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e-LEA: multimodal writing.

The Language Experience Approach (Stauffer, 1970) has been a favourite and effective teaching strategy for many years, especially in early childhood, ESL and reading difficulties contexts. LEA uses meaningful, multi-sensory experiences (such as a visit to the zoo, making a cake or blowing bubbles) as a context for building oral language skills and then the experience and the practised oral language is used as a basis for writing, with the teacher acting as a scribe.


e-LEA is comprised of the same steps as 'traditional' LEA, but they are implemented in slightly different ways, as outlined below.

1. The experience

Language Experience Approach, whether electronic or not, should start with a real, stimulating, exciting, multi-sensory experience. This is an opportunity for teachers to talk with children about a range of topics in a range of stimulating and interesting contexts. Children's vocabulary and syntactic knowledge can be extended through teacher modelling and through interaction in authentic contexts. During e-LEA, the teacher and/or the children can take digital photographs or video clips to record and illustrate the experience.

2. Reinforcement of the experience

It is important to reinforce the experience afterwards, to talk about it, to dramatise it, set it to music, think about it, to hear about it. This gives children further opportunities to hear and or/use words and structures that can convey the experience. It may also help them remember the experience, sequence it, and visualise it--all important aspects of writing.

3. Detailed discussion and retelling

This is an opportunity for teachers to help children do an oral retell of the experience, using appropriate vocabulary and syntax. However, since a central tenet of LEA is that the child's own language is used, the teacher should not change the child's telling of the story, especially at the scribing stage; the child needs to learn the relationship between oral and written language, and this is more powerfully demonstrated if the child's own language is written down.

4. Producing an illustration

In traditional LEA, the child produces a drawing to illustrate a favourite or salient part of the experience, and this is used as a context for more scaffolded talk with the teacher. Some children, however, are not good at representing their experiences through drawing. They may choose an 'easy' or limited thing to draw that does not truly represent the most salient or exciting part of the experience for them.

With e-LEA, digital photographs or even video clips can be shown to the child and the child can choose (and even justify) a picture that represents a favourite part of the experience. The child can then describe what is happening in the picture and talk about how the experience felt. This may help them realise that written words can record real experiences (the text user practice). If the child would prefer to draw a picture, after having reviewed the photos, this is of course permissible.

5. Eliciting the oral story

This part of LEA, and e-LEA alike, involves the teacher eliciting a story or recount from the child, preferably with some sequencing of events. If children have difficulty in sequencing, the teacher can lay out the digital photos in sequence and discuss them with the child. At this stage of LEA, the teacher again scaffolds and prompts the child's talk.

In the e-LEA context, the child can record the oral story on the computer (usually only one or two sentences per page), using sound recording software such as Audacity (download free from http:// or the built-in 'record' feature of the software used. The child's narration can be played back so that they can decide if it makes sense and sounds right. The child may decide to try again and record some new words. Depending on the age and capabilities of the child, the electronic talking text may range from a single page with only one or two sentences to several pages.


6. Teacher scribes the story

It is now time to translate the oral story into a written form. The teacher and the child listen to the recorded sentences and the teacher repeats them, and then scribes them, doing all the things s/he would do in a traditional context--discussing spellings, spaces between words, punctuation, whether or not the text is making sense and conveying the message. Although the teacher scribes most of the time, the text can be written interactively and the child can do some of the writing and make suggestions about spellings, punctuation, if appropriate.

The teacher can use software such as PowerPoint to make the electronic talking text. Instructions for making an electronic talking book using PowerPoint can found at: talking/talking.pdf

Examples of talking books (not necessarily e-LEA) using PowerPoint can be found at the ECTLP website at: littlekids/downloads/ebooks/

Other software, such as Storybook Weaver Deluxe, Clicker 5 and Kidpix can also be used to make electronic talking texts.

7. The child rereads the story

Finally, as in traditional LEA, the child rereads the story. This can be done along with the recorded narration or with the volume muted. The text can be listened to and read again and again, by the author and by other children.

Concluding comments

e-LEA is a motivational, supportive and powerful means of helping young children learn concepts about print, letter-sound relationships, about sentences, and about text structures and purposes. Children can also talk about the visuals in their e-books and what role they play in making meaning.


Labbo, L. D., Eakle, A. T., & Montero, M. K. (2002). Digital Language Experience Approach: Using digital photographs and software as a Language Experience Approach initiative. Reading Online, 8(8).

Oakley, G. (2001). Things young children can do with an electronic talking book ... maybe. ERIC Document ED456417.

Stauffer, R. G. (1970). The language experience approach to the teaching of reading. NY: Harper & Row.

Turbill, J. (2003). Exploring the potential of the digital language experience approach in Australian classrooms. Reading Online, 6(7).

Grace Oakley is a lecturer at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. A version of this article was originally published by the Early Childhood Teachers Association in 2005
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Title Annotation:Language Experience Approach
Author:Oakley, Grace
Publication:Practically Primary
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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