The instructor can set the framework for writing on a given pair of
topics / themes, or students can choose them freely. In the case of free
choice, it may help for students to "brainstorm" possible pairs of
opposites in groups of 2-3, and then write them for everyone to see.
Examples of opposing pairs:
day - night
past fears - future hopes
past successes - future dreams
racism - tolerance
school - vacation
summer - winter
war - peace
wilderness - civilization
women - men
This activity can work well in stages over a series of days.
- Timed Free-Writes: Students do two separate timed free-writes.
short, allowing about 5-10 minutes each. No dictionaries! Spelling and
grammar accuracy don't count here. This is a free association, stream-of-
consciousness writing. Tell students to write as fast and as
much as possible. The writing can be very "sloppy". (If students have
never done free association timed writings before, you may want to
demonstrate and/or do a practice session first.)
- Expanded Writing: Now students go back over their two free-writes, and circle 5 key
words from each one. Using a thesaurus, dictionary, more free association,
have them write as many short descriptors as they can for each of the 10
key words. When all the writing is finished, have students clean up their
spelling. This saves time and frustration when they are composing the
- The Twist - Part A: At this point you need to stipulate whether students will write
complete sentences with punctuation, you will make punctuation optional,
or students will write with no punctuation stream-of-consciousness style.
Starting at the center of the page, students write a running
commentary of various points from topic #1 only, using their free-write and expanded writing notes. As they write,
they turn their sheet of paper around and around, spiraling their prose
outward until the paper is filled or the first half of their writing is
finished. Remind them to leave plenty of space between the rings of the
spiral so they can easily "wind" the second writing back inside.
- The Twist - Part B: Now, starting at the outside of the circle, students write a
running commentary of various points from free-write #2 only, again using their free-write and expanded writing notes. As they write,
they turn their sheet of paper around and around in the opposite
direction (working backwards), spiraling their prose inward until the
spaces are filled and the second circle reaches the center point. Using
a contrastive color pen/cil makes a very nice effect. It will also be
easier to read if writers leave "white space" on all sides of the lines.
- The finale: Twist and shout!
Or, read aloud with an
"inside voice or even silently.
- For students with more advanced language proficiency, they can treat the two opposing topics as extremes of one continuum.
They pick a neutral word that somehow represents the "middle" of the
continuum (e.g. night ---> dawn <--- day). The neutral word is placed
at the center of the spiral where the two topics meet.
- Reinforce the back of the poems with heavier paper, attach thread or fine
string to the center in the back and hang the poems upside-down from the
ceiling. Read the swirls or "twists" by standing underneath them and twirling the
paper around in the two directions.
- Experiment with other kinds of swirls. Write a long top-to-bottom
helix. Use a box or pyramid form.
- Provide an outline of a Yin and Yang. Students write the opposing
trains of thoughts in circular patterns that fill up the two opposing
Yin and Yang shapes.
- Make "webs" spider-style. The free-write #1 prose runs in straight lines
center-to-periphery, and the free-write #2 lines loop continuously around
the supporting straight lines. More advanced writers can intersect with
same letters. Position related, one-word "bees" at random points as "buzz words" on the
"Buzz word" ideas:
- question words (Why?, Who?!, So what?, Huh?...)
- expletives (WOW!, UGH!, Bleah!, Alright!, Cool! ...)
- "sparkle" words (Flash!, Attention!, Smile!...)
- emoters or emoticon symbols (smile, frown, wink...)
- little pictures or cut-outs from magazines
- Students write shorter, mini-swirls in the shape of clouds (dreams,
wishes?), hurricanes (anger, turmoil, problems/solutions?), other shapes?
This makes a good class mural or bulletin board project where everyone is
writing on the same theme.