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

Journal: Computer Helper Update

Just wanted to quick follow up on how computer time went today. 

As I mentioned yesterday, I found that one student needed not just lots of help, but constant help.  I was not able to provide that alone as the sole instructure in the room.  I asked one of the other students if he could help her for one session, and he said yes.

I was conflicted about whether or not I should do this.

I decided to try it because the status quo was a waste of her time  and asking another student to help was the only workable solution I could think of.

Today I gave Teacher Student the struggling student’s online learning login.  I also told him and wrote down for him an end goal for the student, “She can use USA Learns with little help.”  I said today this is maybe not possible, but we can start. 

I also gave some related targets:  

  • she should stop mousing sideways (it looks very uncomfortable!)
  • she should understand
    1. the meaning of key buttons on the USA Learns interface (“next,” “listen,” “check,” etc.), and
    2. that she should click on them to cause the appropriate action to take place (i.e. if she wants to go to the next page, she should click “next.”).

Teacher Student said that she made progress with mousing and with understanding what the buttons did.  He also said that he liked working with her, and that he would feel good working with her again if need be (I checked twice, and I think he both understood me and was being honest). 

Interestingly, the student still absolutely hates computers.  Hates.  So even now that we have some of the mechanics more under control, we have a new problem that’s even more important to address: convincing a 70+ year old that it is worth her time to learn how to use this new-fangled contraption.

I have a few thoughts on making them seem relevant to her, but do you have any suggestions?  Thanks in advance!

Autumn-Busting Follow-Up

Well, I didn’t fill my office with balloons, but I did snag the last 20 minutes of each level of class to write happy things.

In My Craft or Sullen Art by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr
In My Craft or Sullen Art by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr

I wrote a note to each teacher explaining the assignment and my motivation for it, and I included suggestions on how to explain it to their level of student. I asked them to introduce the activity to their class… and then have everyone get up and walk over to the big classroom to do the actual writing.

We had some music in the background and students sat at random tables. They wrote on colorful slips of paper about what makes them smile, what they’re proud of, etc. When they finished a piece, they brought it to the front and taped it onto a poster.  They were encouraged to do multiple pieces, and the teachers enjoyed participating too.

At the end we had a colorful patchwork of student (and teacher) writing at all levels. More importantly, everyone left with a huge smile on their face.  Success!

Epilogue: One of the librarians offered to run it through their giant laminator for us, and our now very shiny poster is on display between our classrooms and the circulation desk.  I’ve seen students and general library patrons reading it, and several students who were absent on writing poster day have come to me hoping they’ll be around for the next one and suggesting future writing prompts.  I’m very pleased and plan to do this again soon!

Thoughts and a Question

A few things I’ve been thinking about lately:

  • how to not overwhelm others with my ideas and/or suggestions, but welcome them into a discussion
  • Susan WB’s blog post about studies on intrinsic/extrinsic motivation
  • why is getting started on projects so difficult even though it feels so great to finally be started?
  • it’s getting to be time for another 5-week Course
  • I don’t do very much to foster conversation on this blog.

I wrote the list thinking the points would be random and different, but they’ve turned out to be interestingly related.  Hm.

Anyway, I’d like to take a moment to ask the readers:

Time and commitment barriers aside, what would you do a 5-Week Course in?

Proof and Motivation

I believe in being nice to people and in helping out when I can. I believe it’s the right thing to do, and I also believe that it pays off in the end so it’s stupid not to.

My philosophical debate of the day is this: does the “paying off in the end” bit cheapen or confirm the “right thing to do” bit?  Can it be logical and good at the same time?

Proof, by Kodama on Flickr
Proof, by Kodama on Flickr

This came to mind because twice in the past couple of weeks, one of my advanced students, C, asked for help sending videos of her little daughter out to family in Mexico, and also with getting her hand-me-down laptop to join the library’s wireless network.

To me, these are life skills, most especially when your family lives far away.  Limited access is a problem, and when I had the chance to address it for even one person, I couldn’t not.  So I had her come in during the afternoon lull and spent maybe an hour and a half total helping her out.

Then Wednesday evening, I had an unprecedented number of new students enrolling, including four men who spoke Spanish but little English. C was there because one of those men was her brother – she brought him in. She helped him understand the application and the mechanics of his test, and when he was good to go, C also helped me with the three other Spanish-speaking students.

So on one hand, what goes around comes around, and it’s amazing to be part of a cycle of such positivity.

On the other hand, I have this very concrete proof that going the extra mile for students yields more students and more helpers.  Does this proof suck any “good” there might have been out of my desire to help my students?

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know where my motivation to serve my students ends and my motivation to serve myself begins.

At least they’re aligned?