How to Create a Pongo Fill-in-the-Blank

On the surface, a Pongo fill-in-the-blank activity is an easy way for some teens to write with ease and a successful outcome. But the intentions are anything but simplistic. The purpose of a fill-in-the-blank activity is to enable someone who is in distress, and who may never have written before, to connect feelings with experiences, including connecting intense and complicated feelings with painful experiences. Through language a person can accomplish this healing integration and also build self-esteem. Through language a person can imagine a changed life and an alternative future, find resources for feeling better. In this way, writers develop resilience in their lives.

For this reason the fill-in-the-blank activity should be designed with the following ideal attributes:

  • The activity should create a mood or feeling. One way is with a theme that is subtle or complicated, for example with a mood of wistfulness, sadness, giddiness, confusion, or ambivalence. For example, here is the beginning of teen poem that could serve as the basis of an activity. It could be made a repeated refrain. Note that the lines represent an important feeling (“feeling lost”) but also contain sufficient ambivalence to be non-intrusive (“don’t know why”).

    I feel lost in life and I
    Just don’t know why.


  • The focus of the mood or feeling should be attitudes and experiences that speak to the lives of teens who have had difficulty.

  • To create an effective mood, the activity should use poetic qualities such as evocative language, a rhythm (perhaps enhanced by a repeated refrain), sensory detail, and the use of imagery. Our example poem could contain lines such as

    I’m alone in a forest at night
    A wilderness
    And I hear _____________________
    And I wonder ___________________


  • There are blanks in the activity for the teens to complete, of course. The blanks should call for specific answers initially, to ease the creative process forward, to ease the feeling process forward. In our example, the theme of being lost can be applied to a controlled environment first, and later applied to a more dramatic context. For example

    I am lost at school when ________________
    I am lost at home when __________
    I am lost when _________________


  • These specific blanks should transition over the course of the activity from easy to hard, and from less personal to more personal, and perhaps from more specific to more philosophical. It helps the teens if the blanks can offer a range of feeling on an issue, from good feelings to negative feelings or from negative to good. In our example poem, teens can move from contexts that make them feel lost to consideration of how they might find their way.

    I know I can find my way
    When I walk out of the wilderness
    Someone will be there to say ________________
    And I will have learned to ____________

  • One of the important considerations, when dealing with a wistful or sad theme, etc., is to consider including opportunities for change and resilience, especially at the end of the poem, as in

    When I find my way
    I will achieve my goals
    I will _______________

  • At the end of each blank, the activity should suggest possible answers to the teen writer. In the great majority of cases, these answers will stimulate the teen’s thinking and will not be copied directly. These answers should reflect a range of options: positive and negative, specific and general, personal and impersonal. Here is a completed fill-in-the-blank activity.

    I feel lost in life and I
    Just don’t know why

    I’m alone in a forest at night
    A wilderness
    And I hear _____________________ (wild cats, critical voices, ???)
    And I wonder ___________________ (will I be eaten up, if I can survive, ???)

    I am lost at school when __________ (I do math, I feel misunderstood, ???)
    I am lost at home when _________ (no one is there, when my brother drinks, ???)
    I am lost when _________________

    But I know I can find my way
    And when I walk out of the wilderness
    Someone will be there to say ________________ (glad to see you, I care, ???)
    And I will have learned to ____________ (find my own way, deal with fear, ???)
    I will have learned _________________

    I feel lost in life and I
    Just don’t know why.
    But when I find my way
    I will walk in a new direction
    I will ___________________ (not listen to my friends so much, ???)
    I will ___________________