People Interested in Zippy and ZAny Zcribbling

PIZZAZ has been an Online Resource since 1995 from Leslie Opp-Beckman
For Scribblers and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)


Description for Twist Poems: Bi-directional spiraled poems using contrastive themes or topics.

ESOL student level:
These activities scale well to beginner through advanced level proficiency and can be used with all ages.

For more activities:
Return to PIZZAZ!

Warm-Up Activities

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.

  1. Timed Free-Writes: Students do two separate timed free-writes. Keep them 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.)

  2. 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 actual twist.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 spider web.

    "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.

© 2010, Leslie Opp-Beckman, Ph.D., Distance Education Coordinator and ESOL Instructor
Email: leslieob@uoregon.edu
URL: http://www.uoregon.edu/~leslieob/
5212 University of Oregon, Linguistics Department, American English Institute Eugene, Oregon 97403-5212 USA
Permission to copy and distribute for educational, non-profit use only.
This page last updated: 25 March 2010
University of Oregon