One way that I have found to engage students is when you involve them in their own learning. When I first started out teaching, I used to create little books that had pictures of my students or photos from field trips we went on. These books used simple language and were very repetitive so as to make it easy for my beginning readers. Each book also had an adapted component, where the kids had to velcro something (picture or word) into the book. These were used during reading groups or as independent work and my kids loved them.
This book featured our trip to the zoo. Each page has a picture of an animal we saw on our field trip...many of the pages had pictures of the kids posing by the animals as well. The kids are responsible for filling in the correct word on each page.