Language Experience (Wilson, 1979; see also Hill, 2021) is an integrated approach to teaching literacy that involves:
- a shared experience, including rich, exploratory activities that provide students with opportunities to learn and use familiar and new vocabulary in context, to produce a written text for an audience and to share their writing with others, including reading to another person.
- establishing the difference between spoken and written language, as well as highlighting the relationship between oral and written language such that oral language becomes a 'rehearsal' for students' writing.
Example of the structure
An example of the language experience approach demonstrates a potential daily literacy schedule in a Foundation to Level 2 classroom.
The Language Experience approach is key to literacy teaching in Foundation to Year 2 because it is a high impact,
explicit teaching approach (HITS) that aims to build students' language through scaffolded talk, and to work from a language to assist students to write and to read. Teachers could elect to use this approach as part of the suite of literacy teaching approaches used across a school term. Some teachers may choose to incorporate this approach into their weekly literacy planner.
Language Experience can be used to assist students to extend their
vocabulary and language use, and to
use talk for writing. Teachers may wish to use a shared experience that relates to a topic of inquiry or investigation, a text focus, or students' interests.
Teachers may also use the Language Experience Approach to engage EAL students. Through scaffolded instruction, students have opportunities to participate in substantive conversation and to consolidate and expand their knowledge of English through practice and use. This context-dependent use of language is essential for EAL students (Cummins, 2008; Gibbons, 2015).
Further, Language Experience can be used to support those students with low levels of exposure to oracy in the home (Mercer, 2019), and those with
language and learning disabilities.
The approach could also be highly beneficial with regard to the transition to school and the focus on play-based learning.
Language Experience is an important approach to literacy teaching where talk is seen as a key tool for learning (Mercer, 2019). Language-rich classrooms in the early years of schooling provide powerful beginnings to literacy learning (Flynn, 2016). In encouraging all students to talk about what they can see, hear, touch or see throughout a shared experience, teachers build and extend students' language repertoire and assist them to articulate their thinking and their new learning. To do this, the teacher may use:
- a range of 'talk moves' to repeat what the student says or to extend the original utterance.
- a range of open-ended probing questions.
- 'wait time' to allow students sufficient time to think and process their response (Edwards-Groves, Anstey & Bull, 2014).
In this way, the teacher places emphasis on students learning through language and learning to use language for a range of purposes.
The teacher also models how thoughts and words can be written down to be read. There is opportunity here for the teacher to highlight to students how speech can be represented in writing, and also how the structure of spoken language differs the structure of written language (Christie, 2005).
Teachers may also include drawing and labelling activities to create a 'bridge' between the experience, the talk about the experience and the modelled and/or independent writing phase. This process is important for emergent writers (Mackenzie, 2011).
F-2 examples which demonstrate the Language Experience approach and ideas for lessons can be found at these links:
In implementing a Language Experience approach, it is recommended that teachers:
- facilitate talk for learning (Mercer, 2018).
- use 'talk-moves' to scaffold students' learning and talk (Edwards-Groves, Anstey & Bull, 2014; Gibbons, 2015).
- ensure 'message abundancy' (Gibbons, 2015), whereby key ideas are presented in a multitude of ways (visuals, printed and digital texts, the use of Word Walls, charts, aural and tactile resources, hands-on activities, physical movement and gesture, written notes and illustrations, spoken language accompanied by action; excursions/incursions).
- provide opportunities for learning vocabulary in context (Cummins, 2008).
- provide opportunities for learning English grammatical patterns (Gibbons, 2015).
- highlight the differences between spoken and written language (Christie, 2005), and the relationship between talk and writing (Myhill, Jones & Wilson, 2016).
Christie, F. (2005).
Language education in the primary years. Sydney, Australia: UNSW Press.
Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and theoretical status of the distinction. In N. Van Deusen-Scholl and N. Hornberger (Eds.).
Encyclopedia of Language and Education, (2nd ed.), Volume 2: Literacy. (pp. 71–83). New York: Springer.
Edwards-Groves, C., Anstey, M. & Bull, G. (2014). Classroom Talk: Understandings dialogue, pedagogy and practice. Sydney: PETAA.
Flynn, E. (2016). Language-rich early childhood classrooms: Simple but powerful beginnings.
The Reading Teacher. 70(2), 159 – 156.
Gibbons, P. (2015).
Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom (2nd ed.). Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.
Hill, S. (2021).
Developing early literacy: Assessment and teaching (3rd ed). South Yarra, Victoria: Eleanor Curtain Publishing.
Mackenzie, N. (2011). From drawing to writing: What happens when you shift teaching priorities in the first months of school?
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 34(3), 322-340.
Mercer, N. (2019).
Language and the Joint Creation of Knowledge: The selected works of Neil Mercer. Abingdon: Routledge.
Myhill, D., Jones, S. & Wilson, A. (2016). Writing conversations: fostering metalinguistic discussion about writing.
Research Papers in Education,
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) (2017).
Victorian Curriculum Foundation-10: English. Retrieved from
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) (2020).
Victorian Curriculum Foundation-10: English as an Additional Language [EAL]
Wilson, L. (1979).
Write Me A Sign. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Australia.