assessment question essay, I use the “cooperative learning activity” as the first of many formal and informal
conferences. The other forms for conferences may include Socratic seminars, class presentations on various
themes, and small- and whole-group discussions.
Assessment Question (1979 AP Open-Ended Question):
Choose a complex and important character in a novel or a play of recognized literary merit who
might—on the basis of the character’s actions alone—be considered evil or immoral. In a well-
organized essay, explain both how and why the full presentation of the character in the work makes
us react more sympathetically than we otherwise might. Avoid plot summary.
Cooperative Learning Activity:
This cooperative learning activity is designed specifically for Crime and Punishment. I divide the
class into three sections (I use six in my largest class) and assign each group a different topic. After
discussing within their groups, students must present their findings to the class.
Trace the Lazarus and Christ allusions throughout Crime and Punishment and
determine their effects on the novel as a whole.
Summarize the various dreams present in the novel and discuss the insight each
reveals about the dreamer.
Group Three: Consider the theme of suffering in the novel by answering these three questions: (a)
Who suffers? (b) Why do they suffer? (c) What is the effect of the suffering on each
character? You must ultimately formulate a general statement regarding Dostoevsky’s
use of suffering in the novel.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (four weeks)
In this unit, “The Story of an Hour” and “Desiree’s Baby” precede the study of Chopin’s novel to develop
an understanding of the themes and societal conventions present in her writing. After reading the
short stories, but prior to beginning the novel, I ask students to research living conditions during the
nineteenth century. While they may create their own topic, I recommend that they focus on issues such as
gender equity, etiquette, and women’s education. After sharing their findings, students possess a deeper
understanding of Chopin’s society, which then serves to elucidate her purpose for writing the novel.
Students read The Awakening quickly, but they follow their reading by engaging in discussions about
themes and characters’ motivations, writing the “internal events essay,” and participating in the “chalk talk
activity.” The emphasis on female characters contrasts the male-driven plots of the two previous novels.
Internal Events Essay (1988 AP Open-Ended Question):
Choose a distinguished novel or play in which some of the most significant events are mental or
psychological; for example, awakenings, discoveries, changes in consciousness. In a well-organized
essay, describe how the author manages to give these internal events the sense of excitement, suspense,
and climax usually associated with external action. Do not merely summarize the plot.
Chalk Talk Activity: See Appendix C.
Fall Semester—Second Grading Period
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (one week)
Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House presents many of the same concerns that Chopin raises in her novel. Pairing
them therefore allows for ample consideration of author’s viewpoint, character development, and theme.
The “comparative essay” and “debate” assignments, however, enable students to consider the differences
between the two and thereby not mistake the characters and events that arise in each.
Since students often question the connection of their own lives to the literature they encounter,
I play the movie Kramer vs. Kramer at the end of this unit to demonstrate the relationship between literary
themes and contemporary dilemmas.
Compare and contrast the awakenings of Edna Pontellier and Nora Helmer.
I divide the class into six groups and assign one of the following viewpoints to each:
1. Edna Pontellier is a stronger woman than Nora Helmer.
2. Nora Helmer is a stronger woman than Edna Pontellier.
3. Léonce Pontellier is a better father than Torvald Helmer.
4. Torvald Helmer is a better father than Léonce Pontellier.
5. Kate Chopin’s novel provides a better argument for gender equity than Henrik Ibsen’s play.
6. Henrik Ibsen’s play provides a better argument for gender equity than Kate Chopin’s novel.
After allowing each group to prepare its case, I give each side three minutes to present it, two
minutes to plan a rebuttal, and finally one minute to deliver the response.
Metaphysical Poetry: John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell (two weeks)
This unit exposes students to challenging poetry in preparation for the AP Exam, post-Elizabethan
religious conflicts and ideologies, and the relationship between structure and meaning. Students are at
first daunted by the language and conceits of these poems, but they ultimately gain confidence in their
abilities to interpret poetry. I incorporate Donne, Herbert, and Marvell but emphasize John Donne’s work
by examining 10 of his poems.
I use the “structure activity” to introduce the topic because of the distinct shapes of “Easter Wings” and
“The Altar.” Students respond well to this lesson and are then prepared to analyze the structure/meaning
relationships in other poems. During these two weeks, students also paraphrase as well as compose and
answer critical questions on specific poems. They ultimately write an essay on “Holy Sonnet I,” which
assesses their ability to differentiate between poet and speaker while examining the manner in which
literary elements convey meaning.
Holy Sonnet I Assessment Question:
Carefully read “Holy Sonnet I” and write an essay in which you define the speaker’s attitude toward
life and death. Discuss how such elements as diction, figurative language, imagery, and structure
convey this attitude.
This activity uses George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” to ensure that students note the relationship
between structure and meaning.
1. Students read and annotate “Easter Wings” and then answer the following question: How does
the poem’s structure echo its sense?
2. They share their responses with a partner.
3. Each pair then reads Herbert’s “The Altar” and determines which of the two poems merges
meaning and structure more effectively.
4. The activity concludes with a whole-group discussion on the themes of both poems and the
manner in which structure enhances the meaning of each.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (five weeks)
This novel is of great importance to the AP English Literature and Composition course at Felix Varela
not only because the majority of the students are Hispanic, but also because many are from Colombia.
The students’ ability to identify with the culture, ideologies, and recurrence of names within the novel
provides them with the unique experience of validating their own heritage. The students are therefore not
overwhelmed by the magical realism of the novel since their upbringings were forged by similar narratives.
The concept, however, is initially presented through García Márquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous
Wings.” Furthermore, to understand the philosophical and political overtones of the novel, students read
the author’s 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature lecture, “The Solitude of Latin America.”
The cyclical events and repetition of names in One Hundred Years of Solitude, along with its length,
may hinder the students’ ability to recall the novel. Students therefore keep journals in which they trace the
progression of each character, copy the Buendía genealogy onto large poster boards, write summaries of
each chapter, create lists of pivotal images and symbolic components found throughout the novel, respond
to the “distortion prompt,” and complete the “magical realism activity.”
Distortion Prompt (1989 AP Open-Ended Question):
In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O’Connor has written, “I am pleased to make a
good case for distortion because I am coming to believe that it is the only way to make people see.”
Write an essay in which you “make a good case for distortion,” as distinct from literary realism.
Analyze how important elements of the work you choose are “distorted” and explain how these
distortions contribute to the effectiveness of the work. Avoid plot summary.
Magical Realism Activity:
This task capitalizes on my students’ backgrounds to emphasize the universality of literary themes.
1. Students research nonscientific beliefs, rationales, or fables found within their families.
2. They submit a three- to five-page document summarizing these notions and delineating their
effects on both children and adults within their families.
3. After reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, students must submit a five- to seven-page essay
in which they elucidate the parallels between the anecdotes discussed in their original reports
and the magical realism of the novel. They must also discuss the global role of these ideologies
and their effects on human nature.
Spring Semester—Third Grading Period
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (two weeks)
Achebe’s novel addresses concepts similar to those found within One Hundred Years of Solitude, namely,
the effects of colonization on both individuals and entire civilizations. Things Fall Apart also introduces
students to a foreign society and promotes the identification of the factors that bind all people. Students
begin this unit by analyzing William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” and conclude by
commenting on Achebe’s decision to include it as a preface to the novel. Throughout the two weeks,
students discuss the parallels between One Hundred Years of Solitude and Things Fall Apart; analyze the
roles of men, women, spirituality, and tradition within the Ibo community; and compare American and
The “characterization essay” is used at the onset of the unit to closely examine the protagonist and
prepare for the prose essay question on the AP Exam. After students read the novel, they complete the
“legal system activity” to compare and contrast the convictions of the American and Ibo cultures.
Read the first three paragraphs of Things Fall Apart and write an essay analyzing the literary
techniques Chinua Achebe uses to characterize Okonkwo.
Legal System Activity:
Students delineate five Ibo “laws” found in the novel and compare each to the American legal system.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (four weeks)
Rather than supplying my students with interpretations and focal points, my goal when teaching Hamlet
is to encourage them to generate insights. Prior to reading the play, however, we spend one week analyzing
the structure and themes of Shakespearean sonnets. This practice familiarizes students with the language
of Shakespeare, which then facilitates their understanding of the play. This unit differs from the others in
that most of the reading is done in class. Listening to varying voices allows students to better recall details
and ascertain the manner in which certain lines should be spoken. I play Kenneth Branagh’s and Franco
Zeffirelli’s versions of Hamlet at the end of the unit because students have by then formulated their own
interpretations and are prepared to critique the films rather than be steered by them.
This month is composed of daily discussions as students grapple with the complexities of the text;
I also infuse the unit with the “madness essay,” the “soliloquy explication,” and questions spanning Bloom’s
Madness Essay (2001 AP Open-Ended Question):
One definition of madness is “mental delusion or the eccentric behavior arising from it.” But Emily
Much madness is divinest Sense—
To a discerning Eye—
Novelists and playwrights have often seen madness with a “discerning eye.” Select a novel or
play in which a character’s apparent madness or irrational behavior plays an important role. Then
write a well-organized essay in which you explain what this delusion or eccentric behavior consists
of and how it might be judged reasonable. Explain the significance of the “madness” to the work as a
whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.
1. I divide my students into groups for a subsequent visit to the media center.
2. Each group is responsible for researching the allusions present in Hamlet’s first soliloquy.
3. They then explicate the speech and the specific effect the allusions have on their understanding
of Prince Hamlet.
Spring Semester—Fourth Grading Period
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (two weeks)
This is the only text I cover during the fourth grading period because I reserve this time to review for the
AP Exam by working on student writing portfolios and revisiting the novels and plays already studied.
I place Death of a Salesman immediately after Hamlet not only to discuss the many themes they share,
but also to highlight the manner in which drama has evolved over 400 years. Students read both Aristotle’s
definition of tragedy and Arthur Miller’s “Tragedy and the Common Man.” I introduce the former prior to
beginning the play and the latter once they conclude their reading. This allows students to assess whether
the play satisfies Aristotle’s definition before reading Miller’s essay. The discussion of the similarities
between the plays follows the “comparative essay,” but exclusive attention is given to Death of a Salesman as
students complete the “critical analysis activity.”
Throughout this unit students also consider topics such as capitalism, happiness, loyalty, pride, and
Compare and contrast the relationship of Polonius and Laertes to that of Willy Loman and Biff
Critical Analysis Activity:
After reading the play, students respond to the following:
1. How does setting contribute to Willy Loman’s emotions?
2. To what extent does Death of a Salesman satisfy Aristotle’s definition of tragedy?
3. Characterize Linda’s development throughout the play.
In addition to the strategies I note throughout this syllabus, I also offer opportunities for students to read
and analyze supplemental texts (see Appendix A). These after-school sessions are voluntary, and neither
incentives nor rewards are provided. It is difficult for many of my students to attend because they must
work or care for younger siblings after school due to their financial situations; approximately 25 percent of
my students, however, usually partake in these conferences.
Student success in AP English Literature and Composition is based on efficient reading practices and
a steadfast commitment to learn from accomplishments and errors in previous essays. To improve the
quality of their annotations, I insist that students adopt the practice of George Bernard Shaw:
“As soon as I open [a book], I occupy the book, I stomp around in it. I underline passages, scribble
in the margins, leave my mark . . . I like to be able to hear myself responding to a book, answering it,
agreeing and disagreeing in a manner I recognize as peculiarly my own.”
In reference to writing, I cite the American writer and journalist Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy. All you do
is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Despite the seemingly defeatist
message of this quotation, it serves as an opportunity to introduce sarcasm, instill a desire to persevere, and
establish a sense of camaraderie since most of my students empathize with the presented image.
Note: Students complete the Major Works Form (see Appendix B) after each text to serve as a study
guide for the AP Exam.
Assessments serve various purposes in my AP English Literature and Composition class. At the outset of
the course, for instance, essays and multiple-choice assignments are diagnostic tools that then guide my
instruction. The grades attributed to these activities are therefore minimal; in fact, I assign grades based
on effort rather than student performance. After the first two weeks, however, released AP multiple-choice
questions are administered and scored according to AP guidelines and are worth three grades. The grading
scale varies for these assignments, as I generally curve them based on the highest score achieved within the
class. Essays are also worth three grades; I use the following scale to correlate rubric scores to letter grades:
9–A+, 8–A, 7–B+, 6–B, 5–C, 4–D, 3 and below–F. While essays and multiple-choice assignments present
great difficulty for my students, I provide them with various opportunities to succeed.
Since nearly all reading of novels is completed at home, I administer daily quizzes worth one grade
at the beginning of each unit. These brief assessments serve to check for comprehension and motivate
students to follow the reading timelines provided. They also help students improve their grades, which are
particularly affected by essays and multiple-choice assignments at the beginning of the school year. Major
exams are given at the end of each novel. These normally consist of short-answer and essay questions and
are worth three to four grades.
Other tasks assigned throughout the course include presentations, debates, poetry responses, and
quick-writes. The weight of each of these assignments is based on their level of complexity.
Beaty, Jerome, et al., eds. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton &
Davis, Robert Con, and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Literary and Cultural Studies.
4th ed. New York: Longman, 1998.
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: Modern Language
Association of America, 2003.
Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
AP Central: apcentral.collegeboard.com
Films Used in the Course
Hamlet. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Columbia Tristar, 1996. Available on VHS at Amazon
Hamlet. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Warner Home Video, 2005. Available on DVD at Amazon
Optional After-School Reading Sessions
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Plays are better suited for these conferences since they tend to be shorter than novels. While we read and
even perform some parts in class, the majority of the students’ work is done at home. We therefore meet
to discuss central issues or to clarify questions that arise as students read independently. The following
are examples of notes given to students prior to their reading. The essay, however, is optional; if students
choose to complete it, I review their essays without assigning actual grades.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Themes to Consider: death, dependency, gender stereotypes, illusion versus reality, loneliness,
passion, violence, and sexuality
Essay Question (1991 AP Open-Ended Question):
Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns,
two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the
meaning of the work.
Choose a novel or a play that contrasts two such places. Write an essay explaining how the places
differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Themes to Consider: education, female/male relationships, racism, religion, sensuality, sexism, and
sisterhood. Also consider the structure and narrator of the novel.
Choose two diary entries—one from the earlier part of the novel and one from the latter—
and explain how each plays a pivotal role in the development of either characterization or theme.
Avoid plot summary.
Major Works Study Form
Setting (describe each setting and its importance):
Symbols (describe how they contribute to the characterization, conflict, or thematic concerns):
Chalk Talk and Related Activities
A. Varying the approaches to the analysis of literature in an AP course is vital for maintaining student
interest and involvement. Although discussions and essays are useful tools, chalk talks allow
timid students to share their viewpoints and deter others from speaking on impulse. Chalk talks
consist of taping large pieces of butcher paper along the walls of the classroom with one significant
question posed on each. Students are then given markers and asked to walk around the room and
respond to each question. They may also comment on the responses recorded by their peers. The
protocol, however, demands that everyone remains silent. The following questions may be used for
1. What is Edna Pontellier’s awakening?
2. How would the original title, A Solitary Soul, affect your perception of the novel?
3. What role does setting play in the novel?
4. Are there any victims in the novel? If so, who?
5. Is Edna Pontellier’s suicide a failure, tragedy, or triumph?
6. What is Chopin’s attitude toward the various characters in the novel, particularly the female
B. After approximately 45 minutes, ask students to sit and have each one quickly relate a comment
with which they strongly agree or disagree.
C. Once all students have responded, they write an introductory paragraph for questions one, three,
or five. This final step requires that they organize their thoughts and arrive at a conclusion.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested