Inspiring a love of reading through engaging read-alouds that make stories come alive in the classroom.

by Michael Dunlea

Grades K-2, Grades 3-5


After 13 years of teaching, I’ve found the best way to ignite students’ passion for reading are read-alouds that bring the smells, tastes, and sounds evoked in the text to life. Many kids today struggle to envision the things they read in their heads—they’ve come to rely so much on graphic representations in their learning they have trouble imagining what they’re reading on their own. Bringing all five senses to bear adds experience to imagination and makes reading fun again.

For example, to bring a classic story like “The Cricket in Times Square” to life, I create specific events in the classroom that illustrate and celebrate in a three-dimensional way the story we’re reading. I might, for example, introduce students to:

–Distinctive voices for each character in the story, so that each time they speak their personalities come to life;

–Unfamiliar music referenced in the text, so that hearing the music becomes an event in the classroom; or

–Unfamiliar foods referenced in the text, so that kids can taste for themselves the same foods the characters eat.

I like to think that I’m bringing “apps’ to reading, making students’ experience with a story deeper by delivering related experiences to the classroom.


What I did well…

As an educator who teaches children how to read I was able to effectively show others how to turn read alouds into an experience that engages students on several levels.  In this sequence I specifically showed how to take the book The Cricket in Times Square and add visceral integration of the five senses for young readers. The sharing of the practice gave a great template for other teachers to take back and superimpose on their favorite read aloud book. I showed how to take a book and make it appealing to young digital native students. This is applicable to all grade levels and subjects if the core approach is applied.

What I would do more of, better, or differently… 

I would invite teachers to share their favorite book to read aloud to students. Then I would have them begin to analyze the chapters or the story to see where it lends itself to the experiential learning that can happen. I want teachers to become excited about adding dimension and levels to something they already love and care deeply for. My experience with The Cricket in Times Square is deeply personal. I connect to that story for many reasons beginning with the fact that I bought the book when I was in 2nd grade as part of a Scholastic Book order. I also have grown up near New York City and have spent countless hours in the city.  When we emotionally connect to what we teach it translates to our students.  The participants got excited about one of my favorite books but I would have loved to hear them get excited about their favorites. In the end that would be a far better way to make sure they have a take away ready to use on Monday.

I still want to grow this practice by…

I want to begin to create a database-like tool that would assist teachers with active links and resource ideas for all read aloud books. Imagine if you could choose any book and instantly have chapter to chapter YouTube video links ready to add deeper learning. Or imagine every book already broken down with lists of props needed to provide a tactile 3-dimensional object that leads to more meaningful learning.  Right now, I have what I read aloud ready to go for when I pick up that book. What I want to see happen is that teachers could build it out by adding their favorite book and how they bring it to life for their students. It would be a community for all to share and add to like a Wikipedia for read alouds.  The very act of reading a book to room full of students is a community building experience. I want to take this concept and see how it can enhance other areas of my instruction.


About Michael Dunlea

Michael Dunlea lives with his wife and three children in Stafford Township, NJ. He teaches second grade in Tabernacle, a rural Southern NJ distric...

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