As you may have heard, the AP English Literature course is getting a bit of a redesign this summer, becoming effective in Fall of 2019. For the full report released by the College Board, click here. For the remix version, keep reading!
Many AP Lit teachers are already starting to panic about the new changes because frankly, changes are scary. But based on my reading and some discussion with other AP Lit teachers, I think these changes are positive overall and nothing to be scared of.
Here are the main things to know:
The biggest change is that the AP Lit essay rubric is changing to an analytical, itemized rubric similar to those used on the AP US History and AP European History exams. The actual scoring guidelines have not been released yet, but the writing prompts are more specific in what students need to write about. More information will be provided at the AP Reading this summer and will be sent out to AP Lit teachers as well.
AP English Literature seems to be embracing different forms of fiction, perhaps even moving away from the old-fashioned “literary merit” model of years past. Instead, the course description breaks the literature down into three categories:
Much of the new changes to the AP exam are supported by an abundance of new resources being supplied by College Board on their new AP Classroom webpage. The webpage is advertised below:
Because of the new emphasis on “short fiction,” AP teachers are already talking about adding more short fiction, such as excerpts from novels or short stories, and eliminating some longer works. This builds on Senior VP of CollegeBoard Trevor Packer’s tweet last summer hinting that this was the new direction of AP Lit. (I discussed this tweet and its ramifications in a blog post last year as well!)
If you are feeling overwhelmed still, that’s perfectly natural. I too had a small moment of hyperventilation when I worried I had to eliminate all novels from my curriculum and add short stories instead. However, after reading further, and talking to some level-headed AP Lit teachers, here are my personal take-aways:
These are guidelines. No changes are necessary to your AP Lit courses, except maybe tweaking your on-demand essay rubrics eventually.
CollegeBoard will be releasing more practice questions and resources to help new and struggling AP teachers starting in the fall.
CollegeBoard may start allowing analysis of shorter prose works, even short stories, on Question 3, which overall means more modern and realistic reading material and student expectations.
Because of a student trip to Italy this June, I am unable to attend the AP Lit scoring in Salt Lake City. However, I have some friends who are sending me the materials as soon as they get them, and rest assured I am setting aside some time this summer to develop TpT resources based on the new writing expectations. If you have any additional questions for me, or suggestions for future resources, please email me at email@example.com. Finally, I encourage you to check out the new course description (linked above) and sign up for the AP Classroom resource.
One of the most common questions I see before the AP Lit exam is not about test prep, but about what teachers should do with their students on the exam days are over. It is more than a valid question. For months, a good AP teacher cultivates an environment of exploration and rigorous learning. To abandon all work once the exam is over seems wrong, and depending on your school calendar, can be a huge waste of student time. But at the same time, upperclassmen often face burnout after their AP exams and it can be hard to get them to continue the rigorous work that comes with AP-level classes.
Like many teachers, I was faced with the dilemma with filling class time with purposeful activities that didn’t push the kids past their breaking point.
The best activity I have found is a book club unit analyzing plays from the AP reading list.
The focus for this activity is on reading and discussion, and the summative assignment is a simple presentation to the rest of the class. Overall, my students find it entertaining, enlightening, and a learning activity that is not too intense for those waning days of May.
Unit Design & Procedure
Step 1: Group Up – If student reading choice was the only factor, this activity could result in too many small groups of 2 or even 1, which won’t work for this unit. Instead, I ask students to get into groups of 3-5 before they choose a play. To add to the more relaxed atmosphere of the unit, I allow them to form their own groups, a strategy I would not normally use during the regular school year.
Step 2: Choose a Play – Once they are in groups, they will need to select a play to read. There are two parameters for this: 1) it must be AP-level; 2) no one in the group can have read it already. There are many plays on the AP Lit reading list, but some of my favorites for this unit include:
Oedipus the King by Sophocles
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Fences by August Wilson
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance
I usually type up descriptions of some of my favorites, or provide students with time to look online for descriptions of each. Goodreads.com is a great resource for this.
Step 3: Form a Plan – To cultivate a student-led design, I ask students to form their own reading plan. Ideally the plays should be read aloud in class and should take about 1 to 1 1/2 weeks to finish. I also ask students to give themselves roles or titles, such as:
President: Someone to keep the group on task and lead discussions
Vice President: Someone to fill in for any absent group members
Secretary: Someone to take notes and submit daily attendance
Presentation Preparer: Someone with a computer open turning notes into a final PowerPoint or preparing a presentation for the final assessment
Step 4: Assign Formative Assessments – To keep this a learning activity (instead of an approaching summer free-for-all), make sure there are assessments in place both for group discussions and individual close reading. I usually grade discussions as I would a Socratic Seminar and assign individual students reading journals or written reflections 2-3 times a week.
Step 5: Design a Summative Assessment – The students need a final grade to aim for, and I’ve had good luck with a group presentation. I ask each group to give a plot premise and overview of the main characters. They then have to summarize some of the main themes and plot events they analyzed during group discussions. Finally, each student should provide a review of the play, including what they liked and didn’t like about each play. These presentations are usually paired with a dramatic recreation of a scene or two from the play, as well as why the scene is significant.
This is just one idea for filling the 2-3 weeks after the AP Lit exam, but I have had excellent luck in my own personal experience. I’d love to hear more, what activities do you use after the AP Lit exam?
Looking for more literature circle ideas? Check out my Gothic Novel Unit for AP Lit. It gives you everything you need to guide students through 5 different gothic novels, including six different rubrics for scoring!
I have been teaching AP Lit for almost 15 years, and the test prep has always been a difficult process. For years my students felt stressed about the open question, so I created the Independent Novel Project. Then, they felt overwhelmed and underprepared for the poetry question, so I created weekly poem lessons and two intensive poetry units. This leaves just the prose question. I didn’t know why, but my students felt unprepared and baffled by the prose question, always forgetting the meaning of syntax and the purpose of diction. I drilled them by adding more novels and plays, but nothing seemed to help.
Then, last year I had the “fortunate misfortune” of scoring the prose question for the 2018 AP Lit exam, which explored Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. Although I had to read more about Zenobia than one human being ever should, I did learn that writing for the prose prompt takes more than just regular analysis skills. Literary elements used in prose are powerful but often overlooked, and it takes a keen eye to pick out just the right details for written analysis.
With this in mind, I created a weeklong prose unit that explored the most common literary terms mentioned on past AP Lit prose questions. To make it interesting, I connected the skills in my notes to popular characters from literature and films. This resource is for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers, but I will share a few of my favorite lessons from this resource here.
One subset of diction is dialogue, and you can learn a lot about a character from dialogue. In this lesson, I take quotes from famous movie characters (well, they’re famous from my time, so I also like to look at it as introducing classic characters to these young bucks) and we analyze what their spoken lines say about them. Take Sally.
Sally Albright is one of my favorite characters, and she comes from my favorite romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally. In my notes, I record Sally’s lunch order:
But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.
Sally Albright, When Harry Met Sally
I ask the students, what do Sally’s lines tell us about her character? First, it reinforces Harry’s assertion that she is “high maintenance.” Her defense is that ”she knows what she wants.” Sally is picky, but only because she hates being let down. By being assertive with what she wants, she hopes to spare anyone disappointment later. We continue this discussion with several other characters, and eventually students learn that every line of dialogue serves a purpose, and it is usually to further the plot or, in this case, to build character.
Syntax is one of the most difficult literary elements to teach, since it really just means how words are arranged. My students argue that you can make a case out of any syntactical arrangement, so how do we know if that is what the author intended? I remind them that author intent is not really the point. The AP exam rubric asks for a persuasive answer, so if they can support their assertion with textual evidence, it doesn’t matter if the author approves of it.
In this lesson, I took famous quotes from different novels and explored different syntactical arrangements, including a midsentence break, beginning and ending with significant words, choppy sentence structure, and parallelism. To demonstrate parallelism, I included lines from one of America’s most beloved novels, To Kill a Mockingbird. In it, Atticus says,
People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
In this quote, the words are arranged to deliberately reuse the word “for” at the end of each phrase. This is parallelism, a form of repetition. Since the original word ended with “look for,” the change to the word “listen” in front of “for” puts more emphasis on that word. Atticus is giving wisdom to his children, and Atticus is a man who listens more than he speaks. The meaning behind this wisdom would not be lost on his children, but Harper Lee employs parallelism to make sure it isn’t lost on us.
Most students understand how to identify the point of view of a textual excerpt, thanks to classic short story lessons. However, AP readers expect a more advanced knowledge base, which includes knowledge of an unreliable narrator, 2nd person point of view, and stream-of-consciousness narration.
There was no better author of unreliable narrator than Edgar Allan Poe. In his classic short story “A Tell-Tale Heart,” we see the thoughts of a madman as he hears the beating heart of the man he just killed. Poe writes,
Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!—this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
Narrator, “The Tell-Tale Heart”
These lines convince the reader that the heartbeat is not real, but is only heard in the mind of the narrator. Until this point, the reader isn’t sure if this is a supernatural thriller or a psychological thriller. Here, he proves his unreliability, and we shift to enjoying watching him unravel.
While these points of view may seem alien to readers, most of them are easier to understand in film. Shutter Island, Fight Club, Atonement, and Gone Girl are all popular films (and books, by the way) that employ an unreliable narrator. Most students have seen one of these, and relating this lesson to these films will help solidify the information.
Tone is another tricky element. While students won’t have a hard time understanding it, analyzing tone is a different story. My students struggle with labeling tone, and figuring out how to incorporate it into a literary analysis.
To illustrate tone in my lesson, I picked three popular books-turned-movies that featured a prominent death. I presented a quote which depicted this death and asked students to analyze the tone.
This was a questionable move, but I included the death of Fred Weasley. And I’ll be honest here, I wept while writing these slides. Spoilers aside, the words accompanying Fred’s death are some of the most heartbreakingly ironic words in literature. They say:
And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.
JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
After we all dry our eyes, students must analyze the tone of these words. First of all, heartbreaking is accurate, as the author emphasizes that Fred is surrounded by his brothers at his death, including his own twin. Furthermore, Fred was a jokester in life, and by discussing the ghost of a laugh on his face she adds a tone of cruelty to the words, emphasizing Fred’s undeserved death.
These are just single slides from lessons designed to take a full hour, and they don’t mention the annotation and writing activities, but I hope they give a little clarification on how to make prose instruction more interesting and meaningful for your AP Lit students. To access my AP Lit Prose materials click on any of the headings for individual lessons, or click here for the full weeklong unit.
When April rolls around my AP Lit students begin preparing
for the exam, a process which looks different for each teacher. Many students
get the most anxiety when it comes to the free response question, an open-ended
prompt asking students to analyze any novel or play. I’ve found success in
having each student prepare a study guide for five different texts.
First of all, students should reflect back on all of the books they have read in preparation for the AP Lit exam, both in class and outside of it. This includes both novels and plays, as well as some memoirs, short stories, essays, epics, and other kinds of texts. Each student needs to create a list of five titles to know, inside and out. Here are some of the rules I implement for choosing titles:
They must include at least one Shakespearean play.
They must include at least one play (which may be by Shakespeare)
They must include at least one gothic novel.
They must attempt to include at least two diverse authors, meaning women and minorities.
No author should be repeated more than twice.
Use titles on the range of accessibility, aiming for more obscure books if possible.
The range of accessibility is a continuum that I designed showing how some works are considered “too accessible” by some readers, meaning that they may be too short, too simple, or frankly too popular. Wonderful but accessible books include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and Animal Farm. Students should avoid having titles that all rank low on the continuum and try to put at least one more obscure title on their list. This doesn’t mean a student can’t write about To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a wonderful novel and contains strong symbols and themes. They should just avoid having multiple titles that are low on the continuum. The same goes likewise for having too many titles from a similar time period or genre.
While it is impossible to hit all of these categories, encourage students to choose title combinations that are:
Written by both male and female authors
Representing world literature, or works from outside of America or Great Britain
Including works by minority authors, including writers of color and Native American authors
representing plays, especially those not taught in 9th or 10th grade
A mixture of short and longer texts
A balance of old and newer books, including classics and those published in just the past 10 years.
Once students have chosen their titles, I give them a week
or two to prepare their study guides. These study guides need to include the
following for each title:
The title, author, and year published
The setting (both time and place)*
A list of characters*
A short plot summary*
An overview of themes and symbols, each explained in several sentences
*If time is a factor, or students are being crushed under a
weight of other work right before AP exams, I sometimes allow these items to be
taken from an online study website such as SparkNotes or Shmoop. I’d prefer
their themes and symbols be written in their own words, but the rest of the information
is really for short review right before the exam. If it speeds up the preparation
process this is an accommodation that can be made.
In my classes, the study guides are due the Monday of our AP
Exam week. I look them over and score them quickly, returning them to the
students so they can review them. I also make sure that the week of the exam
they have no homework from me. I only ask that they read over their five study
guides for 5-10 minutes each day, especially right before they go to bed. They
usually bring them to school on the day of the AP Exam as well, cramming from
them right before the doors open.
This study guide assignment has several benefits:
It clears up a common problem, when students have to write about a book they’ve read before, but they have forgotten character names or important plot events. By engraining these five stories into their heads, they are readily able to write about them at the drop of a hat.
In the five years of doing this assignment, only once has a student had to write about a book that was not on their study guide. Therefore, it takes away much of the panic that students can feel going into Question 3 when they are unsure of what to write.
It adds a formative grade into my gradebook during exam time, showing assessment for a practical and meaningful assignment that is not busywork.
Ever since I was a child, my parents used to call me “Belle.” Not only was Beauty and the Beast my favorite movie, but my head was often filled with stories and it was hard to get my nose out of a book. I also have always had a deep devotion to libraries. I think it was because my dad would never say no if I requested to go to the library, because it meant the books were free. Our library was only a mile up the road and I visited often. First I had to hitch rides with my dad, then later it turned into weekly visits on my bike. When I was fifteen I got a job there shelving books.
To this day, I have never lived more than one mile from a local library.
In the summer of 2017 my husband and I moved our family into the home of our dreams in Oakdale, MN. The house was full of light and lots of room for hosting our many family gatherings. There were many play spaces for our growing children and I immediately found a potential “play” space for myself.
I was only just getting started on TpT at the time and the idea of ever making a living off of its earnings was still a far-off dream, but I remember mentioning to my husband that our front room, which would be used as a formal living room (aka the least-used room in a house) would make a great office one day.
Fast forward about a year and I was starting to see steady success with TpT. I predicted that I would be hitting the first earnings milestone by the end of the year (which I did!), and to celebrate we took steps to convert the formal living room into my office. Even then my dream of a personal library was still a silent hope in the back of my mind.
Over Christmas, I approached my dad with the idea of putting a wall of shelves in my office. While he was wary of making bookshelves, I showed him some open shelving ideas that I had found online and he was immediately on board. I cleared out the room, sold or stored the last of the furniture, and prepared to transform the room.
One way that I saved some money was by helping my dad with the shelves. I am useless with a saw so the actual construction was all him, but I can paint at least. On New Years Day I joined my dad in his shed staining the shelves for a few hours. The next day, they were installed!
As soon as the shelves were up I unboxed all of the books I had been storing over the years, as well as moving the books out from our basement and our bedroom. As soon as I dumped them out I realized I had a problem: I did not own enough books. It felt like an impossibility, but I had purged many of them before we moved, and I was still a more frequent visitor of the library than the bookstore. I unearthed a few knickknacks and vases stored around the house to fill about four shelves, but I knew I would have to invest in a few more books if I wanted to fill all nine wall-sized bookshelves.
So over the past few months I’ve been picking up secondhand books from wherever I can get them: Facebook, secondhand stores, discards from the library, etc. I also started buying vintage books for my top shelves, which would be more decorative than functional because of the height.
I got my last book yesterday and I can finally announce that all shelves are filled! The furniture is moved back in and everything has been arranged with great care. Here is the final result!
Thanks to everyone who donated books or contributed to the precious gifts that now adorn my shelves. This room is filled with light and positive, productive energy. I absolutely adore being in it and look forward to squeezing many more books onto the shelves.