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

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

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.

Also, make sure you’re subscribed to my email list to be notified first for new blog posts, sales, and other strategies for teaching ELA and AP Lit.

6 Television Shows that Enhance How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor is becoming a fixture in AP Lit and other advanced literature classes. While teachers love this book, students often struggle with Foster’s highbrow references. To overcome this, many of us use references to popular films and television shows to enhance Foster’s main principles. Here are my favorite shows to help reinforce Foster’s principles and help your students get the most out of How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Each show is paired with a clip to help make your planning just a bit easier!

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Top 10 moments from one of the greatest TV shows ever |  Entertainment News,The Indian Express

Breaking Bad is one of my favorite television series. The show is gritty and dark, not typical for my usual queue of The Great British Baking Show and Parks and Recreation. That being said, I love Breaking Bad for reinforcing various allusions and other Fosterisms. Several Shakespearean plays and characters align with Breaking Bad, as well as parallels with Greek mythology, biblical allusions, and symbols in general.

Show clip:

Breaking Bad centers around a dysfunctional family, so there’s no shortage of meal scenes. This awkward meal between Jesse, Skylar, and Walt reinforces the principles of Chapter 2 and communion, especially on what happens when a meal is unfinished.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Celebrating 15 years of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” – The Observer

This is a show my own students have been using for analysis, particularly about being physically marked. The story, which follows Aang and his friends on a mission to save the world, employs rich symbols. The show’s strong imagery aligns with Fosterisms on geography and season as well.

Show clip:

This scene reveals Aang’s abilities as the last survivor of the Air Nomads. In this scene, Aang is revealed to be the Avatar, one able to wield all four earthly elements. His powers align with the arrow on his head, separating him as the last and most powerful of his race.

Downton Abbey

Prime Video: Downton Abbey - Season 1

I almost put Mad Men here, but I think Downton Abbey is a little more student-friendly and has similar alignments with HTRLLAP’s principles. I like it for reinforcing ideas from “It’s all political” and the chapters about sex. While Downton is relatively tame, any scene that implies or shows sex is usually more about communication and relationships. Likewise, there are other scenes that are more sexual in nature without showing anything at all.

Show clip:

After Anna is brutally raped, she hides it from her husband, nearly destroying their new marriage. In this scene, Bates finally confronts her and tells her that he knows. This tense scene implies the rebuilding of their marriage and Anna’s return to Bates’ bed, which she’s avoided since the rape. Pay particular attention to how Bates touches Anna and when she returns his touches at the end.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead movies: Everything we know about Rick Grimes' return so  far | GamesRadar+

The Walking Dead is another show that is a bit out of my range, as I struggle with gore. However, in our discussions of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, my students often bring up The Walking Dead and its spinoffs. This show is built on a lot of biblical allusions and there are some good talking points for the significance of violence. Of course, geography, weather, and sidekicks apply too.

Show clip:

This showdown between Shane and Dale is great for biblical allusion and geography. Shane is often aligned with Satan himself, as Dale implies that Shane thrives in a loveless, godless world. The setting of this tense moment, in a lush and isolated swamp, adds to the effect as well.

Check out this blog post for more pairings between media and literature.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things: Season 4? Deets On Its Arrival!

Clips from Stranger Things are sure to be a hit, as many students follow it religiously. The show is rich with symbols and political interpretations. I also love it for explaining the danger of standing next to the hero. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The show’s brutal killings of Barb (season 1), Bob (season 2), and Alexei (season 3) all reinforce the message of this chapter.

Show clip:

This scene shows how dangerous it is to help the Hawkins crew in their attempts to take down the government or the Soviets. Even Alexei couldn’t be saved in a public place, as he’s shot for even associating with the wrong side.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (season 6) - Wikipedia

While I don’t openly endorse Game of Thrones to my students due to its strong adult content, it does align with many principles from How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Its fantastical setting works well with geography, season, and allegories. Furthermore, it employs a unique array of characters that discuss being physically marked and blind. And of course, it has plenty of violence to analyze.

Show clip:

When Arya Stark is blinded by the many-faced God, Arya Stark is forced to live as a beggar. Although initially attacked on the street, the attacks force her to fight back, proving her warrior spirit still lives. Eventually she is invited to move to the temple and train as a warrior, using her heightened other senses to make her even stronger. This scene is perfect for reinforcing Foster’s teachings on blindness.

Check back soon for a similar post pairing How to Read Literature Like a Professor and movies for the classroom!

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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.

Also, make sure you’re subscribed to my email list to be notified first for new blog posts, sales, and other strategies for teaching ELA and AP Lit.

Is Hamlet Overrated?

How to make teaching Shakespeare fun
Still struggling with making Shakespeare fun? This blog post gives tips on making Shakespeare engaging and interesting to even reluctant readers!

Over the years, I’ve taught Hamlet over a dozen times and to several different levels of learners. In my first AP Lit teaching position I taught it since it was already in the curriculum. I loved its complexity and discussion potential, but I easily tired of what I perceived was Hamlet’s whiny personality.

When I moved schools in 2010, Hamlet was in my Shakespearean Lit curriculum and Macbeth was our AP Lit Shakespeare text. Since then, Hamlet has moved into AP Lit, and back out of it again. Today, it lives in my Shakespeare course. My Shakespearean text in AP Lit is King Lear (for right now), and that’s only if we have time for it.

I’ve wavered back and forth on my opinions on Hamlet. It seems like it hit its AP Lit hey day from 1994-2000. In that time, it was a fixture on suggested titles for Q3. In my time as an AP reader, Hamlet was so frequently analyzed (and abused) that I began to roll my eyes at it. However, when done well, essays on Hamlet can be some of the highest-scoring in the bunch. Here are the benefits and alternatives to teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamlet Unit Bundle on TpT
Hamlet Unit Bundle, available on TpT!

Note: In this post I share some links to Hamlet resources from my TpT store. All of these resources are included in my Hamlet bundle (they are not included in my AP Lit Full Course bundle, unfortunately). If you’re considering teaching Hamlet, this resource is geared for any level, not just AP!

The Benefits of Teaching Hamlet

Depictions of Grief

When I first began teaching Hamlet was overly dramatic, whining about his father’s death to avoid doing anything of purpose. Since then, I’ve really come around on our favorite Dane. Part of that transformation stemmed from witnessing my own father’s reaction to his mother’s death.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2005. She was preceded in death only a month earlier by my grandfather, who died from a massive heart attack while my grandma was in the shower. His death was so shocking and unexpected that our wounds were still raw when my grandma followed him only a month later, ironically on my 21st birthday. Several years later, I noticed my father grew irritated and moody at mentions of my grandma, my grandpa, or anyone else in his family. Relationships with his siblings grew more strained until they were officially estranged. I mentioned once to my other grandmother that he never seemed to get over his mother’s death. She responded, “Why doesn’t he just get over it? People die, you know!”

Hamlet: A Study of Grief
This free resource allows students to analyze Hamlet’s progression through the five stages of grief.

I’ve since watched my husband’s family grieve over the loss of my father-in-law, and in 2014 I lost my beloved grandfather, the man to whom I owe my love of story-telling. Grief is a universal feeling, however, everyone grieves differently. Some, like Gertrude, throw themselves into new adventures or even relationships. Others, like both Hamlet and my dad, need to feel that grief longer than others. And both are completely acceptable.

One of my favorite activities to pair with Hamlet is a discussion of the five stages of grief. In this free resource on TpT, students can track Hamlet’s progression through the five stages, and even discuss other Hamlet characters’ grief as well.

Range of Interpretations & Performances

Another benefit to teaching Hamlet is the rich variety of teaching possibilities it includes. It seems like almost every scene has multiple perceived meanings. Every line touches on at least one theme. There are so many quotes! So many big moments! And then, there’s the performances!

If you search for Hamlet on IMDB, you’ll find over 50 results. More than 50 performances you could share with your students. I like to show a variety of Hamlet interpretations to my students and let them pick a favorite. My three favorite to show in class are:

To be or Not to be Comparison Chart
This chart helps students track the different variations
of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech.
  • Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet starring Kenneth Branagh, 1996. Pure in dialogue, this movie skips no scenes or even lines, resulting in a very long film (over 4 hours!). It’s still rich in interpretation, however, moving the action to an updated baroque palace and making some bold choices in Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship.
  • Franco Zefferelli’s Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, 1990. While I don’t believe the acting in this one is very strong, it’s setting appears to be in medieval Denmark as the play depicts. Hamlet’s soliloquy from the castle’s catacombs is also useful for explaining themes for struggling readers.
  • Gregory Doran’s Hamlet starring David Tennant, 2009. Tennant’s t-shirt wearing Hamlet is a bit more zany and approachable with teenagers. Its modern setting helps students see the relevancy with this play, and its play-within-a-play scene is truly fun.

When we get to “To Be or Not to Be,” I show the same speech from all three of these performances (plus sometimes Benedict Cumberbatch’s, if I can access it!). Students take notes on the subtle differences in setting, props, movement, inflection, and other decisions. The repetition and variations allow them to fully appreciate this powerful speech, and the complex feelings behind Hamlet as he contemplates suicide.

Psychological Analysis

It’s not hard for students to grasp that Hamlet is struggling with depression. Other than “to be or not to be,” Hamlet’s battle with self-doubt and uncertainty is present in every scene. However, Hamlet is not the only one experiencing mental health issues.

Hamlet Act IV Scaffolded Lesson
This scaffolded lesson guides students in a study of
Ophelia’s lines to Laertes, right before she kills herself.

Can we talk about Ophelia for a moment? Poor Ophelia, who is constantly steered around by the men in her life? She slept with Hamlet because he asked her to (note, that’s my own personal inference). Then, she dumped Hamlet because her father and brother told her to. But if that’s not enough, her father then uses her as bait to see if Hamlet is truly mad. This results in the infamous “Get thee to a nunnery!” line. Ophelia must feel so conflicted and anxious, yet she has no one to talk to. Remember, she dumped Hamlet and Laertes is off at school. By the time Laertes returns, Polonius is dead, Hamlet is a wanted man, and Ophelia has become completely unhinged. If there isn’t enough material to analyze Hamlet psychologically, students will certainly find plenty to discuss with Ophelia.

One activity you can do to study Ophelia in depth is a deep dive in her final conversation with Laertes in Act IV. If you’re teaching Hamlet, this resource, as well as other scaffolded activities, are available in my Hamlet bundle on TpT.

Alternatives to Teaching Hamlet

While Hamlet is excellent and arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play, it comes with drawbacks. For one, it’s Shakespeare’s longest play. Secondly, it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s quite hard. Increased difficulty usually means more time, so it won’t be one you can tackle in two weeks. Finally, Shakespeare’s plays come with the inevitable language barrier, which will lead to increased confusion. A strong teacher will need good strategies to break down these language barriers.

If you’re looking for some alternatives to Hamlet that are still by the bard, consider these excellent texts:

Othello

Othello and Desdemona painting

Despite my love for Hamlet, Othello is my all-time favorite Shakespeare play. I wish Hamlet explored Claudius’ villainy and motives deeper, but we’re left to explore those mostly through inferences and his single soliloquy in Act III. Conversely, Othello gives us one of literature’s most masterful villains. My students delight in tracking Iago’s manipulations, calling him the ultimate puppet-master by the play’s end. Pair that with Othello’s own self-doubt and uncertainty due to his new marriage and his race, and you get a rigorous and engaging Shakespearean play.

King Lear

King Lear movie poster

The only play that I consider “harder” than Hamlet is King Lear. While Hamlet has more subtext, Lear has subtext plus a bunch of extra characters. The plot lines alone can spin your head. Furthermore, Lear shares conflicts like madness, rights of kingship, parents vs. children, political plotting with Hamlet. But it also has issues like sibling rivalry, loyalty vs. betrayal, and a classic love triangle to complicate matters. I recommend viewing Richard Eyre’s King Lear (on Amazon Prime) if studying Lear. This film is masterful.

Macbeth

Macbeth movie poster

This is a great choice if a) you’re crunched for time, or b) your students have little exposure to Shakespeare. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, so it won’t take nearly the time that Hamlet will. Furthermore, its central theme of the corrupting influence of power is approachable and relevant with students. Although it may seem simple at the start, Macbeth is still rich in complexity and interpretation, making it an excellent addition to AP Lit. I highly recommend pairing it with Rupert Goold’s film starring Patrick Steward. This version is set in the Soviet Union with Macbeth resembling Joseph Stalin. It’s brilliant!

Twelfth Night

She's the Man movie poster

Why do we always overlook comedies? While my favorite Shakespearean comedy is Much Ado About Nothing, I don’t find it quite as complex as Twelfth Night when it comes to literary analysis. Twelfth Night brings a convoluted plot (hello secret identities), multiple love triangles, plus a fascinating depiction of orders of class in Shakespeare’s time. Of all the comedies, this is one considered the most “AP-worthy.” Plus, it gives you an excuse to show clips from She’s the Man, something my students love.

Conclusion

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In short, I don’t have a finite answer to the initial question. I think that answer depends on your students’ exposure to Shakespeare and their educational background. Hamlet is certainly not one size fits all, so while one class may adore it another may hate it. Another thing to consider is that the 2020-2021 school year has been filled with unknowns and a great deal of global tragedy. There is no shame in abandoning Hamlet, which discusses depression and suicide at length, for something lighter like a comedy. Or, in a different approach, it could be a great time to study Othello, Shakespeare’s only play with a black protagonist.

Inclusivity & Accessibility in AP English: A Recap

I just finished a six-week series on issues on inclusivity and accessibility in AP English Literature. When I speak of inclusivity I refer to representation of both students and authors in this course. In accessibility, I discuss issues of gatekeeping, differentiation, and workload for AP students. Here is a recap of the six blog posts in case you missed them.

4 Quick Questions to Determine if a Book is “AP-Worthy”

This blog posts presents four simple ways to determine if a book is considered rigorous enough for AP Lit. While showcasing challenging texts, it still embraces works that are engaging and not too high-brow.

Nonwhite Authors to Diversify Your Curriculum

One common request among AP teachers is for more texts that are more diverse and representative of our student bodies. This blog posts collects hundreds of novels, plays, short stories, poems, memoirs, and other selections by non-white authors to help diversify and enrich your AP curriculum.

The First Few Weeks: Differentiation & Work Ethic

This post presents a more practical presentation of my lessons from the first few weeks of AP English Lit. In it I explain how I establish rigor, build engagement, and lay the foundation for our work ahead.

12 Engaging and Rigorous Books for Reluctant Readers

This post shares 12 engaging but unconventional books for using in AP Lit. These books are perfect for reaching noncommittal, picky, or slow readers with rich and unconventional plots. While these may be more approachable than traditional “canon” books, each is rigorous enough to analyze in a high-scoring essay.

AP & Accessibility: Reducing Heavy Student Workloads

This blog posts discusses strategies and ideas for reducing the classic heavy workloads in AP English. Our students struggle with higher than ever levels of mental illness and anxiety, compounded with being involved in almost everything. These strategies will reduce busywork, help streamline student and teacher work, and ultimately create a better work environment for you and your students.

You Responded: Gatekeeping, Representation, and Inclusivity in AP

In this final blog post, I share fellow teachers’ opinions on the issues I’ve been discussing over the previous weeks. The survey data shows a decrease in gatekeeping, resulting in broader and more diverse student representation in AP classes. Furthermore, teachers share strategies for incorporating strategies of differentiation, diversity, and decreasing the workloads of our students.

Reflection

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As I look back on these posts on inclusivity and accessibility, I’m grateful for the opportunity to research and share some of these ideas and strategies for improving AP courses. However, I have learned a great deal myself. I have learned to be more considerate in selecting classroom texts. I’m beginning to move on from a lot of my “classic” curriculum and I’m reading newer and more diverse authors and perspectives. I’m hoping my voracious reading will begin a ripple effect in my students to pick up something new, something different, or something challenging.

For more teaching resources and strategies, subscribe to my email list and visit my TpT store. All of my AP Lit resources have been updated to reflect the new CED and are used in my own classroom!