Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Independent Reading Activities to Engage Beginning Readers

By Margaret Tsubakiyama

Reading is hard work, especially for young readers. It’s easy for them to get off task. How do you keep your students engaged during independent reading when you need to meet with others in small groups? I have some tried-and-true ideas to share with you.

Sight Word Scavenger Hunts 

My students can't wait for this activity! You can make a list of the high-frequency words your students have learned, or you can have them make their own list from the word wall; they can always use more practice writing sight words! Explain that they will be going on a scavenger hunt during reading time. If your students have a book box of guided reading books, these are great resources. Leveled books such as Joy Cowley's Wishy-Washy Garden are packed with sight words! Each time they find one of the words on their list, they make a tally mark. This can easily lead to a discussion about the most common sight words or a math lesson graphing these words. We love interdisciplinary learning!

Joy Cowley Early Birds, Mrs. Wishy-Washy, Leveled Readers, Hameray Publishing

Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are a teacher’s best friend; I use them all the time because they make any activity more fun. I start by showing my students a book I have read and annotated with sticky notes. I tell them that readers think and make connections as they read. For young students, “annotating” can be as simple as making a smiley face on a page they like. More advanced students will write labels or simple sentences on their sticky notes. Give them each a stack of ten sticky notes, a pencil, and off they go.Hameray Literacy Blog

Speech Balloons and Thought Bubbles

Speech balloons and thought bubbles help with comprehension and keeping students on task. You can make these yourself or have your students make them. I believe in students making their learning tools as it gives them ownership and is something they can make repeatedly. Have each of your students make an empty “thought cloud” on one half of an index card and a “speech bubble” on the other half. Attach the cards to either end of a popsicle stick (the larger size stick works best). As students read, they can use their thought cloud/speech bubble sticks to think about what the characters might be thinking, feeling, or saying. 

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Partner Game

“What Comes Next” is a fun game during partner reading time. In this game, one student reads a page, then stops to ask their partner what they think the next page might say. It’s a wonderful way to build prediction skills. A book like Joy Cowley’s Roll Call would be perfect as it has a predictable pattern and reinforces letter sounds and names. 
Roll Call, Joy Cowley, Hameray Publishing, Literacy Blog, Guided Reading

Keeping students enthusiastic and focused with activities they repeat daily, like independent reading, can be challenging. Putting fun and simple spins on the same activity helps students stay engaged and excited about reading books!


Bring Joy Cowley’s humor to beginning readers with Joy Cowley Early Birds. Students look forward to reading stories about the adventures of recurring characters such as Mrs. Wishy-Washy and Little Rabbit. Big Book versions of the Mrs. Wishy-Washy titles are perfect for shared reading! There are 60 leveled readers and 15 big books. Guided reading levels C–G.Joy Cowley Early Bird Collection, Hameray Publishing, Mrs. Wishy-Washy, Guided Reading, Beginning Readers


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Margaret Tsubakiyama is a kindergarten teacher in California. She has a master's in Literacy and Language Acquisition and is a National Board Certified Teacher.