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Building Excitement and Engagement in Young Readers

By Meghan Everette on September 25, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Getting readers off to a good start each year is a priority. I want all my students to love reading, be excited about what they can learn, and actively engage in individual reading time. It has never been more important to start my kids out right than it is this year with a class of emergent readers and the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts weighing heavily on my mind. I use five fail-proof ways to get my students excited about the world of books.



1. Create Reading BuddiesReading to a Buddy

I’ve been using The Daily 5 to introduce self-reading strategies. Coming from teaching an older grade, I was surprised at my first graders that truly had to be taught the steps to sitting with a book and reading to themselves. While we were learning classroom expectations and different ways to look at books on our own, I read Flat Stanley to the class aloud. Stanley became my example in all of our exercises as we built our reading and listening stamina. I gave each child a flat template and asked them to create their own reading buddy. Students did everything from crayon coloring to adding real fabric for clothes and hair. The buddies were strategically placed around the room. Now, when students are reading to themselves, they get the privilege of being out of their seat in a unique location and they have a buddy to read to. Some of my students go so far as to show their buddy the pictures. These little friends help separate students from their typical group and ensure they are focused on their own book. Buddies have been a big hit and kids are excited to finish their seat work in order to go read.


2. Bookmark It

Bookmarks somehow hold a magical power. My first graders are just as enamored of them as my fourth graders have always been. Even my own son, who is five, believes bookmarks are so cool. Boost your bookmark power with bookmarks that aid in reading. The CCSS state elementary students need to be reading a 50/50 balance of fiction and nonfiction text, and upper grades need as much as 70 percent nonfiction reading. I’ve used simple bookmark Printables to introduce nonfiction reading techniques and to serve as a reminder to students. Print them on colored cardstock and you have a cheap solution that will have students excited to put their bookmark to use. Some students have even brought their independent reading books to our class discussions to post with our displays. They are able to recite facts they learned and are proud to share. Displaying books others have read and highlighted makes a big difference in students’ interest!


Nonfiction Bookmark from PrintablesReading Book Posted with Bulliten BoardReading Nonfiction with a Bookmark


3. Interact

I’ve always been a bit afraid that adding classroom technology would take time away from true reading opportunities. Worry no more! Storia and other reading apps bring books to life in meaningful ways, while still allowing students to interact with the text. Regular eBooks allow students to flip pages, highlight text, and get support from a built-in dictionary. Enriched eBooks go a step further and offer opportunities for students to complete mini-comprehension games, predict what will happen next, find picture clues, or see short informational videos that build on the text itself. Not only are my students happily reading, they are engaged in a variety of supportive activities that don’t require extra time or printing on my end! I display my iPad on the whiteboard when we are working together, and assign books to individual students on their personal bookcases when it’s time for them to read independently. If it isn’t digital interaction, it’s the fun of a giant book that draws readers in. My kids love a chance to get out the big books! The element of interaction raises engagement in my room tenfold!

Reading a Big BookStoria Book and Storia BookshelfStoria Screenshot


4. Use Puppets

Using puppets is a fun and engaging way for students to read, reread, and retell stories. My students use a variety of puppets including simple paper made into a tube, elaborate full-scale cutouts to put on a show, Printables made into Puppetspuppetry apps like Sock Puppet, and small purchased puppets from places like the dollar store. Students read and reread text until they are comfortable enough to read with a puppet or retell the story with help from characters. I record their reading before giving them large puppets so they can work the puppet while their voices are played back. Use Teacher Express to find simple Reader’s Theater scripts, or just a passage that can be retold. Printables has a wealth of images that are perfect for printing onto paper puppets. Reading becomes exciting play and my students happily practice again and again!


5. Form Reading Groups

I have students in my room who are brand new readers, just breaking into books on their own. I also haveGroup Reading the Same Text students ready to roll on small beginning chapter books. To engage everyone, I make small groups of readers on about the same level. Students each get a copy of the same book and are challenged to get their entire group reading fluently. When one member struggles, the others help correct and encourage them. I used mixed groupings in my fourth grade class to ensure everyone could make it through a chapter. The group rule is, “You aren’t done until everyone in your group can do it.” It holds the quick readers accountable for the success of the group while letting strugglers have support from better readers. I ask individuals to read to me, so I can be sure everyone is on board. Students have been happily listening to their group members read and so excited when they are all able to be successful. Students even pull from their new background knowledge in other subjects and they all say, “Oh! I read that in our group too!”

Instilling a love of reading and learning is one of the great pleasures in being a teacher. Start simply and build successes early and often. Allow some small freedoms, like moving to a new location to read and getting to work in a group, in order to build enjoyment.

What ways do you build reading success and interest in your classroom?


Comments (6)


I love your ideas of having the students read to a reading buddy. I have been wanting to try it with stuffed animals but was worried they would play with them instead. Have a person on the wall solves the problem. The students will be able to read and not be so worried about playing with everything.

I also plan on printing out some bookmarks for the kids to use. My first graders have really struggled with doing activities by themselves but respond well to pictures.

Thank you for the great ideas!
Ms. R

Thanks! I have to be honest and tell you I stole the idea from another teacher on my grade level. It has worked fabulously. They often want to "read" to other buddies and I'm ok with that too. I've always wanted to have that program where they can read to live dogs... how cool would that be? I hope it works well for you. Good luck!

Hi Meghan, I am also a grade four teacher and I'm looking for suggestions on how to get my students to write more interesting and longer stories. Do you have any suggestions?


Caribbean Teacher

Sure! I have used the Write Tools curriculum with great success. We combined it with what our school needed from students and it worked very well. We used a picture planner and my kids had to have a beginning, middle, middle, middle, and end. The beginning was all development up until that big moment hit (such as the moment the aliens landed on the playground), the three middles were three different events in the story (like the aliens came to class that morning, their experience at lunch, and how they misbehaved all afternoon.) The end was a way to finish the story. If you are dealing with novice writers, giving them time frame supports can help... like having their story take place during a school day gives them clear times (morning, lunch, pe, afternoon, dismissal) to build events from. Finally, I have students tell their story ideas verbally several times before writing. They tend to elaborate more and more when they talk and it gives them something to work from.

I hope that helps!

I love your Flat Stanley idea to keep the students quietly reading in their own space. And recording voices first to make a puppet show is so smart and I see how it would make it more fun as others watch the show. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks, Gina!

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