Instructional approaches are the ways in which tutors organise instruction. They include group and individual approaches. As you use these approaches, you also use the kinds of instructional strategies listed here. For example, in a shared reading approach, your instructional strategies may include modelling good reading, prompting learners to look for a word and explaining why the writer used a particular kind of sentence.
The approaches described in this section are particularly effective for learners who are beginning to develop literacy skills. The first three approaches (language experience, shared reading and shared writing) can be used with groups or in one-on-one sessions. The fourth approach (generative words) relies on group work to generate ideas. Each approach is described here in general terms, showing how it can be used over several sessions to increase the depth and breadth of learning that can be gained from it.
Before using any approach or activity, ensure you are clear about the purpose (the learning intention) and how you will share this purpose with the learners. Use the information in the resources that support the learning progressions for further advice and for activities that can be adapted for a wide range of learners.
The purpose of this approach is to develop a reading and writing activity from the personal experiences of the learner or learners. Language experience59 begins with an individual or group discussion in which you elicit language about an experience (shared, if you are working with a group), a news item, an object that has special significance for the learners or a specific piece of information.60 The ‘experience’ on which language is to be built needs to be of high interest to the learners.
In its simplest form, language experience may involve just one learner telling you about an important or significant event or experience. This story may be prompted by a photograph the learner has shared, an incident the learner has been involved with or a recent event.
Write the learner’s story down in a book or on paper as it is told, capturing the content in the learner’s own words. The story may be one sentence or several, which you read back to the learner as many times as needed for the learner to remember it.
Where possible, help the learner to connect the written words with the spoken words as they read it back to you (one-to-one matching of spoken and written words is an important concept for beginning literacy).
Some educators suggest talking through corrections (such as sentence structure) with the learner as the story is being planned orally. It is important not to correct grammar or vocabulary without involving the learner because the power of the approach is that the story is the learner’s own.
When using language experience with a group, ensure the experience or topic to be discussed is one that everyone in the group has shared. You may wish to supply a topic or object to start the discussion, or base it on an experience that you know all the learners have had. Use this topic (or experience) to motivate the learners into a rich discussion.
During the discussion, draw out and teach language (vocabulary, sentence structures) related to the topic. As learners make statements about the topic, write them onto chart paper so everyone can see and read the story back to, and with, the learners.
The written record of the discussion can be as short as one sentence (for example, a caption for a picture) or a ‘book’ of several one- or two-sentence pages.
In the first session, do not correct vocabulary or grammar unless the learners notice and correct errors themselves. As with the one-on-one example, it is important to use the learners’ own words.
Use large, clear print and keep the story brief. As each sentence is written, read it back to, and with, the learners, repeating it as long as their interest lasts with the aim of ‘securing’ the meaning in their minds.
Learners may or may not be able to re-read the story in the first session but they should be able to retell it easily.
For individual or group work in subsequent sessions, read the story with the learner(s) many times. Each time focus on a different aspect of the content (what the story is about), structure (for example, word order, the use of consistent tense and agreement), vocabulary, spelling or other features the learners need to focus on.
Language experience activities
These written records (stories) become learning resources that learners can talk about and read many times, reinforcing the language, sentence constructions and structures of individual words for decoding purposes.
Cut up copies of the stories into separate sentences for sentence identification or jigsaws, phrases or words for learners to re-construct and re-read. You can also make cloze activities from the story. As learners begin to develop writing skills, they can copy words, phrases or sentences.
Learners can illustrate the stories using photographs, drawings or pictures cut from magazines. Powerful language experience sessions may centre on learners’ own life stories, or on one aspect of their lives that is highly relevant at that moment, such as finding a job, moving house or the arrival of family members from overseas.
For example, learners can use photos of their family or photos taken during shared outings to make books. Talk about the photos with the learners and ask for captions that you can write under each picture.
Read the book to the learners – you may need to re-read it several times before the learners memorise and internalise the captions. Then begin to point out similarities between captions – same letters, words, spelling patterns. The learners can also copy the captions.
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The purpose of shared reading is to provide strong support to reading through modelling what good readers do. In this approach, the tutor reads a short text that all learners can see and gives specific instruction around a particular learning goal. S
elect a text that has relevance or that the learners need to understand as part of their course. It does not have to be a text they can read themselves, but every learner needs to be able to see it.
By reading the text aloud to the learners as they follow along, you take away the effort of reading and enable learners to focus on the meaning of the text. In subsequent readings of the same text, you may want to focus on a specific aspect such as the use of upper case letters and full stops to indicate the start and end of a sentence.
You can ensure everyone can see the text by:
- using a poster or large-print text
- copying the text onto an OHT, then using an overhead projector
- using a computer and a data projector or an interactive whiteboard (such as a SMART Board), or
- making a photocopy for each learner.
On the first reading, introduce the text by telling the group what it is about and why you are reading it to them. Ask them to follow with their eyes as you read – you may want to use a pointer to help the learners follow the direction of reading and the return sweep to the next line.
Read clearly and at a steady pace, modelling reading fluently and with appropriate intonation. After reading the text, discuss it with the learners to check for overall understanding. Re-read any parts that were confusing, giving explanations if necessary.
With the learners, you can summarise or paraphrase the text, for example by having the learners retell the story or information.
In subsequent sessions, tell the learners what your purpose is for re-reading the text (for example, you may want them to listen for certain words or sounds, or to look out for the use of capital letters and full stops that indicate the boundaries of a sentence). Read the text aloud again and discuss the focus points.
Almost any kind of text can be used for shared reading. In choosing one, the important considerations include:
- Will this text be relevant and interesting to the learners?
- How could this text help meet a specific teaching and learning need?
- Can this text be enlarged so all can see it?
Shared reading can be used for purposes related to any of the starting points. Suitable texts could include simple instructions and notices, forms that learners need to use, medical information (such as the directions on a bottle of pills), posters, advertisements and brief, topical newspaper articles.
Remember that graphic features (photos, diagrams, illustrations) are important parts of texts too and learners may need support (explanation, discussion) to fully understand them and the information they convey.
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The purpose of shared writing is to model writing a short text with learners. Shared writing enables learners to write a text with support. As tutor, you hold the pen and do the actual writing, but the ideas are generated by the learners.
As with shared reading, by taking over the most difficult part of the process, you free the learners to focus on specific aspects of writing. These aspects will be determined by the specific teaching and learning purposes you have chosen.
Ideas for shared writing can come from many different sources, including an event or experience, a news item or a topic learners are studying, or it can be an extension or follow-up to using generative words.
One way to start is to have the learners suggest a topic that is significant to the group (for example, housing). Agree on a topic then ask learners:
- What kind of writing do you want to do? (text type)
- Why do you want to write this? (purpose)
- Who do you want to write for? (audience)
Write the topic and the responses to these questions on a whiteboard or chart.
Brainstorm some of the words associated with the topic (for example, rent, landlord, council, bond, deposit, mortgage). Next, use these words to compose sentences about the topic.
You may need to start the learners off by modelling (thinking aloud) how to create a sentence yourself or, if learners can do this already, ask them to suggest sentences.
As each sentence is formulated, spend a few moments saying it aloud to ensure the group is happy with the content and that the structure is sound. In shared writing, it is appropriate for the tutor to guide this shaping because part of the teaching purpose is usually to demonstrate the ways in which writers construct meaning with words and sentences.
Write each sentence on the whiteboard. Build up a story, argument or set of statements as determined by the text type, purpose and audience the learners identified. Read the sentences back to the learners as you record them on the whiteboard.
This record can be used as a written text (copied into a book or as a poster) for teaching and learning the key words, then extending the learning beyond those words. If you have access to a computer and a data projector or an interactive whiteboard, use this tool to build shared writing.
Before beginning shared writing, select one or two teaching and learning purposes. Depending on the learners’ needs, these purposes may include:
- selecting some target words (based on and extending the learners’ listening vocabulary)
- letter formation (not for every single letter: select one or two letters to demonstrate carefully) and concepts about print
- using phonological awareness to identify the sounds of some words before writing them, and/or
- using letter–sound recognition to determine which letters are needed to represent the sounds.
A wide variety of other purposes is possible, depending on the learners’ needs and related to the early steps in the learning progressions for writing.
Avoid overloading the session, but use the writing tasks as an opportunity to model and teach the skills and awareness learners need.
Texts created with shared writing can become valuable resources for further writing (for example, expanding a sentence by adding details), as well as for use when working with the starting points.
These texts are also valuable reading texts for the group that helped to create them, and will help increase learners’ confidence in their growing abilities to read and write.
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This approach is loosely based on the work of Freire.61 Its purpose is to develop vocabulary and other reading skills by tapping into learners’ interests and concerns. It is an effective approach to use with groups in order to motivate learners.
As you build relationships with the learners, use careful questioning to find out what their concerns are (for example, finances, family, education or finding work). From this discussion, words will be generated that have strong meanings for the learners.
These will usually be words that relate to their experiences, particularly those that have involved overcoming problems. Select one word that, as well as being powerful for the learners, is phonologically and/or morphologically rich; a word from which you can explore sounds for phonological awareness, as well as exploring a word or concept family. Some examples could include benefit (see below),discrimination, employment, literacy or community.
Activities based on the generated word
Break the word down into syllables and analyse the sounds into rimes or phonemes.62 Write the syllables on separate cards or on a whiteboard. The word benefit has three syllables: be/ne/fit.
Learners can discuss other words they know that include some of these syllables, rimes or phonemes, listening for the sounds and learning to manipulate them in various ways (for example, ben, ban, bon, bin; fit, fat). Keep this activity oral to emphasise listening for and saying sounds rather than written words and, wherever possible, focus on words the learners use or hear frequently.
Facilitate a discussion among the learners of the significance of the word to them. This discussion can move into deeper issues; for example, the literacy demands society places on its members and who controls these demands.
Use a brainstorm or chart to record the ideas generated. Introduce the focus word as a sight word by writing it in large letters on a chart or whiteboard. For example, the word benefit can be used to develop discussion around the learners’ experiences of welfare benefits and their perceptions of literacy demands in the welfare system.
The word is then explored through group discussion of its meaning in different contexts (the differences, say, between “domestic purposes benefit” and the “benefits of being a car owner”).
Explore the connotations of the word for the learners, the media and the public. For example, discuss some of the ways in which benefits (and the people who give or receive them) are seen by different people.
Focus on words that use the target word as a root. With the group, explore the other forms the word can take when you add a prefix or suffix, for example, beneficiary, beneficial, benefits, benefited. (Note that the grammatical function may change with each addition, forming a noun, verb, adjective or another part of speech.)
Explore collocations (common combinations of words) that match with the target word, for example, apply for a benefit, claim a benefit, receive a benefit, domestic purposes benefit, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit.
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