Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

4856159509_b5e34f2735The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is one of those “activities” that can actually just replace the curriculum.

It’s typically used with students with low writing ability. This usually means they have low (English) speaking ability also, but not necessarily. The genius of it is that accommodates students’ language ability because the students generate the text.

16559888601_0d74dc9defIt works with children and adults. It works with students from pre-literate cultures, “regular” ESL students, and low literacy students who are fluent in English. It’s always interesting and always fresh and new.

So what is it?!


First, you do something as a class. Take a walk, go on a field trip, do something real in the classroom. Everybody attends, everybody participates.

Then, the students dictate a true story about what they just did.

This text (based on the original experience) can then be used as a springboard for vocabulary building, grammar study, cloze activities, reading practice, conversation practice, memorization, etc.

This is probably the shortest procedure I’ve written so far in the ESL Activity Corner! This is also probably the richest activity I’ve included here.


Back in a lesson journal post from 2011 (almost a full 6 years ago?!), I mentioned a slight modification of LEA for my intermediate level class. I’m going to re-explain it, but this time through the lens of LEA.

First, our classroom was switched on us in the middle of our term. We went from a spacious square room with an entire wall of windows to a small irregularly trapezoidal room with literally no windows. I thought of to myself as The Cave. This was the “real” thing that formed the basis of the LEA activity.

Now, my students were not a bunch of complainers. They kept attending, they kept studying… but they were clear that they did not like this room. I had spoken to the building manager, who told me they were going to be renovating that wing of the building. But we kept an eye on it, and the renovation did not seem to be happening.

It came up in class one day that they were still not pleased with the classroom, and that the old room was still untouched and unused. So we did a group writing assignment.

I set up a really simple chart on the board to compare the old room and the new room. I asked them for examples of what was better in the old classroom and worse in the new one. They came up with many examples!

Then together we chose the top three or four strongest points from the brainstorm. I set up some flip chart paper and began a letter to my boss, “Dear ___,” Students took turns suggesting sentences, and the group talked about them and made changes or agreed, and then I wrote down their thoughts on the giant letter.

They outlined why their old room was better and pointed out that it was sitting empty. They insisted on ending the letter with something like “Thank you for free English classes,” which I thought spoke volumes. All of us signed the letter.

I folded it up and hand-delivered it to my boss, and the next week we were back in our beautiful old classroom.


It was a really worthwhile activity as it was, and I could have easily extended it more by recycling the text into sentence-scrambles, cloze activities, and a conversation circle topic.


  • interesting demos are another option, though full-participation experiences are generally better, especially at the lower levels.
  • as students’ abilities increase, they can write the story rather than dictating.
  • in a multi-level class, the lower level students can dictate to the higher level students.
  • it works well one-on-one
  • for students who have a fairly solid vocabulary and some workable grammar, it works well even with activities that are not shared. The story-telling process becomes an even more authentic communication, conveying new information to the reader.
  • using the text – cloze, students or teacher write comprehension questions, change the verb tenses, re-imagine the ending, create a vocabulary list, scramble the sentences…
  • extending the topic – have the general topic of the experience be the topic for a conversation circle session, or ask students if they’ve had a similar experience before and work with them to generate texts about those experiences.
  • keep the LEA texts the students generate as a class portfolio. It’s like the students are writing their own textbook!

This is just a wonderful activity to do with students at and below the Intermediate level. I hope you will try it!

Photo Credit 1: jelm6 on Flickr

Photo Credit 2: COD Newsroom on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach, originally posted at

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