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Best Practice — Teacher Makes Stories Come Alive Through Accessible Books and Sensory Learning!

Photo of Jennifer Appleton
Jennifer Appleton

We’re sure you’ll agree that Jennifer Cassese Appleton, a reading specialist at Virginia’s Alternative Paths Training School, has mastered the art of blended learning. She is also the parent of four children, including a son with dyslexia.

Jennifer wants all students to have an engaging reading experience, no matter their learning or print disability. How does she engage her students to read with curiosity and anticipation? For many books that her students read, they also do a companion learning project involving art, music, or cooking.

“When you pair good literature with a sensory learning experience, you create positive memories in the reader,” says this busy teacher. “This improves their comprehension skills and fosters a love of reading!”

Many of Jennifer’s ideas are formed in collaboration with other teachers. She also works in small groups and uses digital accessible books that her students are required to read. “Bookshare has lots of academic titles, plus periodicals to keep my students interested in current events,” she said.

We caught up with Jennifer on our Facebook page, where we encourage teachers to share their best reading practices.  To spur your imagination as you plan out your fall teaching schedule, check out some of Jennifer’s students’ favorite reading projects with sensory and mult-modal experiences:

Black scupleted cat made by students.
Black sculpted cat made by students.


Students read the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. The story is about two kids who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York. They are inspired by an Egyptian bronze cat. Jennifer’s students read the book, then sculpted cats out of clay. Jennifer baked the sculptures, and the students hand-painted them gold, watched them dry, spray-painted them brown, and wiped off the excess color. Then they added a watered-down green to make the sculptures look oxidized. Ninth and tenth graders loved the project!


Photo of a recycled bowl students made of shredded newspaper.
Photo of a recycled bowl students made of shredded newspaper.


Recycling Project—Making a Paper Bowl

Fourth and fifth graders read the graphic novel The Adventures of OOK and Gluk by Dave Pilkey. In this book, the characters destroy the environment. Jennifer had her students embrace a recycling project where they shredded magazines and made paper bowls. “Each student clearly understood the importance of being a good earth steward,” says Jennifer. “We proudly displayed the bowls in school classrooms.”



Cooking Burgoo Stew

Photo of a pot of stew with many colorful vegetables and meat.
Photo of a pot of stew with many colorful vegetables and meat.

Jennifer’s sixth graders read A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. It is about a child and grandmother who lived during the depression era and made Burgoo stew, a meal comprised of any meat or vegetable that was available.

“My students used adaptive knives to cut their own vegetables. They made the broth and stirred the stew in a Crock-Pot in class. We made it just like Amy did with her grandma in the book. The stew was part of a culminating activity, and the students ate it with gusto.”


How does Jennifer know that her sensory reading projects help students recall more story details? 

“Two years ago, some students read The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden—a favorite book among early learners,” she tells us. “The cricket eats liverwurst, so we ate it on crackers—quite a sensory experience for my students. Just this week, they told me they remembered the book but didn’t like the liverwurst,” she ends with a smile.


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