AP Literature and Composition AdviceThis will be my first year teaching AP Lit & Comp. I am looking for tips, tricks, and general best practices strategies for throughout the year, but...

AP Literature and Composition Advice

This will be my first year teaching AP Lit & Comp. I am looking for tips, tricks, and general best practices strategies for throughout the year, but especially kicking the year off. I have already assigned summer reading and writing, so any advice outside of that would be greatly appreciated!

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lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Every year I seem to forget that even these good readers/thinkers/writers need to be reminded to elaborate their arguments.  They tend to make claims, assume I believe they are true, and then go from there.  I teach/reteach Toulmin (claim, evidence, warrant) and remind my students that they need to be asking themselves "Why" something is true and then writing the answer to that question.  It really helps ground them in reasoned analysis and away from a flighty list of literary devices. 

teachertaylor's profile pic

teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Great advice above.  In addition, if your district can provide some funds (or if you want to buy them yourself), the College Board publishes released AP exams every five years or so.  The books cost about $25 each.  These are the best to use for practice since they are actual exams; I and my students have found that test prep books have their own "style" that does not quite match the actual exams.

kristenfusaro's profile pic

kristenfusaro | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

I'm not sure what your schedule is like, but if you are teaching this class in a traditional schedule (45-50 min periods), about half way through the course start giving timed essays every Friday.  This gives you the weekend to grade them and a starting place on Monday.  This also gets the students in the habit of practicing those 40 minute essays, which aleviates a lot of stress on the day of the exam.  Also, I could not live without this acronym: (My own English teacher taught us:) Toiling Alone During Lunch, Fred Frantically Developed Indoor Plants; Ones Sitting In Sharp Slippery Pots.  I've updated it for my students to: Texting Alone During Lunch, Fred Forgot Dana's iPod, Outside, Sitting In a Super Soggy Puddle.

This breaks into the rhetorical devices and the order I teach them in: [Tone, Attitude]  [Diction, Language, Figurative language, Figures of Speech]  [Detail, Imagery]  [Point-of-View]  [Organization, Syntax]  [Irony]  [Style, Structure, Phrasing].

These are all wonderful pieces of advice, and I truly appreciate it.  Clairewait, I am especially enthralled by your acronym! I will be beginning a workshop for teaching AP Lit tomorrow and I was asked to bring "best practices" with me to share -- may I have your permission to share this?

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

One other piece of advice--since part of the AP Lit. exam focuses on an open-ended question connected to a list of works, it is imperative to stress early on to your students that they need to review--throughout the year--the works that they have read for previous classes.  Then, to build their personal lit. banks, have them read choice literature from a list each quarter.  At my school, AP students read these works independently, and then write an AP-style response to a prompt regarding their specific work. Students end up reading three independent works within a semester.  In class, we focus on poetry, drama, short stories, and of course, a ton of AP practice with close reading, analysis v. summary, and writing.

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I'm not sure what your schedule is like, but if you are teaching this class in a traditional schedule (45-50 min periods), about half way through the course start giving timed essays every Friday.  This gives you the weekend to grade them and a starting place on Monday.  This also gets the students in the habit of practicing those 40 minute essays, which aleviates a lot of stress on the day of the exam.  Also, I could not live without this acronym: (My own English teacher taught us:) Toiling Alone During Lunch, Fred Frantically Developed Indoor Plants; Ones Sitting In Sharp Slippery Pots.  I've updated it for my students to: Texting Alone During Lunch, Fred Forgot Dana's iPod, Outside, Sitting In a Super Soggy Puddle.

This breaks into the rhetorical devices and the order I teach them in: [Tone, Attitude]  [Diction, Language, Figurative language, Figures of Speech]  [Detail, Imagery]  [Point-of-View]  [Organization, Syntax]  [Irony]  [Style, Structure, Phrasing].

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

All really good pieces of advice--I'd do them all!  One of the things I like to establish early on is less specific to the test or to writing but which is so important to an advanced course of analysis and close reading.  It's true in any class, of course, but at this level it's essential.  Help them understand this class is a learning community which will only work if everyone does what they're supposed to do--be prepared, make a contribution, and think. Some of the brightest students are often unwilling to share their insights, probably for lots of reasons.  Conversely, some of the students who struggle the most will often have something to share but are reticent to do so, also probably for some very good reasons.  And of course there are those who want to dominate every discussion, share everything that comes to their minds, and answer every question ever posed.  They need to learn restraint, of course.  It's just so important that they begin, even in those first days, to see themselves as individuals working toward their own personal success, yes, but also to value and appreciate and learn from the insights and contributions of others. 

Pretty generic, I know, and every teacher has a way to do this, so it's not a specific piece of advice.  I just know it's important and it works.  Have a great year!!

MaudlinStreet's profile pic

MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

I begin the year with a practice AP test that doesn't affect their grade, but shows them exactly what progress they need to make throughout the year. We walk through every multiple-choice passage and every essay prompt in class, and students assess their own work in addition to their classmates. We spend considerable time reading and discussing sample essays from every point on the rubric, in order for students to become familiar with the rigorous requirements.

We cover several novels in class, with intense discussion, sample multiple-choice, and a full-length essay for each. Students are generally responsible for the analysis of each novel. I model close-critical reading with the first novel we cover, & then expect students to take the reins for the other texts. However, I serve as guide, ensuring that students are noting what they should be noting, and reaching conclusions that AP readers will be looking for.

Finally, I begin the year with intense poetry study. Since poetry is an integral part of the test, and many students are either uncomfortable or unfamiliar with it, I feel it's important to set a strong foundation in the genre. Also, it's a great way to either introduce or review literary concepts and devices, and their effects in literature. Again, I model analysis of about 10-15 poems in class (usually once a day, with class discussion following). Afterward I assign one or two poems to each student. They will be responsible for leading the class in analysis of their assigned text. I have found this to be incredibly effective. Every student is held accountable, & while they may be embarrassed or unsure at first, they know their classmates are relying on them for explanation. They will hold each other accountable as well; in the past, when a student has done a poor job of analyzing, other students are quick to offer suggestions and interpretations. In my experience, this effectively prepares them for full-length work analysis, in addition to the poetry sections of the test.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I agree with the above post, and in addition to lots of reading and writing, be sure to share with them many examples of top-notch papers.  Have you checked out the college board website yet?  They have lots of activities and practices to get the kids in the loop as far as critical reading, thinking, and writing skills which are expected of them on the AP exam. 

In addition, you might want to give them weekly quizzes with AP-style questions and then discuss as a class the results and why the answer is what the AP board is looking for.  I found that doing this at least once a week helped them learn more than just about anything else as they were reprogramming their approach to literature and language.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I would get them writing straight out of the gate, so they get in the habit of writing a lot.  Even if it's a short opinion piece, it sets the tone for them, and gives you an idea of what their writing ability is like.

Next I would give them some reading the first week - not overwhelming amounts, but not flimsy either.  I'd send them with some upper level discussion questions to consider (not to answer like a worksheet so there is less temptation to cheat/copy) and then the day the reading is due, dedicate the entire class to the discussion.  Ask them questions exactly from your list of upper level questions - ask the same question of several people.  Ask what someone thinks of what another student said.  Some would say this is putting them on the spot.  Actually, I think this lets the student know he/she is responsible for thinking on their own, in class, every day.  Responsible for actually doing the work, not imitating it.  Responsible for generating arguments, in both verbal and written formats, from day one.

Even if they fail miserably in these exercises, you'll have let them know what is expected, and they tend to rise to those expectations over time.  Good luck!

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