is written in the child’s own words. If you think they may struggle with this go ahead and read it together/as one before having them try it on their own.

9. Follow-up: If the child is interested they can choose some words from their story for spelling or vocabulary lessons and so on.  At one point my kids liked to pick one of the more common words from their story and then look in the thesaurus for other words they could have used instead. Keep the story where the child always has access to it so they can practice reading it over and over, have them read it to a younger sibling or the family pet. 

Why Does Language Experience Approach Work?

1. You start with the concrete (the experience) and gently move to the abstract (written words)!!!

2. You can totally customize the experience and process for each individual learner. 

3. When the experience is geared toward the learner’s interests they become more motivated and stay more focused. 

4. You are using the learner’s own words to teach a new skill, rather than trying to teach this new skill using vocabulary the learner may not use in daily life. 

5. It helps the child connect the spoken word to the written word. 

6. Learners who read their own words will read those words more fluently than they would read other materials; thereby enhancing the learner’s enjoyment of the reading process. 

7.For readers with experience,you can build upon the basic LEA story to include  language arts aspects such as vocabulary, spelling, grammar, etc.