Analyzing visuals is a sure way to get students excited about sharing their thoughts. This strategy is also a great way to build or check background knowledge. http://www.csun.edu/education/assets/take-away-tools/2013/hoel-moca.pdf
Have students who struggle to manage their time? Try this ABC+D strategy adapted from Kelly Gallagher.
I actually tried out the 750words.com today, and absolutely loved it. I can see it being a great motivator for student writing. It does costs $5 a month after the first 30 day free trial. Other great options on this link as well.