Why Should I Study the AP Lit Open Response Titles?

One of the most common questions asked among new and veteran AP Lit teachers alike is, “What titles should I teach?” It is not an easy question to answer, as the list of titles listed on the AP Lit exam numbers over 400 now. Plus there are other considerations, such as length, authorship, genre, diversity, difficulty, and many more. When considering a change in titles, one overlooked tool is the history of the exam itself, namely in Question 3: The Open Question.

A free download of this list is available on TpT, since it’s getting hard to find online!

The first way to use Question 3 is by studying the questions. For example, I noticed over in 2016 that many of the questions being used for the Open Essay were geared toward gothic novels. I switched from reading just Frankenstein to studying gothic novels in a book club unit, just in time for the the 2018 exam, which was geared perfectly for gothic novels. In fact, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray were all suggested titles to study. After that, I began looking closer at the types of questions included on Q3 and making adjustments as needed. A document with all of the open questions can be downloaded for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

Another way to study the Open Question is to examine the titles included in the suggestions. Remember that students aren’t required to choose from that list, so I don’t suggest requiring them to do so. However, the list does inform AP Lit readers the types of titles that the College Board is reading…and recommending. I recently studied suggestions from the 2019 exam and there were three new titles never mentioned on an AP Lit exam before. They were:

  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Now I’ve got some titles to add to my never-ending “To-Read” list! This list also emphasizes some of the most popular and treasured titles among the College Board. The titles that have been listed more than ten times are:

This compiled list of AP Lit titles is also a free download from TpT!
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Antigone by Sophocles
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Billy Budd by Herman Melville
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • Light in August by William Faulkner
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Native Son by Richard Wright
  • Othello by William Shakespeare
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

While AP Lit teachers do not need to choose from this list, these could be looked to as reliable choices. The whole list of AP Lit titles from the Open Question can be downloaded for free from Teachers Pay Teachers here.

One last way I study the Open Question is by looking at what titles are “trending.” I use this term to describe titles that have been included on the exam in just the past 10 years. Titles such as Don Quixote, The Bluest Eye, and The Mill on the Floss were suggested for the first time in over ten years. The most suggested titles in the last ten years are:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Studying trending titles can be enlightening in finding popularity among more recent works. For example, Oryx and Crake was only published in 2003, and yet it’s been suggested on the exam four times already. If one were looking for a strong modern contender, that would be an excellent choice. A document listing “trending” titles is available on my TpT store as well, but is not available online anywhere else! Click here to access it!

I hope this helps explain how studying former exams, particularly the Open Question, can help you make course decisions. Please feel free to download the resources linked here. They are available for free! They are linked below for your convenience.

AP Lit Open Response Titles List

Open Response Question Prompts for AP Lit

AP Lit “Trending” List

Understanding the New CollegeBoard Guidelines for AP English Lit

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 aplitandmore@gmail.com. Finally, I encourage you to check out the new course description (linked above) and sign up for the AP Classroom resource

Drama Circles: A Post-AP Exam Unit

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.

Here’s one group presenting a scene for their group project.

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!

AP Lit Exam Prep: Question 3 Study Guides

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.

Preparation

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:

  1. They must include at least one Shakespearean play.
    1. They must include at least one play (which may be by Shakespeare)
    1. They must include at least one gothic novel.
    1. They must attempt to include at least two diverse authors, meaning women and minorities.
    1. No author should be repeated more than twice.
    1. Use titles on the range of accessibility, aiming for more obscure books if possible.
This is a PowerPoint side I show in class to explain the concept of accessibility.

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.

Here are some examples of one-side title lists, either too simple or too similar. Encourage students to vary their choices and choose a range of accessible to obscure texts.

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.
Here is an example of a strong list of titles for an AP Lit Exam study guide. As you can see, it is intentionally diverse in several ways.

The Assignment

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:

  1. The title, author, and year published
  2. The setting (both time and place)*
  3. A list of characters*
  4. A short plot summary*
  5. 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.

Benefits

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.

Looking for more AP Lit test prep materials? Check out my Two Week Test Prep Unit, or my Two Week Test Prep + Multiple Choice and On-Demand Resource Bundle!

My Home Office Transformation

This photo was taken when I was about 11, reading The Baby-Sitter’s Club, as always.

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.

BEFORE: Our formal living room, August 2017

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!

Pre-stained…
Stained and 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!

After!
I scrapbook when I find the time, which is rarely. But I still needed storage for all of my supplies for the few times I year that I find the time. Most of it is stored in this antique sideboard I found at Mama’s Happy on Grand Ave. in St. Paul.
The search for the perfect reading chair went faster than I thought, as I fell in love with this wingback chair from Wayfair.com right away. The ottoman was much harder though, as I bought two (and returned two) before I found this one. I got the side table from an upcycling shop in Afton, MN for $20.
My kids spend about as much time in my office as I do, so I wanted to have a space for them. You’ll see the shelves around this desk are filed with children’s stories and art supplies. My son John is a budding artist and he feels proud to have a desk of his own next to mine. The desk is an old school desk that I bought from someone on Facebook for $20. It was filthy, but once we cleaned it up it looked great!
This little stool acts as a ladder to the upper shelves when I need it, but the rest of the time it perches in this corner. Above it are my four favorite poems that I typed up and had framed. They are “Oxygen” by Mary Oliver, “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, “Warning” by Jenny Joseph, and “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.
I bought the Dumbledore quote from Etsy as a celebration of the shelves going in. The bottom art piece is a painting of Jem and Scout right before they are attacked on Halloween night. A student actually made this as an assignment a few years ago!
It took me a long time to figure out how to organize my books. I knew I couldn’t do it alphabetically and to do it by color seemed ridiculous to me. In the end, I chose by categories. My personal categories are: Harry Potter, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, humor, non-fiction, fiction hardcover, vintage classics, vintage misc., mass-market paperbacks, children’s chapter books, children’s hardcovers, young adult, misc. books I have read, and misc. books I haven’t read yet. That all being said, the organizational strategy probably only makes sense to me, which is something I like 🙂
I read a lot of humor and comic memoirs, but it turns out most of them have been from the library. These are the few I own.
Top: Books I haven’t read yet
Below: Misc. books I have read, next to hardcover/illustrated fiction
I added personal touches wherever I could, including this precious note left for me by my son John.
The very first “grown-up” book I read was A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark and I fell in love with her suspense novels. Her books are by far my biggest collection of a single author.
These vintage children’s books were from a shop on Etsy, $20 for a box of 10!
Someone was selling their collection of National Geographics so I bought them for my top shelves. I ended up getting rid of most of them, as I was worried their weight would crush the whole shelving system, but I saved the ones from the Great Depression and World War II, as well as a few of my favorite covers.
More vintage books from Etsy, these ones are classics.
Stephen King is my favorite author, but I tend to read him in library form. I’m working on finding more secondhand copies of his books. I still can’t believe I don’t own The Shining!
Of course I needed a Harry Potter section, and you can see by the spines of these books that they have been read and re-read several times. My friend Nicole gave me the precious frame on the left, and my friends Janette and Alan sent me the cute postcard from Diagon Alley when they visited Harry Potter World over Christmas break. My wand is stored there as well, if you can tell 😉
I found an old ink set tray from a vintage printing press online, and it was the perfect storage for my essential oils. I’m diffusing pretty much constantly in here 🙂
The lower shelves are filled with more children’s books. The hardcover Disney books were mine when I was growing up, and I just found out that my mom had saved them all these years! She generously donated them to the library. The shark bookend on top is from my friend Marquette in honor of my strange shark obsession.
I got this desk from Target to match the industrial style of my shelves and, despite Stephen King’s warnings, I placed it in the center of the room. I promise not to let it get to my head.

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.