Literature Used in AP Language CoursesAlthough an AP Language and Composition course can pretty much be taught without any novels at all, I find that certain novels are really good to use for AP...

Literature Used in AP Language Courses

Although an AP Language and Composition course can pretty much be taught without any novels at all, I find that certain novels are really good to use for AP students.  My AP students are juniors and I must also meet the Indiana State Teaching Standards by teaching American Lit.  The usual ones I teach are The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, The Great Gatsby, and Their Eyes Were Watching GodThe Crucible isn't especially challenging, but it works nicely with The Scarlet Letter.  This year I also had them read Escape From Slavery by Francis Bok because nonfiction is so important for AP Language.

Unfortunately, this year I am teaching AP and English 11 in one class period.  I am teaching at a super small private school (it's my first year here - Google "Amy Sorrell" if you want to know the story). Anyway, for some of the works I teach them to the whole class.  I did this with The Crucible.  Other times, I have half the class reading one thing and half the class reading the other, which makes it challenging to be thorough.

My big question is what do you teach and how do you incorporate the AP requirements into it?  For example, I use The Scarlet Letter to have a big discussion on tone.  I use Gatsby to discussion narration, and I use Their Eyes Were Watching God to discuss dialect.  Obviously, I discuss a lot more than just that, but those are some examples. 

I am also considering teaching Ella Minnow Pea this year.  Anyone used that yet?


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ktmagalia's profile pic

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I have my students on of the novels that you (#1) mention, the Great Gatsby, but we read others: Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and All the Pretty Horses (if we have time). We also work with the play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.  The readings, except for the play, are all read outside of class, and but we do have discussion and stylistic analysis activities in class. All the Pretty horses focuses on syntax, Huck Finn focus is on satire, Catcher in the Rye focus on diction, and symbols with the Great Gatsby.  Of course, we discuss the SOAPStone with all, and we have socratic seminars at the completion of each work.  However, mostly I use the nonfiction in class that connects thematically to the universal theme explored in the classic. For example, when we study our unit centerred on community and the role of the individual, we read The NIght Thoreau Spent in Jail.  So, in other words, the fiction is merely one component of the unit: we read essays, speeches, write arguments/analysis/and synthesis essays, in conjuction with the novel/play. 

asorrell's profile pic

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Wow. I started this topic over two years ago.  I started at a new school this past year, which had no AP classes when I started and now I'm starting one section of AP English Language for next year.  I'm excited to include some of these new ideas. 

Since this is the very first year we'll have it, I'll be doing it with seniors so I'll also be covering some of the Brit Lit basics...probably just Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, and Hamlet.  I'm considering Frankenstein as well.  Otherwise, it will probably be nonfiction.  I think I will be using the rhetorical journal ideas.  Love that idea.

mstultz72's profile pic

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I use Aristotle's Rhetorical Triangle and Walker Gibson's Tough, Sweet, and Stuffy (style analysis) with just about everything.

The triangle approach to language is a great organizing model for which to analyze language and construct persuasive arguments no matter if you are teaching a novel, essay, or non-fiction book.  Here's the breakdown:

LOGOS: "word"; the textbook; stuffy style; 3rd person; objective; fact-based; formal

ETHOS: "character"; the writer; the novel; plain/tough style; 1st person; subjective; informal

PATHOS: "suffering"; the reader/audience; the advertisement; sweet style; subjective; 2nd person; intimate

With Othello, we match up characters and their linguistic style.  Othello is all pathos; Iago is, ironically, ethos.  And we debate: how can a schemer and trickster appeal more to ethos than Othello, the tragic hero?

For Gatsby, we look at the three parties at the beginning.  Which ones are intimate, formal, and informal?  Why?  We look at Gatsby's language versus Tom's and Nick's.  How does Gatsby convince Nick and not Daisy to believe him over Tom?

kapokkid's profile pic

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One of the things that I think can often be overlooked are the similarities between non-fiction and fiction.  A good non-fiction piece is often trying to get across some kind of point, and so does a really good story.  Of course you can argue that a good story is just a good story, but quite often we as readers take something away from it.

I had a speaker in my class last year talking about how Einstein wrote such good papers in the scientific world because he knew how to tell a story and it was as important in that way as it was in a good piece of fiction.  He knew how to write a beginning and an end, how to explicate certain things and make sure that each piece of an experiment or description connected to the next all the way through.

I only post this because I think you can probably bring in all kinds of fiction and use them to help the students see the various parts of argument and how to build an argument or really all kinds of things.  Obviously there has to be a good amount of non-fiction in there, but I just don't think someone should be afraid of using a novel as long as you can see a way for it to be applied to the topic of the course.

accessteacher's profile pic

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Lots of good ideas here! When I started teaching AP English Language and Composition I was given the titles of three books that have been brilliant in terms of giving high quality examples of non-fiction. They still have pride of place in my bookshelf. The are:

"Americans in Paris", edited by Adam Gopnik

"The Best American Essays of the Century", edited by Joyce Carol Oates

"The Art of the Personal Essay", edited by Philip Lopate

What I really like about these collections is that there are lots of "big names" in here, enabling me to combine the non-fiction of someone like Mark Twain with teaching novels. Well recommended!

kapokkid's profile pic

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I just started teaching the course but we used quite a few novels both as summer reading and during the course of the year.  Nickle and Dimed, The Blind Side, Stiff, and a couple others were our summer reading and we read Into the Wild, Huck Finn, and The Things They Carried during the year amidst all the loads of non-fiction.

Part of this was just the feeling that students got stale with the constant emphasis on non-fiction and also that we felt they would benefit whether they took AP Lit the following year or a different course from still having the experience of working with some works of longer length.

charcunning's profile pic

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I use only non-fiction when it comes to writing the rhetorical analysis and argumentation essays and these are generally shorter pieces like essays and opinion-editorial pieces. However, my students do read 6 novels outside of class as well. We do Into The Wild by Krakauer, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley and Angela's Ashes by McCourt for nonfiction, and then we do The Color Purple, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby for fiction.

Because my students are very low level and don't even know what a thesis statement is when I get them, I have to really spend my school year on just getting them to write coherent essays within such a short time frame.  As a result, I am unable to spend any time on poetry at all, which I really hate! I'm working in ways to tie things in with what we are reading, such as Harlem Renaissance poetry with Malcolm X, but it's still a work in progress!

sdchumley's profile pic

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Continuation of response to #12:  Here are some student samples:

Inversion, page 4: "a good carpenter, Cash is."

Faulkner employs inversion to empahsize the fact that Cash's carpentry skills are excellent. By placing the main idea at the beginning of the sentence, Faulkner lets the reader know the strong point of his sentence.

Ex:  My favorite artist, Ben Folds is.

Imagery, page 78: "Upon his face the rain streams, slow as cold glycerin."

Faulkner paints a gloomy image for the reader as s/he visualizes a stunned Anse with thick, viscous water sliding down his face. The dreary setting allows the reader to appreciate Anse's sullenness and blank state of mind.

Ex: "In the bitter showers of an unnaturally cold April, drops of frozen water fell like glue against his skin."

Diction, page 140: "He was standing there, humped, mournful . . ."

Throughout the novel, various characters give physical and emotional descriptions of Anse. Describing him as humped and mournful not only paints the picture of a sulking man, but gives insight into his emotional state. The depressing disction accurately informs the reader of Anse's condition.

Ex: "Not only did his head hang dolefully, but his eyes lacked their usual spark of life."

sdchumley's profile pic

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"I..have the students keep a "rhetorical journal" as they read.  They find specific rhetorical strategies from the novel, discuss what the strategies are and what purpose they serve for Faulkner..."

Do you mean rhetorical strategies as in ethos, pathos, logos?  If so, I am not sure how this journal would work.  Do you mind giving examples from the text?


Thank you,



The instructions are to find at least one entry for each 15-18 pages of the novel and to give the text sample, label the rhetorical technique, explain how it works, explain Faulkner's purpose -- and then for 1/2 of the entries, imitate Faulkner's rhetorical strategy.  I give the students the following example:

page 3, "I go on to the house, followed by the 

                              Chuck.         Chuck.     Chuck.

             of the adze."

Syntax & Onomatopoeia

Faulkner creates a specific syntactical emphasis through placement, punctuation, and repetition of Chuck, Chuck, Chuck. By intentionally creating a space between each  repetition of the word, Faulkner creates the SOUND of the adze as it works the wood. The word chcuk also has onomatopoeia as when one says/reads Chuck, the word SOUNDS like the instrument hitting the wood.


My favorite thing to eat is an ultra-thick mocha chocolate shake. I simply love the Slurp. Slurp. Slurp

                                                                of the  shake gliding up the straw into my mouth!

See next post -----

sdchumley's profile pic

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I've taught AP Lang & Comp for 11 years now, and I have always used both non-fiction and fiction in the course.  We will read The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, Their Eyes Were Watching Gog, Inherit the Wind, The Great Gatsby, and As I Lay Dying this year.  I take sections from the literature and have the students conduct rhetorical analysis. I especially like As I Lay Dying and have the students keep a "rhetorical journal" as they read.  They find specific rhetorical strategies from the novel, discuss what the strategies are and what purpose they serve for Faulkner, and for half of their journal entries they then also create their own original sample of the rhetorical strategy.  We read this novel right before the exam, so the rhetorical journal makes for a great review of rhetoric leading into the exam.  In addition, I'm going to make some of my essay assignments on the literature more synthesis based. For example, with The Scarlet Letter we'll write on something like: (1) Defend, challenge, or qualify with the following statement: Individuals or groups have the right to dictate an individual's morals. (2) If a person knows something that would cause harm to another person or group of people, s/he should ALWAYS keep the secret.  These are drafts of the questions, but I hope students will generate examples from the world and from the novel and synthesize the information into an essay, so we'll cover argument and synthesis simultaneously.

asorrell's profile pic

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I've taken the courses and have completed the audit.  I use quite a bit of nonfiction essays, but still like to use several novels.  I have to meet the state standards for American literature as well as the meet the AP criteria.  The seniors mostly focus on British Lit, so I like to make sure my juniors have read several American classics they might encounter as seniors on the Lit test.  I can prepare them for the Language test and the Lit test with one piece of Literature.  Of course we talk about plot, characters, etc, but I always incorporate rhetorical analysis as well.  For example I use the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter to discuss tone.  I'm just wondering what other novels, memoirs, etc teachers are incorporating into their AP Language courses.

The really hard part is that I'm at a new school this year where I have English 11 and AP Language in one class period.  So I'm trying to find some books all the classes can read and then have the AP kids do more analysis with it.  Hopefully, this wil be the only year it's like this because I don't feel like I'm challening the AP kids enough and I don't feel like I'm helping the lower kids enough when I'm trying to do both things at once!   

mejwestut's profile pic

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SUMMER READING for my course is IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote (the kids loved it), I use the Riverside Reader (others are listed on the website), and the Roskelly Rhetoric text (there are also others listed online, but the second author on this text is also the head reader for the AP L & C test.) Have fun with this class...expect rigor and use discussion.

mejwestut's profile pic

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The AP Language and Composition course is the study of rhetoric. While many English teachers use traditional literature when teaching this course, the College Board has established a guideline of non-fictional novels, readers, and rhetoric texts suitable for this course. I would check their website. The universities and colleges teaching this course asked the College Board to align the class with their curriculum---which they have done. Students taking this course must be able to analyze rhetorical modes and strategies, audience, purpose, logic, etc. This course is actually ABOVE the AP Literature class in analysis of literature because you use the stategies when writing in domain or (WID). I use a wide variety of texts and current topics. We analyze speeches (great in an election year), photos, podcasts, etc. This is my favorite class! The papers are diverse and a pleasure to read. They college board has numerous training sessions for this class. Take them! The information and materials provided are invaluable. P.S. If score results drive your program--recruit debaters. This style of writing is second nature for them (Toulmin model).They generally score very high on this test.

clane's profile pic

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I have yet to teach an AP class and at this school may not get the chance, but I do teach anywhere between 3-5 levels of English and English Language Development in each of my 4 English classes at a continuation high school. It is challenging to say the very least. I do try to choose works that we can all do together somewhat, we usually read the same pieces and have discussions together, but, and this will require more work on your part, I create vastly different assignments that work with each level or group of levels. For example, we might read a short story like The Most Dangerous Game which is low level for some and high level for others and for the rest it's probably on target.

clane's profile pic

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I ran out of words on so here is the rest of my post . . .

The lower students might focus more on vocabulary application of words in the story, basic comprehension questions, and possibly an illustrating assignment or some oral rereads in groups. The mid level students will work with vocabulary application of higher level words, basic and interpretive reading comprehension questions, a focus on identifying literary devices that are used throughout. The higher level students will answer interpretive questions, focus on literary devices, and perhaps a writing assignment in which these students write a sequel to the story which includes some the literary devices. The whole class might also work in heterogeneous groups on some enrichment assignment which will have different rubrics, like researching, discussing, and applying the Darwinian theory to the story.

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