Mosaic 2021 – A Mixed Media Approach to AP Lit

This is a blog-version of my presentation in the online Mosaic conference on July 19, 2021. To view the presentation from that night, click here.

Three years ago, I began teaching How to Read Literature Like a Professor in class for the first time. While I saw its potential in an AP® Lit class, I didn’t really start making “aha” moments until I applied Foster’s strategies to many of the movies that I love. I began taking notes and using media examples into my instructional notes each day.

One student, I’ll call him John, was very reluctant about being in AP® Lit. He told me he didn’t sign up for the class and it was obvious he didn’t feel he was a strong enough reader or writer. However, once we began applying Foster’s patterns and concepts to movies and television, John absolutely came alive. He dominated a lot of our discussions and would come rushing in every morning with a new observation he had made. One day John proudly told me that his parents kicked him out of the living room the night before because he wouldn’t stop teaching them about the importance of a scene in The Walking Dead. John wasn’t just learning anymore. He was teaching.

Since then, I’ve been looking for opportunities to use small pieces of media to introduce, pair with, or supplement a text. This has become a common practice not only in my AP® Lit class but all of my courses.

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Why Use Media

I know that advocating for the use of media in class is a little scandalous, since our students are coming off a year where they probably had more screen time than ever. I want to acknowledge this, but also explain why it is a natural opener for teenagers. The West Virginia Education Association put out a survey that said, “On any given day, American teenagers (13- to 18-year-olds) average about nine hours of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework. Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ worth of entertainment media daily,” the report reads. Most of this involves screen time – 4.5 hours for tweens and nearly seven hours for teens.” And again, I am not advocating for more screen time. However, by implementing small amounts of it in class, we can tap into their interests and increase their curiosity by connecting it to AP® Lit texts.

I’m sure you’ve all read statistics like this, that we learn or remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, etc. When we teach a text and simply ask students to read it, we run into a few risks. The first is, obviously, that they may not read it. But what if they do read it, but they only learn or remember 10% of it? This is why we ask students to annotate, because we’re trying to tap into other learning strategies to solidify the information.

What I’m suggesting is that we pair texts with visual and auditory media, then use discussion strategies to link the two. When we do that, we move into the “see and hear,” “discuss,” and “experience” areas, where retention is much higher.


Here is an example of a clip from television that could be used without any context or previous viewing. Watch it and brainstorm how it could be used in a literature class.

This clip from Lost has many different elements that could pair with texts or concepts in the AP® Lit classroom.

You may have had a few different ideas of how you can use this, but here is what I came up with:

Narrative Pacing

The clip makes use of three main sounds: the beeping at the beginning, the joyful song on the record, and the background score when the record scratches. Each increases in tempo as the pacing grows in tension.


The camera angles in this clip keep us from seeing the man in the bunker’s face. The point of view turns omniscient when his visitors arrive and we see their approach.

Themes of Isolation

You could use this clip to introduce texts with a similar theme, such as Lord of the Flies, “The Most Dangerous Game,” or 1984.

Other Ideas

In the chat during the Mosaic presentation, viewers also thought of using this clip to teach the following skills or texts:

  • Setting
  • Mood
  • Complexity
  • Characterization
  • Shifts
  • Symbolism
  • Waiting for Godot
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Using Media to Make Connections

When I supplement literature or texts in my class, I basically turn to five main sources of media. These are:

  • Film/television clips
  • Songs/music videos
  • Art
  • Lectures & news
  • TED Talks/TED-Ed lessons

These clips or supplements can be used to introduce or pair with a text. However, it can also work outside of a text to highlight a particular AP® Lit Essential Skill (this is what I do in my Skill Spotlight lessons). You can also use these ideas to facilitate discussion or group activities, such as jigsawing, gallery walks, or small groups.

Here are a few ideas I came up with just to get you started!

Introduce a Text

Edward Scissorhands & Frankenstein

Use a clip from Edward Scissorhands to showcase his feelings of isolation because of his unnatural appearance. This is a great way to begin with sympathy for the Creature. The clip included here shows the inventor dying before he could give Edward his hands. While not as careless as Victor, it still leaves Edward in a vulnerable state, just like the abandoned creature.

Breaking Bad with “Ozymandias”

This is one of the most popular media pairings with AP Lit teachers, but if you haven’t tried it please check it out! One of the episodes in this marvelous show is titled “Ozymandias,” based on how high up in power (and out of control) Walter White is becoming. I always pair our poem study of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” with this short clip. It is just a reading of the poem, but paired with scenery from Breaking Bad. I then open it up for those who have seen the show to comment on how its themes relate to the poem.

TED Talk: How Technology Evolves

This interesting TED Talk could be used to introduce several texts, such as Brave New World, “There Will Be Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, or Frankenstein.

Pair With a Text

Almost Anything with HTRLLAP

I use media for almost every chapter of Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. My favorites are a clip from Shawshank Redemption for baptism, using song lyrics for the chapter on seasons, and a TED-Ed video for the chapter on Shakespeare. I’ve dedicated several blog posts to implementing HTRLLAP in the classroom. Check them out:

Nirvana & Camille T. Dungy

Nirvana’s iconic music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” introduces youth culture in all its unexplainable glory. This video , called one of the most influential music videos ever made, pairs well with Camille T. Dungy’s poem “Because it looked hotter that way.”

“Afghan Girl” Photograph with The Kite Runner

Most of us have seen this famed picture of Sharbat Gula, known in 1984 as only “the Afghan girl.” The backstory of this photograph and the world’s reaction to it would pair nicely with The Kite Runner or other literature from Afghanistan.

Begin Discussion on Theme

Songs About War

I’ve introduced a lesson comparing “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen and “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke with two war songs. They were “American Soldier” by Toby Keith and Edwin Starr’s “War (What is it Good For?)” Brook’s poem presents a romantic and patriotic view of being a soldier, matching well with Toby Keith’s song. Owen’s poem is more critical and blunt in its presentation of the brutalities of war, matching well with Starr’s song.

Slam Poetry to Illuminate a Theme

I’m not a pro when it comes to integrating slam poetry, but I have brought a couple into the classroom. One pairing I like is Bassey Ikpi’s “Homeward” with Things Fall Apart to illustrate themes of language barriers and the meaning of heritage. Click here to see the performance.

Up & A Man Called Ove

Both the film and the novel discuss themes of old age and life after love ends. Using clips from Pixar’s Up will enhance the beauty of A Man Called Ove. The montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together matches perfectly with the backstory and overall mood of Ove in Backman’s book.

Deep Dive an Essential Skill

“Karma Police” by Radiohead & Perspective

This video by Radiohead explores two perspectives and has an awesome twist at the end. There’s great opportunities for analysis of the chorus’ line, “This is what you’ll get.”

Odd Couple Archetypes & Contrasts

One of my favorite Skill Spotlight lessons examples from New Girl, Schitt’s Creek and The Odd Couple to analyze the function of contrasts. We go on to analyze Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice.” To see this free lesson on contrasts, click here.

Pride and Prejudice & Setting

I love using idyllic and stunning scenes from movies like Pride and Prejudice to illustrate how the setting of a movie (and text!) illuminates conflict, theme, and character.

Facilitate Small Groups, Gallery Walks, or Jigsaw Activities

Harlem Renaissance Exhibits

James Lesesne Wells, Looking Upward, 1928, woodcut in black on laid paper, Ruth and Jacob Kainen Collection, 1994.87.9

I use art, verse, and newspaper clippings to introduce a mini-unit on the Harlem Renaissance to help students see the cultural impact of the movement. Pieces of art such as this one by James Lesesne Wells helps move the movement beyond just words and helps them see that it encompassed art, music, poetry, prose, dance, and more.

America Ferrera’s TED Talk

I’ve used Ferrera’s TED Talk entitled “My identity is a superpower – not an obstacle” in our thematic units for Pre-AP. This one is great for discussions about identity, race, fame, or success.

Lectures and News with Beloved

In my Beloved unit, I pair each set of chapters with a text or media clip outside the novel, including:

Other Ideas for Implementing Media

“The Art of Madness”

In a 2018 issue of The Paris Review, Cody Delistraty researched the work of Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet collected art from patients in asylums and called it “the art of madness.” How could we use this in AP® Lit?

If it was me, I would pair it with texts on a similar topic or theme, such as:

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning
  • Emily Dickinson’s poetry
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  • “Ward No. 6” by Anton Chekhov

Others from the Mosaic chat thought of using this artwork with these texts or skills:

  • Jane Eyre
  • Hamlet
  • Girl, Interrupted
  • Song of Solomon
  • Macbeth
  • Paradise Lost
  • No Exit
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Metamorphosis
  • “The Hill We Climb”
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • The Awakening
  • Perspective
  • Reliability of narrator
  • Symbolism
  • Allusions

“Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s 2017 “Look What You Made Me Do” music video is another example of her strong narrative voice. However, she takes on a bolder, more symbolic persona in this one. The second half of the video shows her towering over the remains of her characters from previous hit music videos. How could we use it in AP® Lit?

When you watch this video, it becomes evident that Swift relies on many symbols and allegories in her video. While many of them are “Easter Eggs” or direct jabs at events from her life, she relies on some universal symbols such as snakes, diamonds, and gravestones. She also inverts some symbolism, such as the high-heeled male dancers. I would use it as a warm-up to a lesson that analyzes archetypes, symbols, or allegories, followed by a text that makes use of similar literary elements.

Others from the Mosaic chat thought of using this music video with these texts or skills:

  • The Great Gatsby (Daisy)
  • Great Expectations (Miss Havisham)
  • Macbeth (Lady Macbeth)
  • “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper”
  • The Crucible
  • Madame Bovary
  • Themes of rebirth/resurrection
  • Imagery
  • Characterization
  • Motivation
  • Juxtaposition
  • Figurative language
  • Character agency

Additional Ideas from AP Lit Teacher

The chat during this presentation was absolutely blowing up with additional ideas for pairing media with texts or skills! I tried to collect a few and share them here:

  • BTS “Spring Day” music video to teach imagery
  • Using art from the Romantic period as a gallery walk to introduce Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights
  • Use sound bits from No Holds Bard podcast with Shakespearean texts
  • Pairing Finding Nemo with Homer’s Odyssey
  • Pairing scenes from Maleficent with Frankenstein
  • Ted Talk – Why Teens Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit with The Crucible
  • “Ulysses” by Tennyson with this scene from Skyfall
  • “A Man Has Dreams” from Mary Poppins with A Doll’s House
  • Scenes from Out of Africa with “To an Athlete Dying Young”
  • Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” for symbolism
  • Meredith Grey’s drowning scenes from Grey’s Anatomy to illustrate “If She Comes Up It’s Baptism” from How to Read Literature Like a Professor
  • Prince’s “Controversy” music video with The Catcher in the Rye
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison with Beyonce’s Lemonade
  • “Eminence Front” by The Who with The Great Gatsby

Viewers also named the following titles as excellent media to pair with literature in general:

Tips for Implementing Media

Don’t let it steal the show

This is still a literature course. I try to keep the ratio at 1:10 when it comes to media versus literature in my class. Remember that it should supplement the literature, not the other way around.

Consider making it supplemental

I always run out of time in my lessons, so if I have ideas for media I want to pair but run out of time, I post it to our school’s LMS and make it optional for those who wish to explore it later. You’ll be surprised how many do!

Always, always, always pre-screen

A good rule of thumb is to never share a clip, song, or image you haven’t seen already. Watch it before class and watch it all the way through to check for surprises!

Thank you for this opportunity to present among such talented and prestigious educators. Check out the various ways to contact or follow me below, or check out my TpT store by clicking here.

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