Students can create characters that they’ll use throughout the year. Each month, the character progresses a little closer to their goal, but in the meantime, they can be used to answer questions and for other activities, providing different experiences, skills, and limitations from what the students themselves have. The possibilities are wide open.
Writing for a school newspaper on a monthly basis can encourage students to write about things they're interested in, can foster collaboration, and can help students practice writing in different styles. We're not expecting hard-hitting journalism or award-winning writing; just something that lets the students show off what they can do while allowing them to try something new.
A great way to engage students is to create projects within contexts and formats that they are already using in their personal lives. One of my favorite ways of doing this is through blogs. Teenage students already spend a lot of time online, especially on social media sites, so why not encourage them to continue their online interactions, just in English instead?