A Day-by-Day Look at My Craziest Year of AP Lit

Several new and incoming AP Lit teachers have wondered what really happens day-by-day in AP Lit. Therefore, I set out to write everything down to give a detailed overview of what we cover in my own class, both for curious teachers and for those have have purchased my AP Lit Full Course on TpT. As I post this now, it’s become a diary of my most complicated year of teaching AP Lit, or a diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year, if you will.

Not only was it the year I had to pivot my materials to meet a revised (and constantly changing) AP Lit exam and CED, but it was interrupted by COVID-19 and the last 9 weeks were completed online. However, I was still able to record each day’s general focus, as well as record my thoughts and feelings as I had to cut and change my curriculum in the spring. (I have also included links to materials that are downloadable on TpT)

Disclaimers

Disclaimer 1: This is meant to be descriptive in nature, not prescriptive. Due to variations in school schedule, curriculum requirements, teacher style, and a myriad of others, no one teacher’s schedule will ever look like someone else’s. This was posted to a) give an overview of how my AP Lit Full Course Bundle works day by day; and b) to provide an overview of how an AP Lit class operates for anyone looking to compare.

Disclaimer 2: I’ve omitted days that veered away from our normal schedule, such as standardized testing, school spirit activities, and final exam periods. These make up for 10-15 of my school calendar days in total.

Disclaimer 3: I’m on a modified block schedule, so each block period is an hour and a half long. I’ve indicated them by labeling them as “block” and they could be counted as two class periods.

Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year - the year of PIVOT

Day 1: “Why Read Literature” Article & One Pager Activity, went over course & changes to the course. I reminded students of reflections for summer reading and gave due dates.

Day 2: Summer reading reflections due, discussed changes in expectations for AP Lit writing (specifically the rubric), went over new rubrics and sample essay (1999 prose prompt, “The Crossing”).

Day 3: (seniors gone on retreat) Taught and learned AP Lit vocabulary words using Quizlet review game.

Day 4: Timed Writing on summer novel (individual Q3 prompts based on chosen title).

Day 5 (block): Rolled out independent reading project, complete book tasting (see pictures below). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 6: Timed writing rehash: focused on making bold claims and avoiding plot summary, reviewed and revised timed writing from earlier in the week.

Short Fiction: Unit 1*

*For future years I will use my short story boot camp unit to fulfill the requirements of Short Fiction Unit 1. I do hope to continue using How to Read Literature Like a Professor in my first few weeks of class, as it works great as an introduction to the course.

Day 7: Introduced How to Read Literature Like a Professor, assigned chapters 1-4 for homework

Day 8 (block): Vocab Quiz 1, AP Lit multiple choice practice (Frankenstein excerpt) and discussion. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 9: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 1-4, assigned chaps 5-7 + Interlude.

Day 10: Presented notes on HTRLLAP chaps 5-7 + Interlude, assigned chaps 8-10. For the Interlude we did a brief discussion before moving on.

Day 11: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 8-10, assigned chaps 11-13.

Day 12 (block): Vocab Quiz 2, Poem study (“It Was Not Death” by Emily Dickinson). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 13: Presented notes on HTRLLAP chaps 11-13, assigned chaps 14-15.

Did you know? Although How to Read Literature Like a Professor has become a fixture in many English classes, not everyone is a fan. Alan Jacobs, author and professor, criticizes the book for its message that “reading is best done by highly trained, professionally accredited experts.

Day 14: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 14-15, assigned chaps 18-20*.
*I do not assign chapters 16-17 to my students because they’re literally titled “they’re all about sex” and some of the parents in my very conservative school would not be too keen on that. However, I do teach the content in the next day’s notes, so they still get the principles in these chapters.

Day 15: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 16-20, assigned Interlude + chaps 21-23. Writing assignment: Handed out prompt for 2008 prose question on Anita Desai’s “Fasting, Feasting.” Assigned students to write a thesis and “baby outline.” A baby outline is what I call a simple bullet-pointed overview of the main points they intend to make. No textual support is needed in a baby outline.

Did you know? Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting was the first announced runner up for the Booker Prize in 1999, after the judges’ discussion grew contentious.

Day 16 (block): Vocab Quiz 3, “Fasting, Feasting” gallery walk. Then, we looked at thesis statements and then discussed each claim. We asked questions like, are there bold claims? Are the claims arguable? Would they earn the thesis point? Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 17: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 21-23, assigned chaps 24-26.

Day 18: Notes on HTRLLAP chaps 24-26. Prepared for prose timed writing.

Day 19: Prose timed writing, 2018 “Blithedale Romance” prose prompt.

Poetry: Unit 1

I did not have my Short Story Boot Camp materials done at this time, but this is when I would teach it if I had. I intend to use it here for future years.

Day 20 (block): Vocab Quiz 4, poem study (“Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 21: Timed writing rehash (Zenobia prompt). For this rehash we really tackled the line of reasoning element, cutting our essays apart and reconstructing them to show shifts. We highlighted summary versus analysis and considered how much more detail was needed to bring the point home. See pictures from this day below.

Day 22: Began Intro to Poetry notes: Figurative Language.

Day 23: Concluded figurative language notes. Assigned explication* on “Women” by Alice Walker.
*I must note that for future years I am moving away from the explication, which has always been difficult to explain the parameters and expectations, and will instead focus on the “AP Lit paragraph.” I will change all future assignments in this log to the AP paragraph assignment to avoid confusion.

Day 24 (block): Vocab Quiz 5. Completed Personal Progress Check 1 (short fiction) on AP Classroom. Self-scored and recorded notes and goals in our bin. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year - AP Classroom Tracking Sheets
Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year – After each PPC my students log their strongest and weakest skills on one of these tracking sheets. We store them in my classroom for reflection at the end of the year.

New to AP Classroom? Check out my blog post that explains how to set up AP Classroom and use Personal Progress Checks throughout the year.

Day 25: Poem study: “Women” by Alice Walker.

Day 26: Began poetry notes on Sound and Structure. We connected our discussion to evidence from “Women” where applicable.

Day 27: Concluded sound and structure notes. Assigned AP Lit paragraph analysis on “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman.

Day 28: Vocab quiz 6, poem study: “To an Athlete Dying Young.” Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 29: Began poetry notes on Imagery, Tone, and other elements. We connected our discussion to “To an Athlete Dying Young” where applicable.

Day 30: Concluded Imagery, Tone & Misc. notes, assigned AP Lit paragraph analysis on “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden. Prepared for skills test with task cards and gallery walk (see below).

Day 31: Poem study on “Musee des Beaux Arts.” Began notes on Rhyme Scheme and Meter.

Did you know? The AP Lit exam will no longer ask questions specific to rhyme scheme and meter. I still teach this material to reinforce how structure can affect meaning, but it is skippable.

Day 32: This was new this year. I noticed that my students were having a hard time engaging in some of the poems I was using, so I suggested they bring in a song with particularly poetic lyrics. We spent the class period listening to each other’s songs and annotating lyrics as we would poems. Overall, it was a nice break from the rigor of this unit and the assessments that were coming up later in the week. For my own song, I shared “So Will I” by Hillsong United, which relies on hyperbole to send its powerful message.

Day 33: Completed PPC 2 (Poetry Unit 1). Self-scored and recorded weaknesses and goals, filed away in the classroom bin.

Day 34 (block): Vocab Quiz 7, completed 3 poetry skill tests. I made copies of each poem skill test but knew that not all would be used. After our quiz, I put the titles of each skill test in a bowl and students drew three. I gave them the poem and questions for each of the titles they drew and they took about 45 minutes to complete this. I liked this method over every student getting the same skill tests because they had to prepare for all of the skills and hearing them discuss the different poems they got was a good discussion. Finally, we read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year - Poetry essential skill tests
Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year – The poetry essential skill tests were laid out like this.

Day 35: Poetry timed writing (2011 Li-Young Lee’s “A Story”)

Long Fiction or Drama Unit 1 – Kafka’s The Metamorphosis*

*This unit was done when my juniors were gone on a week-long trip, so I completed it with seniors only. We also study The Importance of Being Earnest as our Unit 1, which is why this unit is so short. It does not meet all of the requirements of that unit on its own, but in combination with Earnest it definitely does.

Day 36: Introduction to existentialism lesson with 4 components (Crash course video, comic strip, short story, microfiction). Discussion on existentialism. Assigned Part 1 of Metamorphosis for homework.

Day 37: Notes on Part 1. Assigned Part 2 for homework.

Day 38 (block): (No vocab quiz this week, my juniors were gone) Poem study (“Digging” by Seamus Heaney). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 39: Notes on Part 2. Assigned Part 3 for homework.

Day 40: Metamorphosis Socratic Seminar.

Short Fiction Unit 2 – Prose Unit

Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year - Prose Analysis
Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year – Here’s a layout of my prose unit, which uses movie clips to build engagement for prose analysis.

Day 41: Rolled out prose unit, discussed annotation. Completed lesson on diction.

Day 42 (block): Vocab Quiz 8, poem study (“Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter” by John Crowe Ransom. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 43: Discussed homework from diction lesson. Completed lesson on syntax.

Day 44: Discussed homework from syntax lesson. Completed lesson on point of view.

Day 45: Discussed homework from point of view lesson. Completed lesson on tone.

Day 46 (block): Vocab quiz 9, poem study (“Lot’s Wife” by Anna Akhmatova). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 47: Discussed homework from tone lesson. Completed PPC 4 (short fiction unit 2) on AP Classroom. Self-checked and logged weaknesses and goals in classroom bin.

Day 48: Timed writing on prose (2009 Anne Petry’s The Street prompt).

Long Fiction or Drama Unit 1 – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Day 49: Introduction to Oscar Wilde, the Victorian audience, and Earnest. Began reading in class.

Day 50: Read in class, finish Act I. Took notes on Earnest handouts to tracked themes and literary elements.

Day 51: Began Act II of Earnest as a class.

Day 52 (block): Vocab Quiz 10, poem study (“Toads” by Phillip Larkin). After that we read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 53: Finish reading Act II as a class. Took notes on Earnest handouts and tracked themes and literary elements.

Day 54: Watched portions of The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) movie.

Day 55: Assigned Earnest projects. Read Act III as a class. Took notes on Earnest handouts and tracked themes and literary elements.

Day 56 (block): Vocab Quiz 11. Complete PPC 3 (Long Fiction Unit 1) on AP Classroom. Self-scored and logged weaknesses and goals in classroom bin. Lastly, we read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 57: Earnest projects due, finished Earnest movie.

Long Fiction or Drama Unit 2 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Day 58: Began short fiction lesson on Romanticism. This was to provide context for our upcoming unit on Frankenstein.

Day 59: Concluded lesson on Romanticism, assigned written analysis.

Day 60: Introduced Frankenstein notes (Mary Shelley, themes, frame narrative, gothic novel elements, etc.). Assigned Letters 1-4 for homework.

Day 61: Discussed and completed notes for Letters 1-4. Assigned chapters 1-3 for homework.

Day 62 (block): Voice Lesson 1 for practice. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 63: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 1-3. Assigned chapters 4-6 for homework.

Day 64: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 4-6. Assigned chapters 7-10 for homework.

Day 65: Frankenstein quiz 1. Discussed and completed notes for chaps 7-10. Assigned chapters 11-13 for homework.

Day 66 (block): Voice Lesson 2, poem study “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Did you know? “Warning” by Jenny Joseph essentially started the Red Hat Society, which boasts over 50,000 members.

Day 67: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 11-13. Assigned chaps 14-16 for homework.

Day 68 (block): Voice lesson 3, Frankenstein Jenga activity (found in the files of the AP Lit Facebook group). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 69: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 14-16. Assigned chaps 17-19 for homework.

Day 70: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 17-19. Assigned chaps 20-21 for homework.

Day 71 (block): Voice lesson 4, poem study (“The Forge” by Seamus Heaney). Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 72: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 20-21. Assigned chaps 22-23 for homework.

Day 73: Frankenstein quiz 2. Caught up on misc. notes or concepts.

Did you know? Sometimes I teach Frankenstein and sometimes I do gothic novel literature circles. To learn more about this unit, click here.

Day 74: Discussed and completed notes for chaps 22-23. Assigned chap 24 for homework.

Day 75 (block): Voice lesson 5, completed PPC 6 (long fiction or drama unit 2). Self-scored and recorded weaknesses and goals. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 76: Discussed and completed notes for chap 24. Reviewed for test.

Day 77: Frankenstein test.

Day 78: Completed timed writing on Frankenstein (I choose a released Q3 prompt that can work for Frankenstein. There are many to choose from and I vary my choice from year to year).

Poetry Unit 2

Day 79: Analyzed and discussed “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Completed a line of reasoning brainstorming sheet for this poem.

Day 80 (block): Voice Lesson 7. Began short fiction mini-lesson on Realism. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 81: Analyzed and discussed “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché. Completed a line of reasoning brainstorming sheet for this poem.

Diary of an AP Lit Plague Year - "The Colonel" by Carolyn Forche
Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year – I cannot express how much I love Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel.” I love teaching it and I love reading it myself.

Day 82: Analyzed and discussed “Out, Out–” by Robert Frost. Completed a line of reasoning brainstorming sheet for this poem.

Day 83: Analyzed and discussed “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. Completed a line of reasoning brainstorming sheet for this poem.

Day 84 (block): Voice lesson 8. Complete PPC 5 (Poetry unit 2). Self-scored and recorded weaknesses and goals. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 85: Poetry timed writing ( 2014 prompt “For That He Looked Not Upon Her” by George Gascoigne)

Long Fiction or Drama Unit 3: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe*

*I have since created a unit on Toni Morrison’s Beloved and hope to teach it next year. I’m trying to get approved by my head of school but in the case of parents objecting, I intend to teach it simultaneously with Things Fall Apart.

Day 86: Introduction to Things Fall Apart (about the author, style of storytelling, overview of themes, etc.). Assigned chapters 1-3 for homework.

Day 87: Discussed and took notes on chapters 1-3. Assigned chapters 4-6 for homework.

Day 88 (block): Voice Lesson 9. Conclude dshort fiction lesson on Realism, including written analysis assignment. Read independently for the last 30 minutes.

Day 89: Discussed and took notes on chapters 4-6. Assigned chapters 7-10 for homework.

And this is when everything happened. My school went on spring break…and never came back.

COVID-19 forced my school, like most other American schools, into online-only mode. I will record what we worked on for the rest of the year, but please understand the following: a) because we could only meet online twice per week, we did not cover what we should have, b) because the AP Exam was moved to a prose-only question, I had to abandon or cut materials that were no longer relevant to the 2020 test. I will explain what I would have taught at the end of this post.

Day 90: Things Fall Apart Quiz 1 (chaps 1-10), discussed Chapters 7-10. Assigned chapters 11-13 for homework.

Day 91: Voice Lesson 10. Began short fiction lesson on Modernism.

Day 92: Discussed and took notes on chapters 11-13. Assigned chapters 14-16 for homework.

At this point my students and I had a discussion about the barriers in our way as we approached the AP exam. We decided to focus on short fiction and poetry and to stop reading Things Fall Apart as a class, a decision that was very difficult for me. Several students continued to read it on their own, but ultimately it became too hard to guide them through the book how I wanted to in our online forum.

Day 93: Finished short fiction lesson on Modernism, completed written analysis assignment.

Poetry Unit III – Poetry Then and Now

Day 94: Voice Lesson 11. Began poetry then and now unit. Watched “Complainers” by Rudy Francisco and compared it with “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Discussed contrasts in each and considered which has more “literary merit.”

Day 95: Watched “Say My Name” by Idris Goodwin and compared it with “The Naming of Cats” by T. S. Eliot. Discussed words and phrases in each and consider which has more “literary merit.”

Once again, plans got changed. In the middle of April it was announced that the AP Exam would be a prose essay only. Since we were stuck with only two class periods per week (of only 30-40 minutes), we moved away from poetry and focused on prose. I finished work on my Short Story Boot Camp, now my Short Fiction Unit 1 unit, and we covered that material in preparation.

Day 96: Voice Lesson 12. Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 1: Characterization. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros and completed a line of reasoning for that text.

Day 97: Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 2: Setting. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid and completed a line of reasoning for that text.

Day 98: Voice Lesson 13. Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 3: Plot order of events. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” by Nadine Gordimer and completed a line of reasoning for that text.

Day 99: Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 4: Plot sequence of events. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl and completed a line of reasoning for that text.

Day 100: Voice Lesson 14. Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 5: Narrator. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “EPICAC” by Kurt Vonnegut and completed a line of reasoning for that text.

Did you know? “Shooting an Elephant” captures Orwell’s self-disgust and growing distrust of colonialism as he worked as a police officer in British-occupied India.

Day 101: Short Story Boot Camp Lesson 6: Point of view. Read over excerpts and discussed as a class. Read “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and completed a line of reasoning for that text. Prepared for timed writing on a prose text. The students voted on which text they’d like to read and they picked “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell.

Day 102: Completed timed writing on “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell (custom prose prompt).

Day 103: Test prep day. Normally I’d go through writing and multiple choice strategies for a week or two before the exam, but there wasn’t much of a need anymore. Instead we focused on the online testing element and completed the AP demo.

Day 104: Voice Lesson 15. Timed writing rehash for “Shooting an Elephant.”

Day 105: AP Lang Exam prep (my school doesn’t offer AP Lang as a test, but most of my Lit students take the exam. Since seniors were graduating before the actual exam, I had to give an overview of the rhetorical analysis essay before the AP Lit exam. Not ideal, but what can you do).

Day 106: Juniors only (seniors graduated). Assigned AP Lit film analysis for homework and last assignment.

Day 107: Last day of class with my juniors. Gave final goodbyes and exit survey.

Recap:
CED Units we covered completely:

  • Short Fiction Unit 1
  • Poetry Unit 1
  • Long Fiction Unit 1
  • Short Fiction Unit 2
  • Poetry Unit 2
  • Long Fiction Unit 2

CED Units we started but didn’t complete:

  • Short Fiction Unit 3 (literary movements). We covered Romanticism, Modernism, and Realism.
  • Poetry Unit 3 (Poetry then and now). We ended it when it was announced that the test would be a prose question.
  • Long Fiction or Drama Unit 3 (Things Fall Apart). We cut it for time and because the online forum was too difficult to conduct literary analysis at the time.

What we would have covered if COVID-19 hadn’t hit:

Reflection

The 2020-2021 school year was my 14th year of teaching AP Lit and it was by far my most difficult. Even if the pandemic hadn’t struck I think I still would have called it the hardest. Being in a position of mentorship for so many new and incoming AP Lit teachers is a huge blessing, once that I don’t take for granted.

I worked hard all summer studying the new CED and AP Lit rubrics, then discovered in the fall that I wasn’t focusing enough on the individual standards. I spent the entire school year poring over the document, changing everything I had just changed already. At times it felt like I was standing in quicksand, as the rubric I learned inside and out was revised in September, after some of us had been using it for over a month. AP Classroom was also difficult to navigate and my ire for the question bank is still going strong.

That being said, the struggles in the fall helped me cope better with the arrival of the pandemic. It forced me to pause everything and take a step back. What did my students really need to do today? What skills are important, and what is expendable? The streamlined test helped my students and I focus on just a fraction of what we had hoped to cover, but also took away any anxiety associated with poetry or long fiction. As I write this I literally just signed my contract for the 20-21 year. I have no idea what next year will bring, but I now feel like I can face anything after surviving this school year.

Diary of an AP Lit Pandemic Year

Diary of an AP Plague Year - Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys, 1633-1703.

One of my favorite texts to teach in my British Literature class is The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Pepys was kind of a nobody, but he lived through some serious events. He attended the first showing of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe, got drunk at famous taverns, survived the Great Fire of London, and detailed his experience with surviving the bubonic plague. In October of 1663 he confirmed what every Londoner feared, “to my great trouble, [I] hear that the plague is come into the City.”

In his diary Pepys details walking through the streets and seeing doors marked with signs of the plague. He describes the sounds of constant church bells and the smells of fires and tobacco being constant. However, at the end of his experience Pepys turns an indifferent eye towards the families who suffered from the plague, even remarking about a pile of dead bodies, “I am come almost to think nothing of it.”

While I am incredibly blessed that my family and I have not contracted COVID-19, I refuse to become desensitized to it. Nor am I under the impression that it is over (as I write this in May 2020). I am aware that life will never be the same again and I will never forget this. I suppose in writing this I simply wanted to get a brief chance to do what Pepys did, to write down what I did day by day as I went about my life. Like in Pepys’ diary, my entries are brief and unemotional most of the time, but I hope they do encapsulate what it was like to teach AP Lit during the time of the Coronavirus crisis. Or if nothing else, that you give you an idea of what happens in a not-so-normal year of teaching AP Lit.

15 Ways to Liven Up a Lesson With Media

One thing that I work hard on, perhaps too hard at times, is keeping lessons interesting. I believe in mixing different elements of instruction and content into each lesson. To do that, I often integrate different forms of media. Here are 15 different strategies for integrating your lessons with various media types. By the way, these can apply beyond English classes too!

Video

Music Videos

Music videos are a great way to engage students in content-related materials with culturally-relevant songs. I’ve incorporated videos from Childish Gambino, Colbie Caillat, and Justin Timberlake over the years. Best of all, these videos go beyond songs by building on the depth of themes in a visual way. Check out this article to learn about incorporating Childish Gambino’s video of “This is America” into a 9th grade ELA class.

Still from Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video

Movie Clips

Showing movie clips is a weekly (if not daily) activity in my classroom. I have always had a deep love of film and I enjoy introducing both new and old movies to my students. Recently I added to a lesson on suspense in “The Birds” by using clips from Jaws, Back to the Future, and The Lost World. While students understood suspense fairly well before they began the lesson, I found that by showing my students these clips before we read “The Birds,” they became more excited to see what suspense lay in store for them.

Documentaries

Documentaries are another excellent way to deepen lessons, especially those that require cultural context. I’ve relied on documentaries to add to lessons on The Crucible, Animal Farm, and Dracula. One of my favorites is the PBS series Riding the Rails, which I use to engage students into reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Full Movies

Being a movie fan, it’s always tempting to show a full film to my students. However, we all understand that there is never enough time to fit it in. For that reason, I rarely show a full movie in my classes. I’ve made some exceptions in the past for movies like Big Fish. Aside from being a beautiful movie overall, I find that it pairs well with a lesson on magical realism. I also usually show the full version of our Shakespearean films when reading the corresponding plays. I’m especially a fan of movies that modernize the setting without changing the words, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) or Rupert Goold’s Macbeth (2010).

To see how I use Big Fish and other films to teach magical realism check out this resource!

Interviews & Readings

Still of Taylor Mali performing his spoken word poem, “Totally Like Whatever, You Know”

Another way that I incorporate video into classes is by showing interviews or readings with authors before we do a literature study. I’m a particular fan of showing interviews with Chinua Achebe and Ray Bradbury. These authors don’t shy away from sharing their opinions and inspiration for their respective books. I also pair videos of poetry readings by poets whenever I can. My favorites are those by Taylor Mali, Carolyn Forché, and Billy Collins. Here are a few clips I’ve used in class:

TED Talks

If you go onto Teachers Pay Teachers and search for TED Talks you’ll see hundreds of results. Using TED Talks in the classroom is not a new idea as high school students are overwhelmingly receptive to the content in TED Talks. Some that I’ve used in my own classroom include:

TED-Ed Lessons

The short videos from TedEd help with engagement and reinforcement in almost any subject area

One spinoff of TED Talks are TED-Ed lessons, which are beautifully made videos specifically for educational use. If you teach ELA and haven’t yet looked into using TED-Ed video lessons, please do! These short, engaging videos are great for reinforcement or introduction to many different concepts in the ELA classroom. This can include literary elements, writing strategies, research methods, grammar, and more. My all-time favorite TED-Ed lesson is Tim Adams’ lesson on anti-heroes, which I use with my sophomores in our study of Fahrenheit 451.

Print Media

Magazines

One way I’ve incorporated magazines into class is in studying propaganda methods through print ads. In my propaganda media study, based on Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This curriculum, students page through magazines and analyze the logical fallacies present in current media campaigns. You can check out this resource here to learn more.

Newspapers

Websites like Newsela bring informational text to classrooms in engaging and approachable ways.

While it’s a sad fact that newspapers are dying out, informational text is still valued in the ELA classroom, especially those whose districts adhere to CCSS. Many teachers subscribe to Newsela for student-friendly and age-appropriate content from newspapers and other informational text.

Audio

Songs

I love using songs to engage students in English class, especially when we’re studying poetry. In fact, when studying poetry every day for three weeks, my sophomores and I begin each class with a song with especially poetic lyrics. I’ve also used songs to pair with specific poems, such as in my British Literature class. In one particular lesson, students were comparing the attitudes towards war in Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier.” To reinforce the attitudes towards war, we matched the poems to corresponding songs. Owen’s bleak attitude about the ravages of war matched with Edwin Starr’s song “War” from 1969. On the other hand, Brooke’s patriotic poem that depicted war as beautiful and heroic matched with Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” from 2003. These connections from old, British poems to newer American songs helped reinforce theme and meaning.

Podcasts

Like TED Talks, podcasts have become an explosive new media that has caught on with high school students. They too have made their way into the classroom. I’ve heard of ELA classes studying Serial and listening to Malcolm Gladwell, just to name a few. For more ideas about using podcasts in the classroom, check out Common Sense Media’s list of 16 suggested podcasts for educational use (grades K-12!).

Internet

Article galleries

This article on a “wall-sized” television eerily mirrors the parlors in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

One recent jigsaw activity that I used with our study of Fahrenheit 451 was a gallery walk between five different news stories. I had these articles printed out and placed in various areas of the classroom, then asked students to visit stations and read at least three of them. Each article discussed a technological advancement or commercial development that matched with something from the plot of Fahrenheit 451. These articles opened my students’ eyes and let them see that the characters in Bradbury’s novel are not that far removed from our own reality. Some of the articles I used for this activity were:

Webquests

Another common activity involving the internet is a webquest, however the overwhelming amount of media available sometimes makes webquests difficult to manage. Rather than asking my students to do webquests on vast topics, I prefer to set them loose to answer a question. For example, in our study of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I drop hints that Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was based on a work from Greek mythology. However, they don’t know which one. After a short webquest activity they learn that it is in fact partially based on Theseus and the Minotaur. The information they pick up on the webquest helps them understand the relationship between the two texts, reinforcing the underlying lesson in How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

Google searches

Have you considered Google a media strategy? I use it for teaching ethical research strategies and proper citation methods!

This sounds silly, but I’ve actually been implementing Google search and its results in teaching MLA and ethical research lately. My students suffer from Googlitis, the feeling that everything can be solved and cited with Google. I like to teach them that Google has its flaws as a search engine when searching for peer-reviewed articles, and thus I teach them how to use Google Scholar. We’ve also randomly searched for something on Google and practiced creating a citation for it, or discussed whether that search result is a credible source. Bottom line: Google can be the enemy or the tool that helps mold your students into thorough researchers.

Blogs

Another internet strategy making its way into classrooms is the mandatory student blog. I first heard about student blogs when I was observing a writing center at a local high school. The district had set up the writing center as a class, and students had to not only serve as writing coaches but contribute to a weekly writing blog online. This trend has been growing in recent years and has several excellent websites that can help your students create and maintain educational blogs. To learn more about integrating blogs in your classroom, read Kathleen Morris’ article here.

If your lessons are feeling stale or you are looking for ways to lengthen a lesson in an engaging way, I encourage you to try one of these media strategies out. If you have any more suggestions on ways to incorporate media in your lessons please comment below!

AP Lit Task Card Lessons and Ideas

At the beginning of the school year I was trying to think of a way to make the AP Lit standards visible and accessible for my students, so I turned the questions from the CED into task cards (and naturally, I made them pretty!). These task cards are available in my store here, but you can also make your own using the questions from the CED if you wish.

In my own classroom I’ve used the task cards to help my students reflect on particular standards in Personal Progress Checks.

So far in the school year I’ve been looking for ways to implement these task cards into lessons. I’ve given particular cards to students during post-PPC reflections (which I discuss in this blog post).

I’ve also used the task cards to attempt a bit of backward design in our poetry unit. As we neared the end of our poetry lessons, I placed all of the task cards (minus the ones on writing) around the room. I passed out the 5 central poems we had discussed and written about as a class and put their titles on the whiteboards as well. Students were asked to select a standard that matched with one of our poems, then write a 1-2 sentence response to that standard’s question. The only rule I had: Each sentence must contain a bold claim (that’s the language I use for a claim that is arguable and unique). As they posted their sentences I read their responses, gauging if they were reading for our upcoming poetry assessment (which they were!).

I’m still looking for ways to implement these task cards in my own lessons, but rather than wait for me to collect a year’s worth of ideas, I asked for help from some friends on Instagram.

Here are some other fantastic uses for these task cards in AP Lit classrooms:

“I use them in Socratic Seminar circles! Everyone picks a question within each category and they discuss them with whatever lit we are currently reading. I love them! Sometimes, I pull them out and use them to spark class discussions, too.” @Readnclick

“My students are reading 1984 right now in chunks. For the first two assigned readings…I went through the list of skills and found the skills I thought were relevant and could be related to the reading. Then, I made a Google Slide and designated one prompt per student. Students had to respond to the prompt with a claim based on the reading, and then find 3-4 quotes to support their claim throughout the chapters. Students were able to hone in on one skill for the reading rather than jump all over the place. Then, we discussed the reading in class we discussed their answers so students who didn’t have the prompt were able to hear how that student answered & add/comment if needed, and students have access to all of the quotes/answers because it was all compiled on one Google Slide!” @smccormick19

Here’s a pic from my lesson at the end of our poetry unit. Students selected a task card and wrote a sentence in response to show deep understanding.

“I’ve used them with short stories so far. Getting ready to start The Kite Runner and plan to integrate them in class discussions and in literature circles, too. Gives kids a chance to take ownership of the discussion.” @jbridge82

“I absolutely love these cards!!! I use them every day!! I have them color coded by standards and laminated. A lot of times I will do rotation learning stations for close read assignments and I use the cards to create the questions and prompts. I have also used them “Family Feud” style where I will ask questions relating to the standards and let kids “buzz” in to answer. It’s a great review!” @meganjyount

@mrsjayj sent me this picture of her students reflecting on the task card questions in connection with their study of Things Fall Apart.

“I just finished using the character ones for Things Fall Apart…I put some characters’ names in a box and I had students pick out their names and then assigned them one of the character skill task crds. They worked together to answer the question pulling three pieces of evidence to support their thinking. Then each group presented their standard question and answers. I had the students ask the presenters questions and judge if they fully addressed the standard in their answer. It led to really rich discussions. And we talked about how they should continue thinking about these questions and the standards while they’re reading and begin to annotate with these characterization skill cards in mind.” @mrsjayj

I’d love to hear more ideas of how you use these task cards, or just the questions from the CED itself, with your students to further their AP Lit studies. If you’re interested in a set of task cards like these ladies are using, they can be purchased from my TpT store here.

A Book Tasting: A Valuable Lesson for Your AP Lit Readers

In my AP Lit class we do independent reading each semester. The students get to choose a book off an extensive list of titles, which can sometimes be overwhelming. Despite my emphasis on student choice, many of my students in the past have chosen haphazardly or without thinking, leading to disappointment or abandoned reading later on in the semester. For that reason, I reexamined my introduction to the unit and changed it a up a little bit. The result was our very first Book Tasting, which was a huge success! This activity can be done for any grade in middle or high school, as long as there is student choice and an organized reading list. Here’s how you can put on a book tasting in your own class.

Set Up

For this lesson, you will need the following:

  • A list of titles that students can choose from, organized logically (I choose by date), printed out for them to keep
  • A copy of each book
  • Short plot summaries or plot premises (such as what would be on the back of a book jacket), printed and posted next to the book
  • Space in your room for conferencing and quiet reading
  • Instructions, printed out or displayed on a PowerPoint
  • Post-Its
  • Book Review sheets – On these sheets, students had to indicate the title, author, and year published. Then they had to indicate what kind of book review they completed (see below). Finally they had to write 3-5 sentences explaining their opinion on this book and whether they might read it or not. My book review sheets are a free download!
  • Optional: One-Pagers or Student Reviews – Before I did this activity, I assigned my students to create a short book review, or a one-pager if they were more visual learners, for the book they read for summer reading, which was off of the same reading list. I placed the book review next to my prepared written summary. The students enjoyed hearing feedback from people other than the teacher.
Some student reviews

Display your books, either on a shelf or on tables. Place your written summaries next to each book, then a Post-It on each summary. If you like you can organize the books by genre or date. Mine were ordered chronologically by date of publication.

Procedure

As students walked in to class, I handed out the written instructions and explained briefly the purpose behind the activity. I had spent the day before explaining the project behind these novels since I wanted this day to be purely focused on finding the right book. Before they could begin browsing, I asked each student to go around and indicate which books they had read. They did this by writing their name on the Post-it note next to the book. This only took a minute or two.

The goal of the day was to review seven different books. In order to complete a review, they had to “sample” or “taste” them. There were three different ways to “sample” a book:

  • Book Review – Students read the printed premise, and any corresponding student book reviews.
  • Reading – Students read the first 5-10 pages of the book.
  • Interview – On the post-it next to the book, they could find a student who had read that book. In one of our conferencing areas, they paired off or got into small groups and spent some time learning about the book. The student who read it was asked to give concise and honest feedback on the book, as well as supplying their own version of a plot premise. The student completing the review took notes on their review sheet.

I also made it mandatory that they read the back cover or jacket of the book for each book review, as well as the first paragraph of each novel.

Completing these book reviews took about an hour. Asking students to complete seven reviews quickly proved too ambitious and I lowered it to five, which was much more manageable. Since our block periods are an hour and half long, this left the last half hour for quiet reading time. Most students were cemented and confident with their choice after an hour of browsing and a half an hour of reading.

Reflection

Other than needing to reduce the number of book reviews I required, this was a perfect lesson. My students reported that they enjoyed the time to browse and appreciated the different styles of “tasting” they were able to do. And now that the semester is over, I also noticed that fewer students abandoned their books or reported disliking them. This means the lesson really did meet my goal of helping students make more informed choices in their independent reading.

To access the book review files just click here for the free file. This resource is not available through Teachers Pay Teachers, only for my blog readers! For AP Lit teachers interested in learning more about the independent reading project my students are doing in these pictures, all of the materials are for sale through my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Click here to learn more.

Tips For Making Shakespeare Fun

For 12 years now I’ve been teaching English Language Arts to high school students, and with most ELA course loads inevitably come a healthy dose of Shakespeare. Throughout my career, I’ve taught the following Shakespearean works:

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  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear
  • Othello
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Henry VI, Part I
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Twelfth Night

…plus numerous sonnets. In my experience I’ve discovered several methods that have helped me market Shakespeare to high school students as an enjoyable, relatable author.

Read aloud in class

This one goes directly against the number one suggestion from another ELA blogger, but I have never had success with students reading Shakespearean language at home. At times we’ll need to finish a reading as homework in my AP Lit class, but even they have a lot of questions when they come back. But sophomores? Freshmen??? Have you ever tried to teach them poetry, let alone archaic poetry in iambic pentameter? No, thank you. I firmly believe that plays are meant to experienced, if not on the stage then at least through reading them aloud.

This is why my students study Shakespeare’s words in my classroom. We assign parts. We reenact scenes. We discuss quotes, dissect lines and even words. But it all happens together. By reading together, we can learn it together, and I don’t have to recap and summarize entire scenes that were assigned as reading.

Watch a Production

I don’t teach a drama class so our short reenactments are crude and often for sake of engagement rather than drama. But Shakespeare’s works are masterpieces, and students need to see them acted out. For each unit in my Shakespearean Lit course, we spend half of our weekly block periods watching a movie that goes along with the play we’re studying. And I mean an actual Shakespearean production, not a teen movie based loosely on a plot line. Sometimes the productions are straightforward and classic (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, 1996), sometimes they’re a bit more interpretive (Rupert Goold’s Macbeth, 2010). I am also a fan of Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995), Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012), Franco Zeferelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Trevor Nunn’s King Lear (2008), and Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night (1996). I also suggest you watch it in parts as you read the play, rather than reading it all the way through, taking the test, and having a “reward” by watching it. Just today we watched the first 45 minutes of Macbeth, and one of my students said, “This helps so much. It helps to see it.”

Use Labels & Character Maps

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Back when I first started teaching Julius Caesar, I realized right away that my students were struggling with keeping track of everybody. I don’t blame them; that play has 35 characters, not counting those labeled as “servant” or “messenger.” After the first act, I worked much more actively to help students keep track of characters. Each student was assigned to at least one JC character, then given a paper placard with the character’s name, description, and a color attributed to it. Tribunes got one color, senators another, servants another, and so on. Likewise, in my Shakespearean Lit course my students often ask for a character map. I sketch out the characters on the whiteboard (poorly; I’m not artist) and show relationships between everybody. We update the character map as we read, indicating deaths and changes in relationships. Students have told me that even though this is a pretty rudimentary method of instruction, it helps to have a quick map to refer to throughout the unit.

Make Connections to Modern Times

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One reason modern interpretations like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man are so popular is that they take an ancient story and show it updated to reflect modern conflicts. But Shakespeare’s stories already reflect so many universal and relevant themes. By making connections to our modern world, students will find relevancy to the Bard’s words, and suddenly a 400-year-old work seems personal. They just might need some help finding the connections.

Consider the following theme connections for some of these works:

Romeo and Juliet – Love vs. lust, cliques, gossip, infatuation
Macbeth &  – The corrupting influence of power
Julius Caesar – Ethics, politicians’ use of rhetoric
The Taming of the Shrew – Gender roles, sexism, marriage roles, feeling pressured in relationships
Hamlet – Depression and mental illness, coping with grief, friendship, betrayal

These don’t have to be spelled out for students, just suggested. Ask them the right questions near the beginning of the play, build on them, and soon students are making connections left and right. I can’t tell you how interesting it has been to teach Julius Caesar in this political climate!

These are just some of my suggestions to make teaching Shakespeare more rewarding and engaging. What tips would you offer to fellow ELA teachers? Please comment with any tips you may have!

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