Language experience

Language experience is a practice where speaking and listening, reading and writing are mutually supportive of each other. It begins with students participating in a shared experience.

Through the shared experience, teacher-led discussion provides students with the opportunity to hear and use new vocabulary and phrases. This shared vocabulary can then be written down and read back.

Language experience involves students discussing their shared experiences, then, through teacher-led discussion, learning vocabulary and phrases to assist them in a writing activity. The practice aims to extend students’ oral language competence and connect spoken and written language.

Students can rehearse their writing orally, and explore the difference between spoken and written language. The approach supports children's concept development and vocabulary growth while offering many opportunities for meaningful reading and writing activities.

Another benefit of the approach is the development of shared experiences that extend children's knowledge of the world around them while building a sense of classroom community. Students are involved in planning, experiencing, responding to, and recording the experience and later, in participating in "remember when we …?" conversations.

As with many other teaching practices, the supportive nature of language experience makes it an ideal strategy to use with junior students or students for whom English is an additional language. However, language experience can be modified for any age group. It is a practice appropriate for both use in the whole group or in a small group.

The main parts of a language experience session:

  1. The experience
  2. The talk
  3. The writing
  4. Reading what has been written

The experience for a language experience session can be a hands-on activity (such as making clay models), an excursion, an object or a text. The talk during the experience uses contextualised language, as students and teacher are discussing what they are seeing, hearing, feeling or thinking.

During the experience, the teacher can introduce new vocabulary and encourage its use in context. The teacher may reformulate student utterances to help make meaning clear for others. The experience should offer students opportunity for extended talk.

Talk after the experience encourages the use of decontextualised language, where the support of the context is no longer as strong. The use of extended language helps to re-orientate the speaker and the listeners to the context. The time for talk provides students with the opportunity to use the new vocabulary or grammatical structures, which were introduced in the context of the experience.

Depending on the stage and ability of the students, the writing can be done as a collective piece (such as a class created big book) or students can create individual responses, which can later be read, thus reinforcing the reading, writing, speaking and listening link.  Young students learn that what can be said can also be written down and later read (Clay, 2001).

Read more about the language experience approach and EAL/D students see: Language experience approach for EAL/D learners and Language experience unit for EAL/D learners working at Level B2 to B3 of the EAL curriculum: What’s Your Story?

References

Clay, M.M. (2001). Change over time in children’s literacy development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Flynn, E. (2016). Language-rich early childhood classrooms: Simple but powerful beginnings. The Reading Teacher. 70, (2), 159 – 156.