Language Experience Approach

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Some of the components of the Language Experience Approach were used in the 1920s; this approach to initial literacy is now been recognized and more widely used for the past thirty years. Especially in the context of open learning teachers use the students’ existing language and prior experiences to develop reading, writing and listening skills. Roach Van Allen who is a well-known advocate for LEA first described his approach in the 1960s; he indicated how this strategy could create a natural bridge between spoken language and written language by stating; “What I can say, I can write What I can write, I can read I can read what I write and what other people can write for me to read.” This strategy is very effective as it emphasizes the relationship between thought, oral language, and reading. LEA uses the student’s own language and prior experiences which ensures familiarity with the content and vocabulary used in the reading activities. In other words LEA facilitates a bridge between the learner and print.


The language experience approach can be traced back to the seminal work of Ashton-Warner (1963) and Paulo Freire (1972) with underprivileged children and adults. It now is in use in many countries in the context of open learning. More recent conceptions (cf. for overviews: Allen 1976; Dorr 2006) have been developed in the U.S., especially by Richgels (2001) and McGee/ Richgels (2011), and in Germany by Brügelmann (1986) and Brügelmann/ Brinkmann (2013) stimulating invented spelling as a means of self-expression in print ("writing to reading"). It often is suggested that the teacher should provide some type of common experience that will inspire students to express their thoughts utilizing any prior experience they might have had relating to the particular topic of choice. Examples of these experiences could include a trip to the beach, planting seeds, the necessity to prepare for a class party or even a visit to the dentist or doctor. One of the main functions of teachers is to motivate and inspire their students and this is a task that should not be taken lightly. The language experience strategy can be used to teach reading and comprehension to English Speaker of Other Language (ESOL) older struggling readers, and students with special needs. LEA can be used with small group of students or individual students. It is important that when using this strategy the teacher must record exactly what the student contributes without correcting grammar; however, the spelling should be correct and not written in the student’s dialect.

The student dictates to the teacher his/her understanding of a particular topic selected by the teacher. The teacher then records the student’s narration exactly as the student dictates it; after the teacher records the student’s contribution, the teacher then reads it orally in its entirety.

Suggested Further Reading[edit]

  • Allen, R. V.(1976). Language experiences in communication. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Tierney, R. J., Readence, J., & Dishner, E. (1995). Reading Strategies and practices. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Parrish, B., Teaching Adult ESL; A Practical Introduction; 1st edition, 2004, McGraw Hill, [ISBN-9780072855135] (p.132)


  • Ashton-Warner, S. (1963): Teacher. Simon and Schuster: New York/ Secker & Warburg: London.
  • Brügelmann, H. (1986): Discovering print – a process approach to initial reading and writing in West Germany. In: The Reading Teacher, Vol. 40, No. 3, 294-298.
  • Brügelmann, H./ Brinkmann, E. (2013): Combining openness and structure in the initial literacy curriculum. A language experience approach for beginning teachers. Download: .

  • Dorr, R. E. (2006): Something old is new again: Revisiting Language Experience. In: The Reading Teacher, Vol. 60, No. 2, 138–146.
  • Freire, P. (1972): Pedagogy of the oppressed. Penguin: Harmondsworth.
  • McGee, L.M., & Richgels, D. J. (2012): Literacy's beginnings: Supporting young readers and writers. Pearson/ Allyn and Bacon: Boston et al. (6th ed.).
  • Richgels, D.J. (2001). Invented spelling, phonemic awareness, and reading and writing instruction. In: Neuman, S. B./ Dickinson, D. (eds.) (2001), Handbook on Research in Early Literacy for the 21st Century. New York: Guilford Press (142-155).

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