If you are in the AP Language and Composition group on Facebook, you have probably seen the many manifestations of The Murder of Allen Ripley activity. The basic premise is that students come in to find the room transformed into a crime scene. Then, they are tasked with solving the murder. It’s a great activity to practice synthesis and line of reasoning! (MAD Shout-Out to Patti Snowden, who created and posted the assignment).
Seeing all the cool posts and reactions, I was immediately sold. As a true crime fanatic… you know, the type that falls asleep to Forensic Files every night and squeals at every new crime docuseries on Netflix… I was so excited to try this out with my class. We are jumping into our next topic unit on gun violence, so it seemed like a great way to hook them. (Again - all credit to Patti Snowden. I just tweaked an already awesome learning experience).
For our version of this activity, we used two days. One day for students to act as law enforcement and study the crime scene, witness testimonies, and synthesize information to create an arrest warrant. The next day, they were handed another group’s warrant and asked to act as prosecutors or defense lawyers, composing a compelling opening argument. We use standards-based grading, so we decided to assess their opening argument on Evidence and Commentary. Here is how we describe proficiency for these opening arguments:
Now… if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am admittedly super “extra” when it comes to planning lessons like this. So in addition to the activity designed so wonderfully by Snowden, I added a few more curveballs and added bonuses. Here are some ideas (and materials) that you can take to your own classroom!
Day 1: Law
The first day, students are practicing synthesis and critical thinking. They treat the case file like the sources for Question 1 on the exam and make connections to defend claims about motive, opportunity, and means of operation.
Day 2: Order
The second day, students are practicing on-demand persuasive writing. They are also encouraged to engage in counterargument. This practice will help with both Question 1 and 3 on the exam.
Overall, I'd say it was an overwhelming success. In the afternoon of Day 1, I had students coming to class saying such gems as:
"I heard English was actually fun today!" (Eye roll.)
"I'm excited to solve a murder!"
And after the first day, they were asking if they could put the suspects on trial. (Had it been a more convenient time - not a couple days before the big music trip to Chicago - I would have added a full mock trial.) The fact that they were so excited about argument and reasoning is such a credit to Snowden and her great activity!
If you haven't already, I STRONGLY recommend you implement this in your classroom. Have a great week, all!
I am the elusive English teacher that hates poetry.
Actually, I don't HATE poetry. I love rupi kaur poems, song lyrics, and Pablo Neruda. I just hate everything education has done to ruin poetry. For the kids. For myself.
Which is why I was a bit hesitant to take on AP Literature and Composition last year - where half the test is poetry! (#cringe)
Nonetheless, I have managed to find my way around the hated scansion and poetic form bits so that I can hate it a little less. For instance, last year we focused on global voices and poets. Below is my little crash course version of the unit.
Global Voices: The Danger of a Single Story
#2. Poetry FRQs
There are two terrific poetry (Question 1) Free Response Questions by foreign born poets that I used with this unit to great success: 2011's "A Story" by Li-Young Lee and "XIV" by Derek Walcott from the 2015 exam. Below are prewriting templates I used with students.
#3. PUrple Hibiscus Prose Analysis
Yes. I realize this isn't really poetry practice, but this is a short prose analysis activity I brought in to review Question 2 as well.
#4. COnflict in Poetry
I wanted to review conflict with my students at some point in this lesson last year, so I put together a gallery walk. Below are the poems and the handout they completed:
#5. Abstract Relationships
This is a lesson I added on this year. Another gallery walk, this one is helping students think about the "broader context" that is required of them for the sophistication point. I went through my own sample of analyzing abstract ideas
#6. Emoji Annotation
And that's what I got! Like I said, I am a very reluctant poetry teacher, but these activities have worked well for me and my students. Hope it helps!
<< This is me any time I am about to post materials for AP Literature and Composition. While I have been teaching AP Language and Composition for years (ok... five), I don't feel like I have much authority in talking about AP Lit, as it is only my second year.
Nonetheless... I'm going to pretend that I know what I am talking about.
Currently, my AP Literature class is working through Shakespeare, but I have a VERY different approach than most take with Shakespeare.
For instance, I have not "read" with any of my students in the Hamlet or Macbeth group. However, they aren't struggling. In fact, they are catching on better than a lot of past students. Today, the Hamlet students made fullsize character maps and picked out nuanced points of analysis, such as: Hamlet's blind motivation and Claudius' complex perception of Hamlet.
Note that these kids struggle with reading. For the past two years, they have struggled with multiple choice the most of any group I've worked with. They can - however - still do this.
So I promise you: They can read Shakespeare on their own.
In fact, when they discover things themselves - like the rumor that Othello was intimate with Iago's wife or that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are essentially traitors - they get much more enjoyment out of it. Its an accomplishment, and they're proud. (As they should be!)
One issue with structuring Shakespeare this way means adapting character analysis assignments to fit each group setup and preference. (Yes. I have three versions of every assignment. No. It did not take my forever to set it up). Therefore, I got stuff to share! Three variations of how to analyze character.
Option 1: Actor Portrayal Promos
This one occurred to me just the other day. I was watching videos on the Royal Shakespeare Company's website and they have a series in which actors discuss the complexities of their characters. I immediately thought, "What a great way to practice analyzing character!" Hence, I threw together (like, in five minutes) an activity.
Option 2: Character Maps
I wanted something more interactive for my students reading Hamlet, because their preference is group assignments. I looked to an old favorite - the character map - but adapted it to align better to AP Literature standards. The original assignment asks simpler questions: How does the character feel? What do they love most? To match up to AP standards, I swapped those out for questions about character perspective, inconsistencies, complex relationships. etc. Below is both the screenshot from my Schoology page as well as the makeup version.
My Schoology post also included the following description of proficiency:
A proficient character map will use multiple textual details to make inferences about the character. These will show clearly on the map. There will also be evidence of analysis. For instance, when describing relationships, you will describe the complexity (_____ yet _______).
Option 3: Choice Based
This option may be a bit scary for some teachers. However, I spent the entire first semester setting kids up to determine their preferred products and assessments. That said, the option (for my Macbeth kids) just allows kids to take it wherever they want:
And that's what I got! If you'd like more of my varied assignments, comment below! Differentiation is something I am very passionate about, but that I also recognize terrifies many people (including myself sometimes). If there is anything more I can go or create to help you make it happen, let me know!
Just a quick post today! Earlier this week, I shared out my video library on Facebook and posted it as a free resource on my TpT store. I figured I better share it here too!
My name is Steph, and I have a problem.
I'm addicted to teaching trends.
If you are like me, you get excited by new approaches and new ideas. I get so excited - like I mentioned - that I jump off the edge and straight into whatever the new idea is.
At the moment, the trend is "gamification" or using game methodology and competition to motivate students. It's something that I read about a couple summers ago, and now, I have finally found a way to bring it into my AP Language class!
For my unit, I found no better fit than to "gamify" AP multiple choice. Usually, just the mention of multiple choice makes my students cringe and groan, so I assumed this was the best opportunity to practice our reading standards in a fun way.
Below, I have my unit overview, video resources, XP point overview, and primary assignments. (If you want the full collection of resources: check out my TpT store!)
Veteran and newbie AP teachers alike faced a difficult task this year: rewriting a curriculum to suit a new course description and frankly, a new test. As an AP teacher somewhere in the middle, I tried to embrace what was useful and build on what I already had (and honestly, cringed that I spent ALL last year compiling every single AP lesson).
One big mind shift was in regards to standards. As mentioned previously, I use Standards Based Grading, and in the past, I parcelled the FRQs out as Standard 5B: Analytic Writing (Rhetorical Analysis) and Standard 5C: Persuasive Writing (Synthesis and Argument). Now, however, with the new rubrics, the standards are pretty straightforward: thesis development, evidence and commentary, and sophistication and voice.
The greatest achievement in these changes, for me, is that my job is better spelled out. AP wants a defensible thesis; I can teach what that looks like and we can define "defensible." AP wants sophistication; I can break down the ways to do that as outlined in the new rubric.
Everyone else might be complaining, but I am actually a little relieved.
Because I am using a self-paced, individualized method, my students take notes on my instructional videos to start each unit. Below are my uploaded videos on thesis development and evidence/commentary.
Below is my base notes video overview. Then I model composing a thesis for all three question types.
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So there it is. I figured I could just sit on these until people find them or share them out. They aren't perfect - and I might even re-record some of them next year - but it's a start!
After a year of posting my lesson plans, I am so excited to be back, posting for a new year. As is my nature, I will turn things upside down this year, but I promise to keep posting new materials to help other teachers out there find their own success.
To be more specific, this year I am embarking on personalized instruction, meaning that curriculum will be catered to student need and choice. It will be flexible (which is my nightmare). It will be hard (which is my M. O.). But it will also be such an adventure.
But more about that later.
Today, I want to talk about writing for the not-so-confident writing teacher because my lovely colleague (like, the colleague that goes above and beyond for EVERYONE … and their cousin) is taking on senior composition and asked for my help. I figured I would compile my "wisdom" for you at the same time.
So that’s the plan.
Now, I am not your traditional English teacher. I don’t really like to read. I like to talk about novels and characters and all that, and I like to write about them even more. However, unlike most of my peers, I do not relish the idea of sitting down and reading a book. In fact, I force myself to do it only to model for my reluctant readers. It was never the idea of reading The Crucible every year that got me into English education. It was writing.
While other teachers were finely honing their skills with teaching literature, I (honestly) skipped my reading assignments and devoured all the material I could on writing. (I do not condone not doing the reading, but in no way am I worse person because I SparkNoted Oliver Twist. Just sayin'). Over time, this passionate pursuit helped my pick out my fundamental writing practices.
That's not to say I am some writing expert, but having taught primarily composition courses throughout my career, it is where my strength lies. And throughout that experience, I have learned a few fundamental things about writing instruction. Here they are…
Students (and You!) Should Write Every Day.
Furthermore, it gives you a rare chance to write with them. As a young teacher, I thought I had to hold students accountable by wandering around the room and watching over their shoulders, but that’s not the only way. (And frankly, at nearly 6 feet tall, I usually intimidate them). Rather, sit down and write with them, and if you’re feeling brave, SHARE what you wrote.
That vulnerability breaks down a lot of walls that the education system has put up between teachers and students. When you write about the terrible morning you have or even that fact that you yourself don’t feel like writing, it shows students how all of that is part of the process and (shocker!) that you’re human. Students like human teachers, and being open with them in this way, adds to your own credibility. And, if you didn’t know, that is one of the few things that actually impacts student success: their perception of the teacher’s credibility. (See below)
Students need to see #thestruggle.
And it’s no wonder.
I was giving them the exact formula. I had sat down and written out the entire model, making sure every step was clear and well-laid out. In doing so, I showed them inauthentic writing. I gave them vanilla writing when I wanted rocky road.
That’s why they need to see you struggle a bit. If we display writing in a perfectly outlined, error-free way, that’s what they think it is supposed to look like, and we all know that isn’t how good writing happens. We revise. We cross out entire sections. We start over! Students need to see that all writers - even their “expert” English teacher - muck it up sometimes. It helps them feel more confident in their writing while still walking them through the process.
Students need one-on-one time.
It’s a fair question. One that I battle with weekly, if not daily. It’s honestly my primary motivation for the move to personalized learning. I want that time to sit down and talk through students’ work.
To make it happen, it takes a fair amount of ground work. For instance, the first week of school, we’ll talk at length about expectations for what I call “Breakout Time.” They will create their own rules for the time, and then they can keep one another accountable while I’m working with their peers. This, of course, also takes a safe culture where they are invested in one another’s success. (Something else that needs to start Week 1).
The next obstacle is people don’t know what to do in these conferences. The simplest way to start is just assessing the work with the student sitting there. Because I work in the AP world, I like to read through their essays, stopping to point out gaps, weaknesses, and strengths in the writing, and then, I’ll simple explain why the essay gets the score I assign it. Basically, it’s a think aloud of your own grading process (which also means you don’t have to grade it on prep). Start simple and work your way up to more complex writing conferences about growth and writing nuance. They don't need to be perfectly designed. They just need to happen.
Students need to write together.
This forces kids to work through a draft sentence by sentence, talking about the best possible way to present an idea and coming to consensus about what needs to be written.
It’s not a fast process. I’ll tell you that. It takes about twice as long as a normal draft, but that’s because they labor over every word and sentence so that they are all in agreement. Their conversations are about writing purpose, style, and development. Instead of everyone staring at one kid writing on a piece of paper, they are talking about it in a way that brings out their best.
In my experience, I like this process in both mixed and homogenous groups. Mixed groups allow more sophisticated writers to talk their peers through the weaknesses in their ideas. Homogenous groups allow students to see other students struggle with the same things. Both have been successful and both bring forth profound conversations about writing.
Students need a little pressure with their writing.
As an English teacher, I find myself asking my non-teacher friends (all three of them) about the type of writing they do in their jobs, and I think about the non-classroom writing I do for my own. This, along with my higher education experience, has taught me that being able to formulate and compose ideas quickly is a very valuable skill. From realizing you have a one page reflection due in 20 minutes to throwing off an email between classes, I have utilized on-demand writing skills countless times. Preparing students for this reality is a huge advantage with on-demand writing.
There is also the benefit of not having to track down missing work. While there are some unavoidables like the absent kid or the rare one sentence on the page kid, collecting writing after a set time means you get something from every kid in the class. It may not be pretty. It may need more work, but at least you have something to assess them from.
That said, I feel equally passionately that any on-demand writing should be reworked if needed. Revision is the truest way to become a stronger writer, so all on-demand writing, because it is completed on a time crunch, should be afforded the chance to improve.
Students should write for real people (because teachers are obviously, not real).
Students work harder for real people. If I tell them that their essays are going to be read by a college composition teacher, they will try a bit harder. If I tell them the work will be submitted for a contest, they’ll work even harder. That’s just how it is. (Imagine how motivated they get when there is a cash prize for the contest).
While you won’t always be able to find or create these authentic experiences, any time you can, DO IT! You’ll see a fire lit under their butts that you’ve never seen before. Just be sure to put your ego in check. The reality is that they don’t always care what you think, but they really care what “real world” people think. (Prepare yourself for that hit to the ego now.)
Here are some great authentic writing options you can work in:
Students need to see writing done well.
The biggest objection I see when it comes to mentor texts is the fear that students just mimic or even copy the mentor text. And that is the reality, especially with grade obsessed little sweeties like my AP kids. They want to do it “right” and that makes them cling to the mentor text. This is where the modeling step can be profoundly helpful. In writing my own samples, I’ll explain how I am taking some ideas from the mentor text: “I like how they start with an anecdote, so I think I’ll do the same.” I also, however, explain where I go off on my own limb: “I like the idea of breaking a memoir narrative into short vignettes, but my story is more interconnected, so it might make more sense to structure it as a unified narrative.”
Providing multiple mentor texts can also accomplish this. I intentionally choose student samples each year that took their own spin on a mentor text or went in a completely different direction, even if the writing isn’t as sophisticated as another sample. Showing them the value of risk and creativity encourages them to take chances with their own writing.
Below are three mentor texts for personal narrative: a published work, my own sample, and a student sample.
Students need to understand the process of writing.
Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher illustrate this by referring to summative drafts as “Best Drafts” to show that revisions and editing should never stop. It is ongoing. Therefore, revision is essential in a successful writing class. I referred to this briefly before, but revision teaches more than you can as a teacher. Asking a student to simply read a draft aloud one more time can show them silly mistakes and awkward wording better than a red mark on a piece of paper. Asking students to read the writing of their peers can help them see where they can go, but also that their challenges are also the challenges of others.
Offering revision of all writing has created a remarkable shift in my classroom. I set deadlines for these revisions as well as tasks they must complete before they can revise. This, first of all, limits the amount of re-scoring I have to do, but also forces the kids to really think about the changes they should be making to the writing. Some of my “before you can revise” activities include: recording a reading of the draft, coming in for a writing conference, annotating the draft based on a revision guide, and peer revision.
Second, allowing revision has all but ended my parent complaints. (I’m frantically looking for wood to knock on and cringing as I even write that). Students know from the beginning that they have the opportunity to revise, and it’s their choice if they want to take that opportunity. When they choose not to and their grade drops, I refer parents to these opportunities and the responsibility falls back on the student (as it should).
I hope, as you read them, these things seem familiar - basically, they’re just best practice - but moreso, I hope that I have silenced some of those voices in your head that say its impossible. Because, it really isn’t. I am no super teacher, making everyone else in the building marvel at what I can accomplish. I am just an English teacher tucked away in a corner making the most of the time I got with kids, and not once have I nailed all of these things all year, every day. I’ve instead added something to the list each year and hoped for the best, so if you are feeling overwhelmed (Me. All the time.), try adding one of these writing practices.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Again, this unit is very test heavy, so feel free to adapt, change, ignore what I've got. I've tried to link any resources from my Schoology page that might be helpful!
Today, I am sharing my self-paced content for Standards 1 (Prewriting) and Standard 2 (Prose and Voice). Below, I have explained the contents for each folder as well as linked the resources I have shared with students.