Engaging Kids with Decodable Readers

Let's be real. 
Despite what we were led to believe in college, not everything we do in the classroom is exciting and fun. Especially when it comes to reading, and especially if your district has a traditional reading program.

In an effort to increase student motivation and engagement, it's so important to look for ways to take mandated practices and make them more appealing to young children. Reading is hard enough for kids who enjoy it- it can be downright tortuous for those little ones who struggle. 
Truth is- some of the most valuable phonics activities are also the most monotonous!

Decodable readers are just one example of the many "traditional" materials/activities that are both extremely valuable but also tedious for students. I mean, I don't know about you- but text like 
 "Dan likes Cat. Cat likes Dan. 
Cat is on the mat. Dan and Cat play on the mat." 
doesn't exactly excite me, never mind my students. That being said, decodable books only include previously learned sounds/spellings and high frequency sight words, which provides kids with a chance to apply new skills in context and build confidence in reading ability. There is definitely value to using decodable books.

Engaging Kids with Decodable Books

While there isn't much we can do to improve the content of beginning decodable books, we can improve the process or practice! 
Here are some ways I get my kids excited to read decodable books.
  • We use Martian Finger Reading Pointers to track the print while reading. You can find a set of 24 at Really Good Stuff for $5.99. I call them "witch" fingers, and my students love using them. I keep them in this little lidded basket, which makes them feel more special and strange than just keeping them in the plastic bag.
  • We go on Word Hunts. I tell the kids they are going to be detectives on the lookout for the specific sound/spelling we are working on that week. For example- "Today we are hunting for words with long a spelled "_ay"." I challenge them to find them all, and foster a little healthy competition by saying, "Let's see who finds the most!" Just a note- I recommend setting a timer, otherwise this can drag! When we are done, the kids share their "findings" with their group mates. 
  • To make Word Hunts even more fun, we use magnifying glasses to look for the words. This is a no brainer, in my opinion. You can find them at Oriental Trading for $7.50 for a set of ten- a worthy investment as you can use them for all kinds of activities, especially when it comes to science!
  • While you could just have the kids circle the words they find with a pencil, it is so much more fun to use a highlighter! I have yet to meet a first grader that wasn't hypnotized by the bright yellow glow a highlighter provides. Definitely do a mini lesson on proper use of highlighters if your students haven't used them before. Some children can get a little... um... overenthusiastic when it comes to using them, if you know what I mean. ;)
  • Have students record the words they find on fun paper. Use different colored paper and/or pages with fun borders and graphics. Change them up frequently. If your school has an Ellison machine, cut the paper into fun shapes. Little tweaks like this can make any "boring" activity fun!
If your district using Macmillan McGraw-Hill's Treasures Reading program, check out the pack I've created to accompany the decodable readers. It includes fun recording sheets and comprehension questions for every decodable reader! My kids loved when I switched over to using these!
Word Hunts and Comprehension Questions for Treasures
Word Hunts and Comprehension Checks for Treasures
What are some ways you get students engaged while working with decodable readers?


  1. Great ideas Melissa! I do a lot of those too. Love the last one about writing words on fancy paper or die cute! We also like to whisper read, use silly voices, read to a stuffed animal or a spot on the wall. Always changing it up. :)


    1. Marissa,

      Thank you so much for your comment! As a new blogger it meant so much to see that I got my first comment!

      I also love reading to a stuffed animal- I have an interesting crew of characters (Pikachu, Mario, Kermit, etc). Maybe I'll do a blog post on it sometime. ;)

      Thanks again!


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