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Developing a Language Experience (or Dictated) Story

The Language Experience approach to teaching reading and writing builds on the learner's own language and knowledge and is an effective way to encourage self expression and build awareness of the connections between oral and written language.

What I can think about, I can talk about.
What I can say, I can write.
What I can write, I can read.
I can read what I can write and what other people can write for me to read*.
(Van Allen & Halversen)

Think how meaningful and powerful a child's own dictated story can be as a reading text, to be read over and over again.

  1. Be prepared with pencil and eraser, lined paper and drawing paper.
  2. Together, identify a topic the child would like to tell about: (such as a retelling of a story heard or read; a personal experience; a set of directions for a game or object; a story related to the child's illustration).
  3. Talk briefly about the topic, and explain that you will write what the child tells you to write. Then, as the child watches and dictates, write down in clear, well spaced, large print, the child's exact words, including dialect or grammatical variations.
  4. From time to time, stop and read aloud to the child what you have written so far, pointing to the words, and having the child confirm that you are getting down his ideas accurately.
  5. If it is a long dictation, you may want to write only two or three sentences on a page, leaving plenty of room for illustrations. This is especially important for an Emergent or Early reader, so as not to overwhelm with too much print 
  6. At conclusion of dictation, read back the whole piece, pointing to thefather reading to child words and encouraging child to follow along. Praise the good ideas. If there is time, and the child is still attentive, reread the piece chorally. (You can save that for a follow up session, if necessary.)
  7. Save the piece in child's folder to reread in future sessions; be sure to return to this story as you would to any other reading text -- to be savored and practiced. A very special dictation might be illustrated and given a cover and title page.
  8. You may develop some related activities, such as choosing key sentences or particular phrases or words to use in games. (See Sample Games)

After several rereadings of the piece the child may master it and be able to share it with friends or family. But this may not always be a reasonable expectation, especially with a long dictation. When the child is practicing reading his or her own story, respond to approximations or miscues, just as you would in any reading. Be supportive and help the child, and enjoy the experience!

* Van Allen, R. & Halversen, G. (no date). The Language-Experience Approach to Reading Instruction. Ginn and Company.