What other print or electronic publications may be useful
to me? What about electronic discussion groups?
When you register at AP Central and create your personal profile, you can elect to receive the twice-yearly
e-newsletter, which will alert you to changes in the course and to new resources available on AP Central.
The College Board–sponsored AP English Electronic Discussion Group (EDG) allows you to read and
participate in exchanges with other professionals. You can ask about specific texts, seek help with writing
issues, and offer your own expertise. To join the AP English EDG, follow the instructions at apcentral.
collegeboard.com/EDG. (See the Professional Development section in chapter 5 for more information on
AP Teachers and Their Colleagues
AP teachers, like all teachers, owe a collegial debt to colleagues who have prepared students to undertake
the rigors of an AP course. When students do well in AP English, the credit belongs to the entire English
department and to middle school teachers as well. Even the most superb AP teacher cannot go it alone.
I highly recommend bringing all teachers in a department into the planning process for specific AP
courses, which helps teachers to appreciate each other’s efforts and contributions. Knowing and valuing
what the teacher next door is doing, whether she or he is teaching ninth grade or AP English Literature and
Composition, defuses potential rivalry and resentment over status. All members of the department are key
players in the success of students.
Years ago, when I was teaching in a large public high school, my fellow English teachers and I had to
invent a ninth- to eleventh-grade scaffold, a curriculum, that would help underprepared students get ready
for twelfth-grade AP English Literature and Composition. My colleagues and I knew, as a department, that
introducing all students to literary study would enable many to go on to AP courses, but we had no system
in place to ensure that preparation. Fortunately, teachers came to realize that, especially for a group of
students for whom English was not their first language, even four years of rigorous study was not enough—
but at least it was a start. We developed a four-year curriculum guide, and our students experienced the
benefits of their early preparation.
Now, the College Board’s Pre-AP professional development initiatives make reinventing this particular
wheel unnecessary. The Pre-AP area of AP Central provides a series of concrete ideas for building a
collaborative curriculum and spirit for preparing students from as early as sixth grade for the kind of
sophisticated analysis that AP English Literature and Composition demands. Please note: Pre-AP is a
professional development program that establishes and reinforces habits of thinking and learning, and
introduces the importance of going beyond summary and observation to interpretation. It is not an early
Parents and AP English Literature and Composition
Parents want the best for their children, and AP teachers want the best for their students. Teachers and
college advisers can help parents understand the advantages and disadvantages of taking a particular AP
course based on the student’s course load and other activities during the school year.
Building relationships with parents of your AP students can greatly contribute to your program. There
are several ways that you can reach out to parents. You can introduce yourself and your course to parents
by sending a letter to each student’s home. Some schools host an “AP Night” where AP teachers provide
information regarding the AP Program policies and communicate the expectations of their classes, as
well as the opportunities AP can create for students. Be sure to emphasize to parents that the AP English
Advice for AP English Literature and Composition Teachers
Literature and Composition course develops critical and analytical reading and writing skills, which will
be invaluable to students regardless of the academic or career paths they choose. You may also want to
conduct parent–teacher conferences to discuss individual students and strategies for success. Additionally,
posting information on your own or your school’s Web site is a good way to keep parents updated about
course assignments and special projects.
Parents can be a great help to AP English Literature and Composition teachers. Once parents
understand the expectations of your course, they can offer guidance to and better communicate with their
children about homework, projects, and other course work. Parents can offer support in other ways as
well. For example, recognizing the special needs of AP classes, parent associations or PTAs may offer small
grants to purchase additional books to enrich the curriculum.
There may be times when parents are apprehensive about the rigor of the AP curriculum, especially
about the effect that enrolling in demanding classes might have on their children’s grade point average. By
working with their school’s college adviser, AP teachers can make parents aware of the grading policies
in their particular state. (California, for example, offers students in AP classes who are applying to state
colleges and universities an extra point in their AP grades—that is, a B in a non-AP class counts as a 3.0
while a B in an AP class counts as a 4.0.)
In some cases, students are not ready to undertake the responsibility of a college-level class, but their
parents may be strongly encouraging them to enroll in an AP course. One way that I found to address
the issue of the eager parent and the less-than-eager student was through a summer reading assignment
on which I tested students within the first days of the fall semester. Students who did not do the summer
reading had failed to show what I called an “earnest expression of desire” to be in the AP class, and I told
the students and parents that this did not bode well for success in an AP course.
Getting Started: There’s No Need to Reinvent
Though you may be teaching AP English Literature and Composition for the first time, you have some
experience in the high school English classroom. Use that experience! You do not have to invent a whole
new course during your first year. Have you had success teaching Hamlet? Then use Hamlet in your AP
course. If you really love The Tempest and have developed a unit using it and postcolonial literature, then
don’t worry that you are not teaching Hamlet. You will, and probably should, change your course each
year as you gain experience, but you should not try to change the whole course at once or try to teach all
new texts the first time through. Remember that great pairing you did with Oedipus and Chinua Achebe’s
Things Fall Apart? That would be a fine way to introduce a unit on the tragic hero. Have you always wanted
to teach Heart of Darkness? Maybe reading Things Fall Apart, an African view of colonialism, would
lead naturally into Conrad’s text and its reflection on the ambiguous nature of the European presence in
Africa. One of the many joys of teaching AP English Literature and Composition is that, since there are no
mandated texts, you can create a syllabus that reflects your own strengths and interests, and your syllabus
can change as you continue to grow as a teaching professional.
Get to the Heart of a Work
I remember when I ﬁrst encountered AP students in my second year of teaching. The department head was
away for the day and asked me to sit in on a class. The kids seemed so precocious. I remember them to this
day. What would I ever teach such remarkable beings, I wondered? And I still hear this question from beginning
teachers at AP conferences. Oddly enough, when I ﬁnally began to teach honors and AP courses, I discovered
that at times these classes were almost too easy: the kids liked everything! They’d do anything!
The issue, always, is to challenge our students—from the weakest to the strongest. My approach is not to
ﬂood them with work but to study in depth a book or two a term. An ideal AP class for me would begin with
information the students might never have had, then turn to a work of literature where they could investigate
that element of the text in increasingly intricate detail. Finally, for homework, the students would write on an
open-ended question that I would respond to aggressively, trying to get them to think even more deeply on the
subject. Ideally, my AP students and I push each other as far as we can.
—David Youngblood, Sayre School,
Developing an AP course takes time, and you will adapt your course each year as you learn which
approaches and teaching strategies work best for your class. Feel empowered to experiment with new
texts and activities. As you become more experienced and talk with other AP English Literature and
Composition teachers, you will discover new ideas and gain confidence. What follows are a few ideas to
help you as you plan your AP course.
Teaching Strategies and Suggestions
Making class time interactive will help students connect to literature. Ask students to read aloud in class.
Given the fact that we want them to read widely, they obviously cannot read everything aloud. But when
students are studying drama, they should not just read selected scenes aloud, they should be up and
moving and acting as they read. When they are studying poetry, part of each assignment should be to read
the poems aloud at home as they are preparing, and at least two students should begin the class by reading
aloud the poems they have prepared. If they need convincing about the power of reading aloud, refer them
to the Favorite Poem Project Web site (www.favoritepoem.org), which allows students to hear several voices
reading the same poem and to appreciate how different each one sounds.
Novels and stories deserve the same treatment, for the acts of speaking and hearing fine prose, poetry,
and drama train students’ ears for recognizing both literary styles and strong versus weak writing. The
logical extension is, of course, that they should read their own work aloud to peers so that they can hear
both triumphs and problematic or awkward areas in their prose. (More specifics about peer review will
come later in this chapter.)
I do not normally assign students questions to answer following reading assignments since giving them
questions implicitly frames and even limits the scope of the discussion. Instead, I ask students to come to
class with questions for discussion. Sometimes, I will ask students to work in groups of three or four to
address one of their own questions before we have a whole-class discussion. In small group activities, all
students participate. On other occasions, I ask students to write their questions on the board. Often, several
students have the same question, so that question quite naturally becomes a starting point for discussion.
Advice for AP English Literature and Composition Teachers
Students Take the Lead in Class Discussion
The AP English class works most effectively when knowledge of the material grows from student discussion
and not teacher presentation. Teachers can encourage discussion by permitting the conversation in the class to
be student centered rather than teacher dominated. Students will feel a greater commitment to the class and
to the material if the conversation about a work is generated by their questions, by their sharing of short reader-
response paragraphs at the beginning of the class or even during the discussion, and especially if they believe
that what they have to say matters. Teachers can encourage students to take responsibility for the work of the
class by acting as moderators, being keen and sensitive listeners, and by resisting the impulse to interpret the
material. Students’ creative energies are stirred when they have been a part of a collaborative effort that makes
literary works revelations of truth.
—Harvard V. Knowles, Phillips Exeter Academy,
Exeter, New Hampshire
Writing and Assessment
How can we make sure that students read assignments carefully and respond to them thoughtfully without
overwhelming ourselves with papers to grade? Here are some ideas.
Thought Pieces or Short Reﬂections
Assign more “thought pieces” or short reflections and give fewer quizzes. Many teachers see the
unannounced quiz as essential to keeping students accountable. It is my experience that when I give a pop
quiz, the students who have done the reading answer the recall questions and earn an A; the students who
are unprepared sit there for 5 to 10 minutes and earn an F; and I must grade all the quizzes. Often, no one
learns much during this time-consuming exercise.
Here’s a different approach. Ask students to write a thought piece or reflection before they come to
class. These assignments are meant to help students focus on a question, an issue, a stanza, a line, a word,
or anything that strikes their interest in the reading assignment. This one- to two-page exercise is not
meant to be revised, but it compels students to think on paper before they come to class. Make it clear that
you might ask a few students to read their pieces aloud. You may or may not grade a whole set of thought
pieces, but whether you hear all or just a few, you will learn what students are thinking about, and, of
course, the students will learn how to choose a rich passage, reflect, and write.
The Question Paper
For this reflective paper, which, like the thought piece, is not meant to be revised, every sentence must be a
question. Students may not write a list of questions—they must write paragraphs in which every sentence is
a question. One question will, naturally, lead to another, and the questions may in fact become speculations
or hypotheses, but every sentence must be a question. The question paper is particularly appropriate for
works that have been difficult or vexing for students. I have used this strategy with works like Rosencrantz
& Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
Students initially feel that this assignment is impossible, but they quickly discover that, as questions
start flowing, interpretation is inevitably embedded in what they are writing. It turns out that asking
questions is a good way to discover answers and hone critical thinking skills. In this process students
come to realize that analyzing literature is more than answering a series of questions—their teacher’s or
their own. My students often tell me that when they are stumped about how to begin an essay, they write
a question paper for themselves.
Approaches to More Formal Papers
Writing is not easy. Most writers can tell you that getting started—facing a blank sheet of paper or
computer screen—is usually the biggest obstacle. As students begin the writing process, it is helpful to
remind them of the key ingredients of strong papers:
Fluency (students should have something to say)
Form (students should present ideas logically)
Correctness (students should make sure writing is grammatically correct)
Although teachers occasionally want students to write about specific topics or questions from among
three, four, or five choices, I have discovered that the very act of defining a topic of their own launches
students into writing.
Advice for Teachers: Steps to Helping Students Write Strong Papers
1. Working together with your students, brainstorm paper topics.
2. One or two days later, ask students to come to class with a prospectus paragraph. In the prospectus
paragraph, they will announce what their papers will be about and cite some of the evidence they
will use. This is not a thesis paragraph. In fact, the prospectus paragraph will not appear in the
3. Students will read prospectus paragraphs aloud, and all students in the class (or in groups if the
class is too large) will offer advice to the writer.
4. You have two choices, depending on your students:
Two to three days later, students will come to class with the first page of their papers. They will
help each other (following step #5), then develop a full draft.
Two to three days later, students will come to class with a complete first draft of their papers.
5. Working together with students, brainstorm about what feedback from a peer editor/reviewer will
help them most. (Some ideas: Do I have something to say? Is my thesis clear? Is my organization
logical? Have I included evidence gracefully?)
6. Students will write at the top of the papers the topics the group identified during peer-review
7. Students will read their papers aloud to their partners before exchanging papers to give written
8. After the peer-review session, students will have approximately one week before a final version is
due. During that week, they may continue to consult with each other or with you.
9. Students should always ask themselves and each other, SO WHAT? They must go beyond
observation to interpretation.
10. Along with final versions, students must submit the peer-edited version(s) and prospectus
Peer review and editing is most effective when students have a goal. You can give them guidelines and
rubrics if you wish, but, as a class, they can articulate what feedback from a peer editor/reviewer will help
them most. The very act of reading their papers aloud makes students aware of issues like choppiness, word
repetition, lack of clarity, and the need for sentence variety.
Advice for AP English Literature and Composition Teachers
Paper conferences between teacher and student are invaluable, but it is impossible to meet with
every student about every draft of every paper. To alleviate this tension, I encourage students to identify
a problem they want to discuss and to choose one paragraph from their paper that we will focus on
developing and improving together. This strategy makes students think about the issue they want to
address before they meet with me, and our meeting time is more productive.
Grading papers is time consuming and hard work, no matter what strategy we use. Once again, ask
students to tell you in writing what they think is best about their papers and what they wish they might
have done better. Their comments can then serve as the focus for yours.
Adding New Texts to AP English Literature
One of the pleasant responsibilities of teaching AP English Literature and Composition is devising and
planning the curriculum. Of course, state and local requirements and local community standards influence
what we might choose to teach, but even with such restrictions, the curriculum is ours to develop, enrich,
We may have inherited a wonderfully varied curriculum from the AP teacher before us, a teacher who
was probably a revered veteran with generations of successful students. Our predecessor’s texts, many
of which we love, await us in the bookroom. But the texts that others and we have always taught are not
necessarily the only texts we will or should teach.
The writing of excellent novels and plays did not end in the 1950s or 1960s, and some superb
nineteenth- and twentieth-century works have been discovered or rediscovered in recent years. For
example, although Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1935, the novel only
reached a wide audience after Alice Walker rediscovered it in 1975. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening,
published in 1899, entered AP curricula in the last decades. Conversely, some books that were mainstays of
high school curricula in the middle of the twentieth century have become less popular.
But with the ability to stretch the curriculum comes enormous responsibility: How can we know what
to add, what constitutes a work of “literary merit”? And how do we know what texts to rotate out when we
want to include something new?
Of course, there are no absolute answers to either of these questions. Once again, as I have throughout
this guide, I am going to urge you to trust your instincts and to talk to colleagues in your school and
beyond. The AP English Electronic Discussion Group is one way to become part of a large group of active
and informed readers.
One way to add a new text is to pair it with one you already teach. For example, one of the sample
syllabi in this book pairs King Lear with Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a 1990 novel that moves the
unhappy story of an aging father and three daughters to the farmland of Iowa. Here’s another example:
in an American literature-based AP class, I have paired The Great Gatsby from 1925 with Their Eyes Were
Watching God from 1935. Since there is practically no overlap in the worlds of these novels, together they
seem to illuminate each other as well as our understanding of America. The worlds of Gatsby and of Eyes
could not be more different in their points of view, settings, and thematic concerns. Yet together, they give
us a view of two Americas between World War I and World War II. In addition, a pairing of Eyes with
Native Son by Richard Wright shines a light on the tension between Wright and Hurston, a tension that led
Wright to savage Hurston’s novel when it first appeared. Here, the pairing illuminates different stylistic,
thematic, social, and gender concerns in the African American community of writers between the two
Erich Maria Remarque’s 1930 World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, has long been a
staple of AP English Literature. Pairing it with Tim O’Brien’s 1990 work, The Things They Carried, allows
students to explore both the nature of and attitude toward war in two eras and the stylistic differences in
early and late twentieth-century novels. Adding a contemporary Vietnamese American novel, for example
The Gangster We Are All Looking For, lê thi diem thúy’s 2003 work, moves the stylistic and thematic
explorations into the ramifications of war and dislocation even further.
The richness of overlapping cultures in America and the world invites us to jump in with truly
contemporary works. You might want to try Jhumpa Lahiri’s magnificent 2000 volume of stories, The
Interpreter of Maladies and Other Stories. Or Chang-rae Lee’s gripping and complex 1999 novel, A Gesture
Life, introduces students to an obtuse narrator who doesn’t seem to realize what he is telling us, and who
can only obliquely confront the horrors of his past life.
Stylistically and thematically, the world of literature continues to change and grow, and our courses can
reflect new developments even as they honor the canon.
The possibilities are endless. That’s the joy, and that’s the not-so-bad problem.
I evaluate my students on preparation, participation, and written assignments. All of our course work,
oral and written, demands that students go beyond observation and recall to interpretation. Several times
during the year, students work together on class projects to present to their peers. Whether the projects
cover poetry, novels, or dramatic interpretation, all students participate. When it is time to assign grades,
major papers are weighted most heavily since students write several drafts and receive feedback from me
and their peers. Thought pieces count less than major essays since they are single-draft assignments that
students generally write as an immediate response to a reading assignment. Students also write in-class
essays, most often based on questions from previous AP English Literature and Composition Exams. In-
class essays are weighted more heavily than thought pieces but do not count as much as major essays.
For more ideas, inspiration, and resources, read the articles that follow. Professor Linda Hubert, former
Chief Reader for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam, provides tips for AP teachers on
preparing students for the demands of a first-year college English class. Chesley Woods, a teacher at
Avondale High School in Georgia, offers strategies for teachers of underprepared students. Finally, Limarys
Caraballo, from St. Mary’s College High School in California, proposes a way to help students and schools
with inadequate resources by using summer reading as a yearlong path to success.
Advice for AP English Literature and Composition Teachers
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested