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 - 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 - 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.

4 Ways Teachers Misuse “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”

You’ve probably heard of Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor and may already use it in your classroom. Foster’s text, while not originally written for classroom use, has become a staple for many AP Lit teachers. Foster puzzles over this phenomenon in the preface of the book’s second edition, saying he is flattered by the new audience but did not anticipate the book being a tool for teachers.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

How to Read Literature Like a Professor (henceforth called HTRLLAP for the sake of my sanity) is neither textbook or novel. And yet, AP teachers have integrated it into their classes in many different ways. I’ve been teaching it for a few years and have deduced some excellent strategies for incorporating HTRLLAP into the AP classroom. Furthermore, I’ve learned four consistent ways to effectively kill HTRLLAP’s joy and potential for learning. Here are four ways that AP teachers misuse Foster’s text:

#1 Assign it as summer reading

This one is going to ruffle some feathers, but I think the biggest mistake AP teachers make when using HTRLLAP is assigning it for summer reading. That being said, I totally understand the reasons behind doing it. Foster’s book is not exactly short. And of course, a universal truth among AP Lit teachers is that we always run out of class time. However, exporting it to summer reading introduces a new set of problems:

  • Some kids will not read it
  • Many kids will not fully grasp all of the book’s meaning
  • Students often forget information over the summer months
  • Chapters blend together, making individual lessons hard to remember

That first one seemed so obvious I felt it needed mentioning again. Personally, I find HTRLLAP too valuable to let students rush it, skim it, or skip it altogether. Instead, I devote the first three weeks of AP Lit to studying the book, usually 3-4 chapters at a time. Each day the students take a short quiz on the reading, then we go over notes and breakout texts from each chapter (available for purchase from my Teachers Pay Teachers store, see below). By including it in the school year my students learn that the book is important. In fact, we treat it as our textbook, referencing it often enough that some students buy their own copy so they can annotate the text permanently. For these reasons and more, I will not allow Foster’s text to die on the summer reading list.

1.a – Sometimes it has to be summer reading

…and yet, so often we run out of time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am forced to assign HTRLLAP for summer reading, as I know we won’t have time for it in the fall. Therefore, if you must assign it over the summer, make sure you do it justice in the fall. I recommend devoting a good amount of time (at least a week) reviewing students’ understanding of Foster’s novel. You can also use bell-ringers, notes, and expansion strategies to expand HTRLLAP’s in preparation for the coming school year.

#2 Confine it to the page

Another common flaw is to simply discuss HTRLLAP as it is. However, I believe teachers should model intertextuality skills and connect Foster’s lessons to their own favorite books. Foster does an amazing job of this in his book, which is one of the reasons people love reading it. He throws in allusions as well as Master Shakespeare, and clearly he has done his reading homework before writing the book. However, not many teenagers have read Lolita, “Sonny’s Blues,” or Dubliners in their spare time. To say it frankly, some of Foster’s textual references are too highbrow for teenagers.

In order to combat this, I move HTRLLAP beyond Foster’s text and connect it to novels and plays that I know my students have read before coming to my class. To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and Animal Farm are popular choices in my lessons. Another thing I love to do is use Foster’s lessons to analyze film and television. Some of my students were more insightful in their analysis of Breaking Bad and Inception than any other text we read throughout the year. (To learn more about how to use media to enhance engagement, read this blog post.) See below for some examples of the connections to television and film I make in my notes:


Slide from AP Lit and More
Slide from AP Lit and More
Slide from AP Lit and More
Slide from AP Lit and More

One of my favorite memories was of a student running into my classroom and joyfully telling me that his family wouldn’t watch television with him anymore. Their reason: because he couldn’t stop analyzing the shows. He was using Foster’s methods to make predictions and spoiling the endings of live television! I was so proud!

Foster’s appeal grows when modeled and expanded. I urge you as a teacher to model understanding of Foster’s lessons with books, plays, movies, songs, television shows, and other references from your experience. By showing them that you can make these connections with HTRLLAP, they’ll begin to make their own. To learn more about integrating film and television clips to enhance analysis skills, check out this post.

#3 Use the One-and-Done Approach

How to Read Literature Like a Professor Poster by AP Lit and More
You can access these posters in my TpT store

Probably the most common crime against HTRLLAP is analyzing it as the beautiful resource that it is–and then abandoning it on a shelf for the rest of the year. In my use of the text, we study it at the beginning of the year for a reason. The students are told to use each of Foster’s lessons (there is one per chapter) to guide them throughout the year. At the end of the unit, I give students smaller versions of a classroom poster I had designed, showing each of Foster’s chapter lessons on one document. My students look to this poster throughout the year and use the handout to study for the AP Lit exam.

One year, my class discussing a detail from All the King’s Men when all of a sudden a student shouted out, “He’s going South!” The rest of the class was puzzled for a moment, until another kid lit up and responded, “He’s going to run amok!” The poster reminded them of one of Foster’s chapter lessons, and all at once the class was making predictions as a group. I almost cried.

You can purchase this printable poster here.

#4 Skip the Writing Assignment

The final misuse of HTRLLAP is skipping Foster’s last chapter. Foster’s last chapter contains a short discussion of Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party.” I understand the motive to skip it, since Mansfield’s story is 1) long, and 2) hard. However, Foster included it in his text for a reason. AP Lit students need to practice close reading paired with analytical writing.

The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

In my classroom, I ask students to read “The Garden Party” only, without the commentary afterwards. They come in to class ready to discuss it and we spend 20 minutes drafting an on-demand essay. They partner up and share their insights, and then we return to HTRLLAP. Together we read the rest of Foster’s text and his insightful take on Mansfield’s short story. My students usually have a dramatic reaction to his chapter, and it is always one of despair and anger. I have yet to have any student make the connection to hell that Foster makes in his book.

However, this exercise is not designed to break their spirits. It is to show how a story can be interpreted in varying ways, and how looking for patterns can yield such interesting results. I follow this lesson with our first prose timed writing of the year. Overall, consistently pairing HTRLLAP with writing trains students to read closely, looking for patterns and predictions like Foster trains them in his book.


If you already use How to Read Literature Like a Professor in your AP classroom, I commend you for finding such a rich resource for your students. I hope this post has convinced you to use it purposefully in order to make the book more than just a book but a valuable resource in your AP students’ toolbox.

If you are looking to add How to Read Literature Like a Professor to your AP Lit curriculum (or your own lessons need an overhaul), I have a ready-made unit available on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I recently modified this resource to match the College Board’s new CED. It can even count as a short fiction according to the CED. You can purchase my How to Read Literature Like a Professor bundle here, or the typography posters alone here.