Conquering the Blank Page with Note Cards

The Blank Page

One of the largest hurdles for my writers is the fear that accompanies starting an essay. Their fear of the blank page often manifests itself in half-hearted introductions and tentative hooks. Importantly, these students know when their writing is less than what it can be. They aren’t trying to start their essays with weak hooks; they are simply experiencing small moments of hesitancy that is not conducive to their creative process.

Vital to understanding our students’ blank page jitters is the fact that these jitters can be conquered.

Note Cards that Conquer

All that is needed for this exercise are note cards, two sentence starters, and a prompt. With these three components, students are tasked with crafting the idea that will effectively begin their essay.

The Directions

  1. Write your name on the top of your note card.
  2. Answer the following question on your note card:

Do you have something that will interest your reader like a story, statistics, or really interesting facts?

The Process

  1. After students draft their ideas, collect and redistribute the cards and provide these sentence starters:

It is interesting that __________________.

Have you considered _________________?

  1. After reading a peer’s card, students use the two sentence starters on the back of the note card to respond to the writing.
  2. This process can be repeated until the back of the note card is full.

The Theory

The idea of these note cards is that drafting is happening collaboratively and with instant feedback. Students can not only see what is interesting about their writing, but they can also receive ideas from their peers concerning ways in which they can strengthen their work. With this, the note card exercise builds students’ confidence fueled not by a teacher’s praise or kind words, but instead by feedback from their peers; the confidence is earned and meaningful.

Student Samples

While overall meaningful and productive, the Punk Rock movement was hindered when Billie Joe Armstrong stripped naked on stage during a Green Day concert.

It is interesting that a musical movement can be viewed as productive.

Have you considered adjusting your syntax to include the location of the incident earlier in the sentence?

It is interesting that the beginning of your paper sets up the roadblocks of the movement before you explain the purpose of it.

Have you considered supplying the date and location of the concert?

Before women won the right to vote, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony fought with one another, nearly ending the Suffrage movement.

It is interesting that Susan B. Anthony is a well-known activist, but that I have not heard of Lucy Stone.

Have you considered explaining what they were fighting about?

It is interesting that you say women “won” the right to vote as opposed to earning it or receiving it.

Have you considered providing the number of the amendment that granted voting rights to women?


Overall, this exercise allowed students to see many examples of introductory sentences. Throughout the process, many overcame their fear of the blank page, and all students participated in an early drafting exercise that provided instant and authentic feedback.

– Matt

How do you cure the blank page jitters? How do you integrate collaboration into your cure? You can connect with me on Twitter @MGriesinger or on Facebook at

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