AP Skill Spotlight: Contrasts

One of the six featured skills in Poetry Unit 1 of the AP Lit CED is STR 3.D: the function of contrasts. This skill seems difficult and hard to approach, but it’s actually one of the most widely applicable skills in the whole CED.

Teaching contrasts with the “odd couple” archetype

Contrast is a difficult skill because it doesn’t seem like a skill. It’s like repetition or literal meanings of words, kids know they’re there, but don’t know what they’re supposed to say about them.

To introduce concepts, I love applying movies and television. Ask students to name friendships or couples from pop culture that showcase the idiom “opposites attract.” Some of my favorites from modern shows are Nick and Schmidt from New Girl, David and Patrick from Schitt’s Creek, or Mindy and Danny from The Mindy Project. The pairing of two opposites often creates something beautiful and humorous, and it can even be seen in relationships within students’ own families.

I’ve got three clips you can choose from to demonstrate the idea of an “odd couple,” or opposites attracting. I have no idea why but all of my favorites are all-male relationships. The first is from New Girl:

Nick and Schmidt are best friends but complete opposites. Nick, a law school dropout, has been bartending for years while he figures out his life. Schmidt is focused on his career and channels organization into everything, even his fitness regime.

The second is from my absolute favorite show, Schitt’s Creek:

David is dramatic and neurotic, but his boyfriend Patrick is even-tempered and simple. The two match each other perfectly, as demonstrated in this clip. (I’d show only the first clip, there is strong lhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LeYkEK9rY8&ab_channel=XTimeGoesByanguage in the second one).

And finally, the original Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix!

After Felix’s wife leaves him he moves into his friend Oscar’s house. Felix is a fastidious neat freak and Oscar is an easy-going slob. The idea of opposites attracting takes a while with these two, as they drive each other crazy most of the time.

Ask your class, how are the two characters opposites? And yet, how do they function well, despite their drastic differences? These differences are called contrasts, and when we study them we learn more about a text or concept.

Focus Poem & Questions

If I had to select one poem to use in approaching contrasts, I’d pick Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice.” This poem is simple and many will have read it before in junior high or ninth grade, so returning to it makes it more approachable.

Questions for Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice”

  1. What is this poem about?
  2. What two images does the speaker use to drive the poem?
  3. Name some connotations of fire. Of ice?
  4. In line 3, the word “desire” is used in connection with fire. And in line 6, the word “hate” is suddenly used as a placeholder for ice. Here’s where we study another contrast. What is changed by referring to desire as “fire?” What about hate as “ice?”
  5. Can you find any shifts in this poem, be it in structure, tone, meaning, imagery, or something else?

Teacher’s Guide

Literally, this poem is about the end of the world. Broadly, many apply this poem to the destructive forces of science or of hate. The two central images are fire and ice, polar opposites and a great example of a central contrast driving the poem. Fire, when combined with desire, often connotes feelings of uncontrolled passion. Ice and hate means cold calculation; phrases such as “cold-blooded” or “cold-hearted” often crop up. Studying the similarities and differences between these central concepts is another form of contrast. Finally, contrast can also arise from shifts in tone, setting, structure, imagery, or almost anything else. Ask students what shifts they notice and if they can derive any meanings or claims from them.

Poem Suggestions

Here are some other poems that can help you teach contrasts. Thanks to the Facebook community for helping with suggestions:

Looking for more AP Lit poems? This blog post lists my 10 favorites!
  • “pity this busy monster, manunkind” by e. e. cummings
  • “I Ask My Mother to Sing” by Li-Young Lee
  • “Prelude” by William Wordsworth (use excerpt from 1992 exam)
  • “For Julia in the Deep Water” by John Morris
  • “Kitchenette Building” by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • “Coal” by Audre Lorde
  • “Oxygen” by Mary Oliver
  • “Teeth” by Phil Kaye
  • “February 12, 1963” by Jacqueline Woodson
  • “Weight of Sweetness” by Li Young Lee
  • “On the Subway” by Sharon Olds
  • “Green Chile” by Jimmy Santiago Baca
  • “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • “the drone” by Clint Smith
  • “Digging” by Seamus Heaney
  • “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden
  • “Heroics” by Julia Alvarez
  • “Complaint of the El Rio Grande” by Richard Blanco
  • “The Naming of Parts” by Henry Reed
  • “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton
  • Sonnet 129 or Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare
  • “The Harbor” by Carl Sandburg

13 Scary Stories and Poems For High School ELA

I don’t like scary movies, but I love scary stories. I grew up re-reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I love to listen to Lore in October while I walk through my dark neighborhood streets. And my favorite author is Stephen King, the master of horror. The way I look at it, movies make the scary parts visual and out of my control. But with a book, I can create the image in my head, which is sometimes even more terrifying. The key, however, is that I’m in the driver’s seat. If it gets too intense, I can just set it down (or put it in the freezer for a bit).

Here’s a list of 13 poems and stories you can use in your high school English class to bring the fun of Halloween and the coming winter into your classroom.

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven

You had to see this one coming. “The Raven” stands as the most celebrated and eerie poem in American history, and it’s a cornerstone of Halloween literature. Maybe it’s the imagery of the terrifying dark bird, or perhaps it’s the iconic beginning of “Once upon a midnight dreary,” this poem truly sets the perfect mood for Halloween. I suggest listening to one of the great readings on YouTube. I like Christopher Lee’s the best, but Christopher Walken and James Earl Jones both do lovely readings as well.

“Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning

This poem is so disturbing, and I weirdly love it. The speaker is visited by Porphyria, whom he knows loves him entirely. He is mesmerized by her beauty and full devotion. Then, seemingly without explanation, he wraps Porphyria’s yellow hair around her neck, strangles her, then props her up again next to him and continues his lover’s embrace. Students love the surprise of the narrative, then looking for signs of lunacy or motive behind the speaker’s strange actions.

“The Open Window” by Saki

The Open Doors

This is a great one if you’re looking for a spooky atmosphere but without the gore. Saki’s story follows Frampton Nuttel, a visitor with a strong nervous disorder. Poor Nuttel is horrified to learn that his hostess keeps a window open in hopes of her husband and sons returning from a hunting trip, a trip that occurred years ago. Imagine Nuttel’s shock when he sees the men returning from the moors, rifles in hand and calling for tea? As Nuttel runs out of the house, the storyteller, a young girl named Vera, admits to us that she made the whole thing up. Anticlimactic, perhaps. But it’s great for discussing mood and suspense. Even better, there’s a great short film that was adapted for it, starring Michael Sheen.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

Frankenstein Unit Bundle - AP Lit and More
Looking for materials for one of the best horror novels? Check out my best-selling unit on Frankenstein on TpT!

This may not be among the favorites of Poe’s short stories, but it’s my personal favorite. While it doesn’t have the murderous appeal of “The Black Cat” or “The Tell-Tale Heart,” it has tremendous suspense. I also love to imagine the terrible torture chamber, filled with new and ever-worsening devices as the story progresses.

“The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

The Birds

Everyone knows the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie, but have you ever read the short story? I read this tale when I was 13 and it instilled a fear of birds that has still never lifted. (I stand by that fear. Birds are shifty and I don’t trust them.) Du Maurier’s tale is a great one for teaching the strategy of suspense in rising action, how it ebbs and flows. We also love to talk about the first person point of view into Nat’s perspective, letting us see how is level-headed mind is processing these supernatural events. And of course, pair it with clips of The Birds. Here’s my favorite clip to pair.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

While this is technically a novella, I love it too much to leave it off this list. Students will probably be familiar with the basis of Jekyll and Hyde but the tale can be great for introducing the gothic style to your students. This is a great segue into longer spooky and gothic greats, such as Frankenstein and Dracula.

“Click Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman

Click Clack the Rattlebag

Neil Gaiman is famous for several scary stories, but this one is my favorite of his. This is another one that is more on the tame side, or at least it’s absent of murder and gore. It’s also a great story for discussing what is happening in the plot and what will happen when the story ends. Plus, everyone loves a creepy kid! If you’re interested, Gaiman loves to read his stories aloud. You can watch him read “Click Clack the Rattlebag,” by candlelight no less, here.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I just love the descent of a madman, or in this case, madwoman. So many popular horror movies deal with unreliable narrators and psychological instability, two things which make “The Yellow Wallpaper” a must-read. We are granted only the narrator’s perspective. Slowly, the woman moves from finding the wall paper ugly to suspicious, and finally to a welcoming home. This story isn’t classically scare like many others on this list, but its implications are. What if we, too, became victims of our own homes, growing mad in our own confinement?

“We Ate the Children Last” by Yann Martel

We Ate the Children Last

Ugh, I don’t know how I feel about this story. It reminds me of so many Criminal Minds episodes. However, if you have a fairly high-level class and you’re looking to introduce satire, this is a great example. It also pairs perfectly with Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl

While many associate Roald Dahl with his fantastic children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda, you might know that he’s also a writer of short stories. And Mr. Dahl loves eerie, ominous suspense and classic scary stories. I suggest reading “The Landlady” aloud to your students while a fire crackles on your projector. Plot-wise, not much happens in this story. And yet, once students realize what happens in this woman’s home, it becomes truly terrifying.

Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm

Grimm's Fairy Tales

In 2019 I wrote a one act play based on the stories of the Brothers Grimm, and so I had an excuse to do a deep dive into their collected stories. I’ve also witnessed how much fun it is for students to read the real “Cinderella,” “Briar Rose,” or “Rumpelstiltskin.” This makes a great lesson if you’re looking for choice, as the Grimm tales are all available online in various website collections. Assign 3-5 of the best-known stories, then ask your students how much “horror” is contained in their original forms.

“Mirium” by Truman Capote

I LOVE THIS STORY. As you may have guessed, I really do love stories with creepy kids (it’s the only reason I tolerate The Scarlet Letter). In Mirium, Mrs. Miller is surprised by the unexpected, and later recurring, visit of young Mirium. Mirium is beautiful and forward, arriving uninvited and taking Mrs. Miller’s most precious belongings, then departing without warning. As the story progresses, the reader begins to put the pieces together: young Mirium is Mrs. Miller’s child self…and she may not really be there at all.

“Children of the Corn” by Stephen King

You know I had to put Stephen on here somewhere. While “Children of the Corn” is quite long, it’s still a great deal shorter than his novels. And, of course, it features creepy kids! Yay!

Looking for Novels?

Why Teach Frankenstein - AP Lit and More
Behold, king of the scary stories. Read this blog post to learn wby you should be teaching Frankenstein or another gothic novel!

I ran out of time before I could talk about scary stories in novel form, but here’s a list of my favorite spooky novels to teach and to read for pleasure. I will try to include more than just Stephen King books, but admittedly, there are many.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  • In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
  • Misery by Stephen King
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • Cujo by Stephen King
  • The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
  • The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • Carrie by Stephen King

Discussing Complexity in AP Lit

One of the most common words in AP Lit essay prompts is “complex,” usually paired with the word “relationship.” When we prepare for writing our first FRQs, I tell my students that the word “complex” is the most important word in the prompt. But when asked what complexity means, my students are often confused. Some interpret complex writing to simply be advanced or “fancy-sounding.” Others think it has to do with the inclusion of literary elements. However, there’s one simple way to help your students understand complexity and score high on an essay.

Complexity simply means pairing two things in your analysis.

How it Looks in Writing

For example, take a look at the first paragraph from this released essay from the 2020 exam, which scored a 1-4-1 (a perfect score).

In this paragraph, we see the student’s claim. He or she says that the narrator, Philip Hutton, is experiencing anger and resentment as well as peace and reconciliation. This is a complex argument! This blending of different emotions makes it unique and complicated, thus the complex attitude that College Board is looking for.

So How Do I Teach Complexity To My Students?

Complexity in AP Lit

Once you’ve grasped the concept of complexity, your students will probably still need practice in making complex claims. I recently attempted this with my AP class in our discussion of Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing.” First, I asked students to analyze the narrator’s attitude towards motherhood. After a lengthy discussion, I asked them to shout out any word they could use to describe or associate with the mother from “I Stand Here Ironing.” The image on the right shows the list of descriptors we came up with. Then, we talked about how a complex argument would say the mother felt a sense of both guilt and pride. Or we could talk about how she shows feelings of inadequacy but also a lack of regret for her daughter’s trauma. Another wanted to talk about she seems helpless and defensive at times, but proud and assertive at others. What complex arguments!

Other Ideas for Complexity

If you’re looking for more ways to discuss complexity with your students, consider analyzing non-literary texts, such as music, movies, or art. Here are some ideas I came up with, but I’m sure there are plenty of other and better options out there too!


One of my favorite songs of the moment is “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels. As a mother of three kids, I don’t get to drive alone very often. However, when I do, this is one I love to jam out to.

If the World Was Ending by JP Saxe
“If the World Was Ending” with JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels presents a complex feeling that many students will relate with–a desire to be with someone but an understanding that they’re not a good fit in a long term situation.
The First Few Weeks of AP Lit
Check out this blog post for some more ideas for writing, analysis, and lessons in AP Lit.

The lyrics of this song are very relatable and easy for teenagers to understand. Essentially, both singers in the song express understanding that the other isn’t a good fit for a relationship. However, a physical desire remains. The chorus of the song is, “If the world was ending you’d come over, right?” The singers end almost every question like this with the word, “right,” showing their hesitancy and fear of looking vulnerable. I love the complexity in these lyrics. They capture the mixed emotions of desire and fear of looking vulnerable, which is one of the most relatable complex feelings.


"A Sunday Afternoon in the Garden of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Jatte
“A Sunday Afternoon in the Garden of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Jatte

Another example of complexity, and possibly interpretation, comes from both an art piece and a movie. One of my favorite movies is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In one scene from that movie, Cameron looks into this famous painting while Ferris and his girlfriend make out. The message is clearly on introspection and peace, until the camera begins a gradual zoom-in on Cameron and a figure in the painting.

As the camera zooms closer into Cameron, it also zooms closer into the child in the center of the painting. If you get extremely close, it looks as though the child is screaming, presenting a new perspective to the painting. Is it simply a trick of the pointillism used in the art? Or is it a complex perspective behind the painting, that a peaceful afternoon in the park cannot be interrupted by the distraction of your screaming child? Cameron’s backstory in the movie adds to this complexity, as Cameron, too, is silently screaming throughout his whole existence.


I had a hard time picking a clip to show complexity from movies. In the end, I like this one from Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a brilliant thriller. In this scene, Chris has traveled to his girlfriend’s parents’ house for the first time. Upon meeting his girlfriends’s parents and their friends, race becomes an uncomfortable barrier between Chris and almost every other character. Things move from awkward to spooky when the few other African American characters behave strangely towards Chris, almost as if they’re struggling to say something they cannot.

Get Out Complexity
This clip from Get Out is perfect for practicing in complexity – how does Chris feel during this scene?

In this clip, Chris depicts his complex feelings of both fear and intrigue when he talks to the housekeeper. For context, the housekeeper is inhabited by another person’s brain, which has taken over her entire personality. She gravitates towards Chris because her original body, or host, is trying to find a way to warn him that his girlfriend’s family wants to lobotomize him and do the same thing to him. Chris is completely creeped out by this woman’s strange behavior, but her eerie desperation seeps out through her fake smile. Her depiction is complex, as is Chris’ curiosity and revulsion.

More on Teaching Complexity in AP Lit

Looking for more lesson plans and strategies for teaching complexity? Check out these other web pages for more information! You can also learn more about complexity, making claims, and the elusive sophistication point in my AP Lit Test Prep materials, available for purchase from Teachers Pay Teachers.

AP Classroom: Features and Best Practices

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This week I had the privilege of being part of a webinar with the facilitators of AP Classroom for AP English Literature and Language. Although I’ve been using AP Classroom for the past year (and even wrote a previous blog post on how to use it!), I learned a lot about its added features and usability. I even used how create with the question bank, a resource I had found mind-boggling before. Here are some cool features you may not be aware of, and a rundown of how I use AP Classroom for data collection and test prep with my students.

Before I begin, here’s a quick overview of some acronyms and terms I’ll use in this blog post:

  • CED – Course and Exam Description. This is the master document that explains what students need to learn in AP Lit and how best to learn it. While also called “the binder,” you can access the PDF here.
  • Skill – Each AP class is broken into standards, which are called skills. You can read about the skills in the AP Lit CED.
  • Unit – Each CED is separated into specific units, which vary according to class. AP English Lit is broken into 9 units (3 on short fiction, 3 on poetry, and 3 on long fiction). See a more detailed breakdown on AP Classroom or the CED.
  • PPC – Personal Progress Check – a miniature practice exam cultivated around a specific unit. There are PPCs for both multiple choice and free response questions.
  • MCQ – Multiple Choice Questions
  • FRQ – Free Response Questions
  • AP Daily – Videos created by master AP teachers and English professors to guide students through each individual skill.

AP Classroom Features

Daily Videos

My favorite new features on AP Classroom are the videos aligned or each unit. These videos help students zero in on individual skills and strategies. You can watch them in class or assign them to students (which is great for those learning virtually or on a hybrid schedule).

Not only do they help students, but they help me get ready for my upcoming lesson. They also offer focus and flexibility. For example, in Carlos Escobar’s video on Setting 2.A, he presented us with a graph for student use. Mr. Escobar asked students to use details from Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” Although my students had read that story, they were much more engaged with Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a story we had just read for homework. I simply paused the video, asked them to follow his instructions but for that story instead, and we were off and running.

AP Daily Videos
This video on 2.A asks students to analyze “The Story of an Hour,” but we were easily able to apply the graphic to a different short story that we had just read. Lots of flexible and evergreen ideas in these videos!

Takeaway on the AP Daily Videos

Use as you like, change as you wish. Feel free to lean on these master teachers and borrow 6-10 minutes of instruction, or even a full lesson’s worth of ideas!

Visual Graphics Indicating Readiness

Student performance
This graph indicates which students showed mastery of the selected skills, which are approaching readiness, and which students are not yet ready. As we’re only 5 weeks into the school year, these results are fine with me!

I’m a visual learner, so I appreciate the score reports with visual images. After a PPC, I can scan my students’ scores and see how they performed in only a second. Even better, I can see how many showed mastery or exam readiness based on their responses. Clicking on the graphic brings up a box that shows the exact students who scored in each percentile.

Student performance
When I click on the Student Performance image (see above), I can see an overview with student names broken up into percentiles. My own students names were removed, obviously, for the sake of privacy.

When you click on the hyperlinked title of the assessment, you go to an even more detailed breakdown, also visually designed. I can see how the class performed by question or by student.

Student results sorted by question
This is a score breakdown by question. Note: This is not on a personal progress check but on a mini-PPC I created using the question bank.
Student results sorted by student
You can also toggle from question to see student answers. By glancing at this data, I can see that it may be worth reviewing why A was correct for #3, rather than D, the other common answer.

Takeaway on Visual Graphics

There are many ways to see how students performed, from quick surface checks to deep data dives. AP Classroom is configured to make it fast and easy to see how your students are performing in Personal Progress Checks and AP skills.

Increased Search Abilities

When I first began using AP Classroom, I found the question bank frustrating. I decided to stick to the pre-made Personal Progress Checks and avoid the question bank entirely. However, there have been big improvements to the question bank since then.

Using the search features in AP Classroom
In the Question Bank you can browse questions, targeting skills, units, question types, and more. You can even click on the search bar and search by title, author, year, and topic!

One unknown feature is the search bar, which can pull up questions and essay prompts that align with a selected topic or title. You can even see what essay prompts have been used on former exams.

Using the search feature in AP Classroom
Even newer titles like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See are linked to essay prompts.

The question bank is also where you’d go to create a quiz using questions from AP Classroom. You can use their questions, and even author your own!

Another cool feature I learned about this week was that you can search the closed captioning in the videos. While I haven’t gotten the chance to do it yet, I’m excited to try it. I really like the feature for when I know the instructor said something specific and I want to go to that moment specifically.

Searching the closed captioning
To access the closed captioning Click on the CC in the bottom right corner. Select “Search Video” to look through the closed captions and do a search.

Once you open the closed captioning search, you can type in a word specifically. By clicking that word, it takes you immediately to that moment in the video.

Searching the Closed Captioning
Just type in the word you’re looking for and hit Enter. It will take you to that moment in the video so you can rewatch it as needed.

Takeaway on the Search Features

These are the biggest improvements I’ve seen. Searching the closed captioning on the videos is genius. As for the Question Bank, I still wish the question labels were a bit clearer, I appreciate the search bar and its functions so much.

Topic Questions

This was a feature I hadn’t noticed until this week’s webinar, but if you go to your homepage in AP Classroom, you will see a clean layout. Each unit is laid out in a tab on top. Once you select a unit you can see that unit’s main skills, its corresponding AP Daily videos, plus a little lightbulb labeled “Topic Questions.”

Topic Questions
This overview of Unit 2 shows the main skill, the AP Daily videos, and the Topic Questions, which offer formative questions you can use for daily checks for understanding. Fun fact: by clicking on the Unit Guide you can download the CED pages that pertain to your selected unit!

When clicking on the topic questions, it pulls up the best formative questions that align to your selected unit. This gives you plenty of options to choose from for creating quizzes or quick checks on a particular skill. I haven’t used the Topic Questions yet, but I imagine using them for skill reinforcement in the spring. I want to use their PPC data to customize quizzes for each student based on their weakest skill (read on to see how I collect this data).

Takeaway on the Topic Questions

While these are accessible through the Question Bank as well, they’re helpful if seeking a targeted skill or creating quizzes on a particular unit.

How I Use AP Classroom

I’ve been using AP Classroom for just over a year now, and I really do love it. I don’t use it for Free Response Questions as often as I use it for multiple choice practice. In my year of practice, here are some of my strategies and suggestions with integrating it into your classroom (in person or virtually).

Explanations of right and wrong answers

I think the number one piece of advice I would offer is to allow students time for reflection after a multiple choice personal progress check to understand the questions they got wrong. We practiced with this just today and I heard students saying things like, “Oh, so the adjective was wrong but the rest of it was right. I thought that that didn’t matter…”

AP Classroom
I absolutely love this feature. If a student gets an answer wrong, it explains why that selection is wrong. If they get it right, it explains why it’s right! They can even select the other options and learn why each other option is incorrect. So valuable!

Just like I said in my post about rehashing, students need time to reflect and discuss what needs improving. This is just as true in multiple choice practice as it is for writing.

Student data analysis and reflection

PPC Data Sheets
These PPC data trackers are a free download from my TpT store. You can also get my AP Lit Task cards, available as printables and as interactive Google Slides, for purchase from TpT if you’re interested.

To assist in student reflection, I created one-page data sheets for students to fill out after each PPC. Students briefly record the focused skill and their performance in that skill. I then ask them to reflect on their weakest skill and their strongest. While this may not mean much to them in the moment, I save these data sheets in folders by student name, so we can revisit them in April when we’re doing test prep.

Teacher data analysis and reflection

AP Data - Kortuem
This was the data sheet I used to collect MCQ scores last year. I hoped to use them to guide our test prep time and create personalized quizzes through AP Classroom.

When we complete a multiple choice PPC, we always do them right before we spend 30-45 minutes independently reading (I’m on a modified block schedule). As students read independently, I collect data. It’s weird; I hate math, but I love data.

Last year I created this data sheet to track my students’ MCQ PPC scores. I planned on using it to help guide our test prep time, but the 2020 exam changes altered those plans. I still hope to use them in the same way this year.

As you can see, these four students have various abilities and skill levels. Student C is showing my desired progress, moving from “Approaching Readiness” to “Ready” by the third PPC. But most students are more like Student D, who bounces around from Ready, Approaching Readiness, and Not Ready at random. There’s nothing wrong with this either. I gave this data to my students midyear and will give it again at the end of the year when we prep for the exam. This way they can see exactly where their MCQ weaknesses lie.

I haven’t used AP Classroom for FRQ responses yet, but that is the goal for this school year. How do you intend to use AP Classroom to prep your students? What new features are you looking forward to?

6 Movies that Enhance How to Read Literature Like a Professor

6 Movies that Enhance How to Read Literature Like a Professor

In a previous blog post I shared six different television shows (including clips) that you can use to enhance your students’ study of How to Read Literature Like a Professor. As promised, here are six additional films (and movie clips!) you can use to further enhance the study of HTRLLAP. Obviously the choices out there are endless, so understand that these choices reflect some of my current favorite movies. I’d love to hear some of your own suggestions!

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - AP Lit and More

People often have polarizing views on Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, myself included. The movie came out before I was born and it seemed like everyone thought it was amazing, while I mostly found it creepy. I recently watched it again as an adult and I have come around on the movie in many ways. First of all, it really holds up, especially its special effects. Secondly, the movie is much more profound and symbolic than I ever realized. Its iconic flight scene is perfect for demonstrating how flight represents freedom. Additionally, E.T. functions as a Christ figure, even dying sacrificially (to save Elliot) and coming back to life.

Movie Clip:

In this scene, Elliot enlists the help of his brother and his buddies to outrun the government officials chasing them. The boys face a roadblock and imminent capture, until E.T. lifts them all over the forest and into safety. Plus, the music in this scene is iconic.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption - AP Lit and More

This is another personal favorite in my family. When I describe this movie to my students, many of whom haven’t seen it, they often beg me to tell me how it ends or to show the whole film. And after all, who doesn’t love a prison break?

Shawshank is my go-to clip for demonstrating Foster’s theory of baptism in Andy’s iconic escape scene. Furthermore, it can be used to demonstrate the importance of side characters or narrative vs. authorial violence. Brooks, an often overlooked character, is a great example of authorial violence. His suicide inspires Andy to “get busy living,” and parallels with Red’s own life on the outside before breaking parole.

Movie Clip:

This scene, depicting Andy’s grueling and hellish escape through the prison’s sewers, ends with his glorious release into an overflow river. Andy strips his clothes and stands open-armed in the rain, embracing the clean, fresh taste of true freedom. Glorious, and perfect for explaining what Foster meant in his chapter about character baptism.


Coco - AP Lit and More

It was hard to select a single Pixar film to include on this list but one of my new favorites is 2017’s Coco. While several of the principles from How to Read Literature Like a Professor can apply, including vampires and sidekicks, there is one that stands out more than others. This is a fantastic movie to watch when exploring the concept of quests. Foster explains that all quests begin with a stated reason to go somewhere and ends with a real reason to go there. Miguel travels to meet the great musician, Ernesto de la Cruz, in order to learn if he is related to him. After a journey to the Land of the Dead, Miguel meets his real grandfather, learns of de la Cruz’s treachery, and returns his great great grandfather’s memory to his great grandmother before she dies.

Movie Clip

It’s hard to teach the concept of a quest in a single clip, but this clip might be enough to convince you to watch the whole film. The movie is a visual masterpiece and is one of my students’ favorites for understanding quests and the hero’s journey.


Jaws - AP Lit and More

I have to admit a bias here, Jaws is my all-time favorite movie. That being said, there’s a reason so many people love it. Jaws is beautifully made and highly symbolic. The shark functions as a symbol for fear in all of the character’s lives, but especially Chief Brody. Furthermore, Foster’s principles on baptism also work in the final scene. If you’ve seen the film, you know that Brody is afraid of the water (ironic for mayor of an island town). He avoids it as much as possible, but it isn’t until he’s finally submerged into the sea with the killer shark that he gets the nerve and strategy to kill it. He then confidently swims to shore.

Movie clip

This scene, one of the greatest monologues in movie history, works great with Foster’s principles on being physically marked. Quint and Hooper, seasoned seamen, compare scars with each other and bond. Brody, unseasoned and afraid of the water, has no scars to share. Eventually, Quint is asked about a scar from a removed tattoo, revealing his survival in the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. Quint’s experience and survival of this tragedy left him not only physically marked but emotionally scarred as well.

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump - AP Lit and More

There are lots of Fosterisms that work with Forrest Gump. Furthermore, many students are familiar with this movie, since most of their parents grew up watching it. Foster’s principles on geography work with almost any scene, as Forrest travels around the world to different locales. Furthermore, a study of Jenny and her descent into illness (most assume it’s AIDS) works well with Foster’s analysis of illness.

Movie Clip

This is another movie that works well with being physically marked. Despite growing up to be a football phenom and long distance runner, Forrest grew up in leg braces. The iconic “Run, Forrest, run!” scene establishes how Forrest’s braces truly marked him for greatness.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile - AP Lit and More

My last selection is from The Green Mile, a highly symbolic movie that is rife with HTRLLAP examples. The movie, set in the pre-war American South, has many political, geographical, and symbolic applications. Furthermore, John Coffey’s purpose and miracles align with principles from the bible. Coffey’s life and death align well with that of a Christ figure as well, particularly his miracles and sacrificial death.

Movie clip

In this scene, Paul convinces the warden to sneak John Coffey out of the prison to heal the warden’s wife. Coffey calms the woman, suffering from malignant tumors in her brain. He leans against her mouth, and sucks the tumor out of her, instantly healing her and changing her appearance drastically.

If you’re looking for more help with teaching How to Read Literature Like a Professor, check out my materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve got notes, bell-ringers, quizzes, and an interactive hyperdoc, all of which can be found in my HTRLLAP bundle.

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