am teaching AP English 4 next year for the first time, and I am spending
much of this summer trying to figure out how to do this. The
teachers who had been assigned senior AP are no longer at my school,
so the other 2 AP newbies and I will be basically making it up as we
go along. I have been teaching American Lit. and a Senior English:
Lit. & Film class I developed for the past 2 years, so I have a solid
idea of preparing the students for college, but little to no clue as
to what to do for AP and the test at the end of the year.
Anyhow, I have come across your website on a few occasions, and was
wondering if you had any advice and/or suggestions. We will be using
a textbook (that has not arrived yet) as well as 4-6 novels/plays
throughout the year. At the moment, my main goal is to determine
those non-textbook readings.
In general, I understand AP English is primarily a college prep
class, but that pesky test is always looming at the end of the year,
and I basically want to make the class as productive as possible.
Thank you in advance. - Jim"
Jim, I want
to suggest that AP really does mean "teach to the test." There was
some discussion in our high school last year about this very
topic--college prep or get ready for the test. I think it's both, but
the test must take priority. AP students enroll in an AP class
expecting the teacher to help them be ready to do well on that test.
Students who do well in AP will be ready for college by default. We've
also, in the past, had discussions about which texts to use. As I told
Carrie (see below), any text of literary merit will suffice for AP.
But it is nice to have read some of the common
works that generally appear on their list for the open ended essay
question. One last thing, the only way to get good at teaching
AP English is to teach AP English. Please read some of my other
letters here, which address concerns of new teachers. My advice hasn't
changed. Go to a conference. Join an AP list serv. Then, just do your
best. AP is rigorous, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. What were
some of your college lit classes like? Model some aspects of your new
AP class after them. My class is mostly comprised of three things:
read, discuss, and write. It is as simple and as difficult as that.
writes: "I am a 6th year English teacher, and I'm assigned to
teach AP literature next year at The Dalles High School in The Dalles,
Oregon. I've taught AP language for one year (a few years ago) with
another school district, but I have never taught AP literature. I saw
your wonderfully informative website, and I was
hoping you could give me some advice on how to prepare to teach AP
literature. I took two courses on AP teaching, but I still
don't have an AP syllabus to work from. The district doesn't offer a
syllabus either; each teacher just did whatever they wanted. So, I'm
searching the net and talking to friends about where to start/what books
to teach, etc....could you give me some advice?
Also, do you recommend any books for me to read that would
help me teach the course?"
wish someone would have answered these questions for me way back when.
The texts used for AP Lit will vary from teacher to teacher, but
mostly what I see fit the classical world lit category. Any work of
significant literary quality can be used in an AP lit class. If your
school is like mine, you won't have money for all new books, so some
of what you choose for your class will come from the current stacks.
Unless, of course, you are starting from scratch, and then you are in
an enviable state (except, what to choose is the hard question).
Our tendency is to choose books for our
students that we have studied. The benefit of this is that we can
prepare more in-depth units for these books. But it might be a
worthwhile risk to try something new. As a new teacher, I had not read
most of the books I taught, and I found that reading and learning
along with my students was a great experience.
There should be a mix of old and new, and
the texts should be challenging but not impossible. I think the books
should be thematically significant. In other words, we should choose
books that allow for discussion of the key questions in life. "Who are
we?" and "why are we here?" and "how ought we to live?" are several
that I think are worth exploring. It's not a bad idea to read from a
variety of cultures, but we can only accomplish so much in a year, so
for me, this priority is low.
Therefore, if you know your community
culture, your department's curriculum (can't overlap, you know), and
your students, choose books that will fit you and your school. Check
out the booklists page for ideas.
Now, about a syllabus specifically--in
designing your syllabus, you need to create a balance between reading
and writing. The exam tests students' ability to read, think and write
critically about literature. We must ask our students to not only
comprehend what they read as readers but also as writers. I like to
incorporate critical essays into the syllabus, and we begin in the
11th grade year with this. We ask students to read, understand, and
deconstruct an argument. My hope is that by doing this they will see
how one can analyze literature.
All essay writing should be done in 40
minutes, which I am sure you will agree is a natural amount of time
for an intelligent person to consider a prompt, read a passage, and
write something not only coherent but also insightful. Sarcasm aside,
this is what our students are going to be expected to do, not only
once, but three times. So why even harbor the illusion that writing is
a process? Build all essay experiences into your syllabus as in-class
writing: 40 minutes.
I try to make all my essays as AP-like as
possible and I do use three former test prompts. Students do write in
the 40 minute time slot, but then I ask them to take the essay home
and type it, making only minimal revisions. This way, both of us can
read the essay and it is easier to give feedback.
The syllabus should be rigorous but
reasonable. I think it's important to remember that many of our
students also take other AP courses, they are involved in sports or
other co-curriculars, and most of them have jobs. They are busy
people. But from my experience, they are also curious people who want
to know about life and will be fully engaged when we present them with
great books and great ideas and interesting ways to respond to both.
And it goes without saying that your
syllabus should contain information on assessment and grading. Perhaps
your school district has other requirements as well.
My syllabus is
only one example. I am compiling a list of others and will add yours
when it's finished. Good luck!!
What is the best
way to adapt others' course materials for our own
The most ethical
approach is to email the instructor first and ask permission to
use his or her resources. Explain what your goals are. Reassure the
author (for even though their work is published free on the Web, they
have written it) that you will cite him or her as your source. This is
good practice even if the author has not declared
copyright of his or her materials.
Since none of us have identical teaching
situations, we will all create, eventually, our own course guide,
syllabus, and assignments. Taking the germ of an idea from someone
else and making it our own still requires our recognition of the
When people ask to use material from my
web site, I gladly consent, asking them to make links to what they
want to use. I have created a usage
statement that makes my wishes known.
In addition, the process of creating a
network of links seems to me to be the power of the Web. In linking to
others' sites, we not only provide our students and ourselves with
great resources, we also are recognizing the fine work of our
colleagues. Web sharing creates connections between us and makes us an
None of us would wish to see our work
published on someone else's site as their own work. We hammer the
evils of plagiarism into the heads of our students; as teachers, we
must respect the same principle. Simply because something is on the
Web, and therefore free, does not mean that we can take it for our
writes: "I have been teaching 10th grade English for the past 4
years. I will be teaching one section of AP English Lit and Comp for
the first time this year. I have no idea where to begin!! Do you have
any tips on getting organized and/or ways I can challenge my regular
10th graders by incorporating some of the ideas I use in my upper
is an overwhelming proposition it seems. I think because our students
look to us to teach them what they need to know to do well on the AP
test, we feel more pressure to do just that. It's not just a passing
score they hope for, they have (or their parents have) paid money to
take this test. It matters that they do well.
I know it isn't helpful to say that the
only way to learn how to teach AP English is by teaching AP English.
Having said that, I do have some advice for you. Find a syllabus that
you like and model yours after it. Or find a couple of them and make
yours a reflection of both. Look at the
section on designing a syllabus and choosing books for more on
Secondly, get enrolled in an AP English
Lit seminar or conference. You will learn a lot and you will get some
great materials. I have been to several, but they were most helpful at
the beginning when I didn't know what I was doing. Not only will you
hear from experienced AP teachers at a seminar, you will also have the
chance to talk to other rookies. Simply talking about your concerns
with someone who shares them can be a real help for your state of
mind. Ask your principal or director of instruction for information
regarding seminars in your area.
Next, get hold of an objective test (old
ones are out floating around) and take it. Give yourself the same
amount of time your students will have (60 minutes) and do your best.
I bombed the first time I tried this. Then I attempted to analyze what
I did wrong. This is the best part of the experience. There are some
questions that are so easy and we over think them. Others really are
very, very difficult. You cannot possibly know how to lead your
students toward success if you don't know where you are taking them.
If another teacher in your building is teaching AP, ask for copies of
old tests and answer keys.
Students should also take practice tests.
April is a good time for those taking the real test, but our juniors
also get a little taste of what's to come. The
APEX learning site is
pretty good for test prep. We found it to be a little hard to
navigate, but students found it mostly helpful. Use those old
objective tests for this purpose.
Next, read some sample essays and how
they were scored. The College Board used to provide these in their
seminar packet. They also used to have them online. On the
links page, click on the link for free
response questions. Also, become familiar with a good grading rubric.
AP essays are scored on a 9 point rubric. You can look at the
rubrics I have posted if they
will help. It is helpful to students to see model essays. I try to
save good ones from each year from my own students.
Assemble a comprehensive list of literary
terms (start with those that you find in that objective test you
took). There are also good resources online. You don't want to overdo
it, but you do want good coverage. I have 50 fiction terms and 50
poetry terms (with some overlap). I tell my students that they must
know these like they know their name because when they encounter a
term on the test, they don't want their cluelessness about
something as simple as "paradox," for example, to trip them up.
Then, you must find your way day by day.
As for how to enrich the experiences of your 10th graders--I predict
you will have a year full of revelation. Ways to connect will come to
you as you go through the year. The AP approach is, or at least should
be, all about critical thinking. And after all, isn't this what we
want for all our students?
Good luck and have fun!
writes: "Your websites and information are very
impressive. I have been teaching high school English for eleven years,
but never AP...until now! I consider myself a competent teacher, but I
am quite worried about the upcoming school year. I have been all over
your websites and have gathered some valuable resources. If there
is one thing that you could highlight over all others to help a new AP
teacher, I would love to hear it."
The Golden Key, the
Holy Grail, the One True Thing? I wish there were such a thing.
However, I do think that attending an AP workshop may be it. At least
in the beginning, the workshop will help give you a sense of the AP
philosophy. You will also get an idea about how others structure
successful courses. In addition, you get a lot of great materials that
you can use, like old tests to use for practice tests, sample essays
and keys to how they were scored, sample rubrics, and more (at least I
did when I attended these workshops).
To find out how to register for a
workshop in your area, go to the
College Board site.
You will have to register as a new member, but that will give you more
access to the site which has more to offer you. You can also ask your
principal to be on the lookout for flyers for workshops. In the past,
workshops in our area were in October. While it would be nice to find
something in the summer, it is also nice to attend a workshop after
you've been in your class for a bit and have a foundation to build on
and a source of questions.
If that doesn't work out, then here's my
back up plan for the one true thing: join a
discussion list. Being part of an e-community is invaluable.
Experienced and inexperienced teachers talk about the nuts and bolts
of the AP English classroom and what makes it effective. If you have
never been a member of a discussion list before, I offer some advice:
- join, and then "lurk" for awhile,
listening and learning the norms of the group.
- pose real questions
- thank people who offer advice
- be open minded
- realize that sometimes the
discussion lulls and don't be frustrated by the highs and lows
- discussion lists can produce a lot
of email; simply delete threads that don't pertain to you or that
you're not interested in to manage the mail load
- create a folder in your email
program and a rule to send all list messages to that folder if you
want to keep things organized
So that's two things, not one. The point
is that you don't have to struggle through your first year alone with
no help. It's out there for you, so make it happen. Good Luck!
writes: "I appreciate your web site. Thank you. This is
my second year to teach AP Literature. What advice would you give to
teach basics of the "timed write," specifically for an open
question? For example, we have just completed The Sound and the
Fury. I will be giving a timed write on the AP question regarding
the issue of "time" as it relates to the work as a whole."
I'm not sure there is
a way to teach timed writing other than by having students do it. The
AP exam expects students to write three essays in two hours time,
which essentially breaks down to 40 minutes per essay. This is a tough
task. What makes it even tougher is that they must read and understand
the passage and the prompt in that time period, too. My approach is to
structure all of our essays to replicate an AP essay. I limit time.
In the beginning of the year, I do guide
students prior to the essay day. For example, before students write an
essay about Oedipus Rex, I have them complete a graphic organizer that
helps them closely examine passages where Oedipus is oblivious to what
we all see clearly. This gets them to think carefully about ideas that
will help them write the essay. Later on, there is no front loading
other than the fact that we've read the work on which the essay is
Toward test time, my students write three
actual AP essays (from previous tests). I wish I had the time to have
them attempt all three in two hours, but I don't. I strictly limit
them to 40 minutes, however. I think this experience is valuable. For
all three of these essays, they are seeing the prompt and the passage
for the first time on the day they write the essay.
By open question, I think you mean that
students can draw on the entire work instead of one passage. In this
case, it is critical that the students understand the work fully. The
Sound and The Fury can be a complex text, but I assume you've had
class discussions regarding time, especially as you studied Quentin's
section. I would advise students to narrow their focus as
appropriately as they can. What I mean is, they don't want a
superficial analysis, but they also cannot cram everything about time
into a 40 minute essay.
Most of the essays my students write are
passage specific essays. However, there is value in drawing on entire
works, for the last essay on the test asks them to recall a major
As to organizing and developing ideas for
a timed essay, I remind my students to make a mini outline in the
margin of the prompt page. Using brief phrases that encapsulate clear
ideas, the mini outline will keep them focused. Not all students are
able to juggle three or four supporting points in their head at one
And obviously, I remind them to focus on
their given task. If the prompt calls for an analysis of diction and
tone, they should not be bringing other elements in on their own. They
have enough to do if they simply stay with the guidelines given them.
While the AP readers say they look for
evidence that the writer is developing his or her understanding
through the essay, I imagine they still expect a high level of fluency
and organization. These things nearly always are easier to teach and
learn when we allow for a revision stage. While in real life, all
writers would reflect on what they've written and revise and tweak,
there is no such luxury in May for our students. So I advise my
students to make the most of each minute for each essay because there
is no second chance.
All in all, the sense of timing comes
through repeated practice. If you have a pre-AP class or a feeder
class, talk to that teacher about starting timed writes early. This
will help your students develop this internal sense.
writes: "Thank you for such a wonderful website. I am sure
your students appreciate the info that you provide for them.
Eventually, I would like to develop my own site so that my students
will have access to my materials whenever they need help. Do you have
any suggestions for creating a student accessible site?"
Hi Lori. I am not sure
what you mean by student accessible. If you mean a site that's easy
for them to get to, then what you need is to create links on your
school's main site, your department's site, and any other logical
place. You should give the url on your syllabus also. I think you may
mean something else, though. A site that is usable and is meaningful
is also important.
I started out small, believe it or not.
The first incarnation of my web site was really practical. I posted
the syllabus and the course calendar. I wanted students to know what
we were going to do and when. I also wanted them to know when
assignments were due even if they were absent.
Next, I realized that more details about
unit plans would be good. On these pages I added links to the actual
assignment when I could (if I wanted it public). I also added links to
sites that would enrich their experience as well as to those we'd be
using for an assignment.
My current site is a great tool to keep
me organized, but I know from feedback that students also appreciate
having it as a resource. Because there is so much published on the
site (literally, much of my file cabinet is now on the web), they feel
empowered. And if they happen to "misplace" an assignment the night
before it's due, well, it's not as catastrophic as it might have been
If you keep your students and their needs
in mind when you create your site, you won't go wrong.
writes: "You are correct about teachers not sharing
the AP English Language and Composition syllabi. I have been looking
for two weeks. Today I looked for six hours. What does this say
about our profession? Can you help me?"
Unfortunately, I can't. My focus is literature, although I am leaning
toward incorporating more of the language aspect into my course as
more and more my students are taking both exams. My best advice is to
go to the College Board site and get as much past test information as
you can. It would be good to go to a workshop on teaching AP Language.
standards are tightening, you would think it would be easier to
plan a course. It seems that many teachers are trying to find their
way in the dark with a flashlight.
My theory is that the AP track (if that's
what you want to call it) is a big money maker, so the more that is
kept "secret", the more we have to pay for. And yet, more and more
students are opting to take AP courses, so more and more teachers are
finding themselves in exactly your spot.
For the past three years, I have had
several students take both exams. This year, I polled them about the
difference between the two. Their perception was that there was little
difference. The structure is identical: objective section and three
essays. I tried to get out of them some information about what
specific terms were tested, but they were true to their promise not to
reveal information about the test.
From what I can tell, the Language test
has more questions about syntax, more analysis of sentence patterns,
more questions about rhetorical devices (especially persuasive
techniques). Our students still need to be able to argue their point,
to support their argument, to write with command of the language, and
to understand what they read.
As for what literature to read, this is
probably as open as it is for the Lit test. While the College Board
has lists (question three) each year, any work of literary merit is
appropriate in an AP course. It is true that the typical Language
course has more nonfiction, but it does not exclude fiction entirely.
Perhaps the best AP course would be one
that covers both. While that's a lot to do in one year, I think that's
where my future efforts lie. Good luck!