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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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