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Conquer the Blank Page in the Classroom
in the English language arts class- room, there is no greater bully than a blank white page. It stares
students down and reminds them that
writing demands they do the impossible: pull something out of nothing.
Thanks to science classes, students
know this is impossible—so why
English teachers understand that
learning to fill that white void with
language is necessary for students to
develop the ability to communicate
with others while understanding and
expressing their own individuality.
That’s really why we bother.
But how do we encourage our
young writers to stand up to that
menacing bully and fill the page? Enter Piclits ( www.piclits.com), a Web
2.0 tool that gives students prompts
for writing, be it a picture or a bank
of seemingly random words. The idea
behind Piclits is to offer students the
infinite possibilities of a blank page
but suggest starting points to avoid
the intimidation factor.
On the Piclits homepage, young
writers can get a writing prompt by
selecting a photo. It can be a person,
car, baseball glove, animal, landscape—
anything really. A picture of a scared
kitten could, in the student’s mind, give
birth to a protagonist in an epic adventure about standing up to the terrifying
bulldog next door or trigger a memoir
about a pet. A picture of a mountain
under an overcast sky could lend an
ominous setting to an epic mystery or
provide a solemn and serious mood for
If the picture fails to evoke an idea,
the student can choose another. If
the picture is not enough, the young
writer may pull in words from a word
bank. Seeing an image paired with a
few words can fire countless synapses
and bring focused ideas that can serve
as a starting point.
The problem with the blank document is that there is no limit to the
possibilities, so it is hard to find one
idea to take and run with. Matching a
picture with random words can “trick”
a student writer into thinking there is
a finite number of paths to take, making it easier to just choose a direction.
One great feature of Piclits is that
it allows users to save their work and
come back to it later. Peers can even
comment on each other’s pieces and
develop a writing community. Additionally, students can share work
through a blog, MySpace, Facebook,
or another networking site. Not only
does this allow students to share creativity and inspiration, it helps them
develop writing skills communally.
Students will be able to teach and
learn from each other. Through this
communal aspect and individual practice on the website, Piclits is naturally
able to differentiate instruction.
Young writers can work at their own
pace, whether the student is stringing
words together or using the images for
inspiration in writing a complete narrative or poem. Piclits can get writers
over their fears and uncertainties in
the classroom and inspire students to
welcome the blank page.
—Adam Saligman graduated from Washington
University with a bachelor’s degree in literature
and writing and recently completed an MA with
certification at the University of Michigan. At
that time, he taught 10th grade English at
Thurston High School in Redford, Michigan.
—Leah Armelagos completed the University
of Michigan’s Master of Arts with Certification
program in June and now teaches at Covenant
House Academy in Detroit, where she seeks to
inspire the writer in every student.
By Adam Saligman and Leah Armelagos