Language experience for EAL/D learners

The language experience approach provides opportunities for EAL/D students to use new language and practise speaking and listening, reading and writing through a shared experience. It is best used with lower primary students and older students who are beginning to develop their literacy skills.

EAL/D students typically develop speaking and listening ahead of reading and writing. Interactions around familiar experiences engage and scaffold EAL/D students into reading and writing.

Language experience:

  • provides contextualised, concrete experiences to link abstract concepts with new language
  • uses familiar experiences as a context to scaffold language learning
  • provides opportunities for multiple exposures to the target language throughout the sequence of lessons
  • demonstrates the relationship between speaking and listening, writing and reading using first hand experiences
  • provides a shared experience for students to use new vocabulary before, during and after the experience
  • acts as a bridge for the students to move from using informal spoken language within the immediate context of the experience, to using formal academic language required when writing, for example, a procedural text (Cummins, 2008)
  • allows the teacher to model aspects of the writing process
  • allows the teacher to model targeted language or to model a literacy focus
  • scaffolds students to read independently by providing jointly written texts with familiar language and content.

Planning for the experience

EAL/D students may not always have experience nor the language for the topics they are asked to discuss or write about, such as ANZAC Day, red back spiders or a cricket clinic. Language experience activities support the students to develop the knowledge and language they need to write about a topic.

The teacher plans an experience for EAL/D students, such as an excursion, cooking or a science experiment. Alternatively, a spontaneous or unplanned event such as a windy day, working in the school vegetable garden or a visitor can be turned into a language experience. Family members may be involved in language experiences. For example, a parent might demonstrate how roti is made. In this instance, students could write a procedural text or a recount after the language experience.

The teacher determines the genre and purpose of the text that the EAL/D students are expected to produce during the writing stage of the language experience. This informs the language that the teacher will need to explicitly teach prior and throughout the language experience sequence of lessons. The teacher varies the type of text and the purpose of writing about different experiences so that EAL/D students are exposed to different styles and genres of writing, for example, a recount, a procedure, a thank you letter or a poster.

Preparing EAL/D learners for the experience

EAL/D learners at the beginning stages of learning English might not have sufficient oral language to talk about an experience. The teacher pre teaches the vocabulary and students need multiple opportunities to talk before, during and after the shared experience. The teacher may:

  • label the materials and objects used in the language experience, for example, flour, sugar, food processor
  • discuss and list the words students need to talk and write about the experience
  • reinforce key vocabulary by playing word games, creating a word wall or by asking students to translate into their home language.

Talking during the language experience

Language experience activities directly connect the language (e.g. to knead) with meaning (pushing dough). The context is immediate and clear, and the learners see or participate directly in activities often involving concrete objects. Students can feel the adjectives (e.g. soft, sticky) and there is often direct feedback if something is not understood (‘Don't touch that, it's hot’).

During the shared experience, the teacher encourages the students to talk about what is happening. The EAL/D students might attempt to communicate using gestures, phrases or sentences with varying degrees of accuracy. The teacher might support students to articulate what they can see, hear, touch or feel by repeating or recasting their speech.

The teacher takes photographs of all stages of a language experience. These photographs are used to elicit both spoken and written language after the language experience.

Talking about the language experience

Using the photographs as visual reminders, the teacher supports the students to talk and elaborate their shared experience using longer, more detailed sentences. This scaffolds the students into writing about their experience at the next stage. The teacher asks guiding questions to prompt the students to report using full sentences. Structured speaking opportunities such as ‘Think, pair, share’ allow students to rehearse what they want to say about the experience before they contribute to whole class discussion.

The teacher supports EAL/D students to talk about the experience by:

  • ordering the photographs and talking about the series of events using sequencing words (first, next, after that)
  • labelling objects, people and actions in the photographs and using these words to form complete sentences
  • reading sentences aloud from cut up strips and matching them to photographs
  • answering true or false questions about the experience. Students verbally correct the false statements, making sure that they use complete sentences to do so.

Writing about the experience

The teacher and the students jointly construct a text using the students’ language as much as possible to write about the experience. The teacher supports the students through scribing and reformulating students’ sentences. Students’ writing can be extended through parts of or the entire writing process.

The writing can be:

  • modelled by the teacher
  • shared between the teacher and students
  • independent of the teacher. This strategy is suitable for more proficient EAL/D learners after joint construction.

For more information on modelled writing, shared writing and independent writing, see: modelled writing, shared writing and independent writing.

Reading about the experience

When students read the texts they have written, it reinforces the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing. The texts produced can be published for independent or shared reading. The students’ texts can also be published as bilingual texts.

For more information about the language experience approach, see: the language experience approach (Speaking and listening), the language experience approach (Reading and viewing) and the language experience approach (Writing)

For an in practice example of a language experience unit for EAL/D students, see: Language experience unit for EAL/D learners


Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and theoretical status of the distinction. In B. street & n.H. Hornberger (Eds.). Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd Edition, Volume 2: Literacy. (pp. 71–83). New York: Springer.