Whole-language approach

Jung-Hee Kim

March 6,2002

ESLM 587

Whole-language originated in New Zealand by Don Holdaway(1967-1979), Mary Clay(1967), and Sylvia Ashing-Warner.

Whole-language is a child-centered, literature-based approach to language teaching that immerses students in real communication situations.

Language is easy to learn when it is a meaningful language. So when it is started from whole to part, the children can accept reading and writing interesting and natural. While traditional approaches to reading begin with small parts and build up to whole, whole language approaches start with word. Children learn to read and write by reading and writing that interests them through meaningful language experience with the support and guidance of the teacher.

Oral language is one of the first thing that accompanies reading and writing. Children need to be able to talk out what they are going to write or read out loud.

Students can learn to read by reading when they are exposed into meaningful language activities; listen to stories to read to them, participate in choral speaking sessions, read along with an adult or peer, skipping jingles, songs, or predictable literature, or read print in the environment, such as logs on cereal boxes, or print on lunch boxes, on highway signs, on school buses…., reread their own stories or compositions, or individual dictated stories.

And from the time the students start in the classroom, the student is encouraged to begin with writing with a journal, notes, or letters. While they are involved into various reading and writing activities, they begin to internalize and make corrections on the basic words themselves.

The use of literature, drama, and art are encouraged to enhance language and verbal skills.

Finally the organizing for a whole-language classroom is to be more integrated with units and themes along with the approach.

Whole language researchers have found that language experience programs have produced successful readers with the added benefits of development in oral language, vocabulary and the attitude of the students toward reading and their own self-esteem.


Allyn and Bacon. (1991). Whole-Language, practice and theory.

Needham Heights, MA. A Simon & Schuster Company.

Gail Heald-Taylor. (1989). The Administrator’s Guide to Whole Language.

Katonah, NewYork. Richard C. Owen Publisher, Inc.

Yvonne S.Freeman, David E. Freeman (1998). ESL/EFL Teaching, principles for

Success. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

For a critical assessment see:

Thompson, Richard; A critical perspective on Whole Language; Reading Psychology 13: 131- 155; 1992

See Also Thomas B. Fordham Foundation