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.
This book had pictures of all of my students eating ice cream. On each page, the student would read the words and velcro in the picture of ice cream. This book was used to practice learning to identify names of peers as well!
These kind of books can be used for a variety of topics and to target a variety of reading skills. I like the velcro component because it allows the kids to complete the books during independent reading or work stations and have a finished product to turn in.
Also, I did laminate the pages of the book, but I did not waste my time in binding them...instead, I punched 2 holes in the book and put in 3 ring binder clips to hold them together. I love this quick/easy tip for creating your own books!