AP Lit Quickfire Challenge

 Have you ever had one of those loose-ends days where the students are tired, you’re worn down, and everyone is a bit unmotivated or even unwilling to give the content or curriculum the TLC it deserves? I offer you a quick fix, or “fixe” if you will…the AP Lit Quickfire Challenge!

Inspired by the “Quickfire Challenge” on reality show Top Chef, students have one class period, and one class period only, to create an intentionally designed product highlighting the literary element dujour. Similarly to the show, students may only use whatever’s in the kitchen. And by kitchen, I mean classroom.

Here’s how it went down in my room:

Day before:

The day before the activity, my students worked in small groups to determine an agreed upon poem from a chosen selection in our anthologies.That evening they completed a TP-CASTT analysis of their chosen poems, so I knew they’d be coming to class with a pretty in-depth analysis. What I wanted was for students to demonstrate and extend their understanding of the poem’s theme or meaning.

Day of:

When I got to school, I dug out every shred of craft supplies I could find and asked my teacher neighbors for their donations. I ended up with two tables of the following: note cards, file folders, paper bags, ribbon, scissors, glue, feathers, tissue paper, fabric scraps, magazines, markers, Play-Doh, popsicle sticks, paint, buttons, bulletin board paper, glitter, stickers, and plastic cups.

Then, I did some meditative breathing and deep knee bends. (Kidding!) But I was excited and I knew my students would be, too.

I created a catchy slide for the day teasing the activity, so when my students walked in they knew they were in for something novel, something fun. After everyone was settled, I passed out the assignment and hit the high points:

To consider and discuss the following:

  1. What are the most interesting or important lines of the poem you studied?
  2. What makes those lines significant? Can you categorize the lines (e.g., imagery, simile, tone shift)?
  3. Working backwards a bit, how do your observations CREATE the poem’s theme?
  4. What is the most precise and nuanced word/s for the poem’s theme? (Consider the 4-year-old questioning technique.)
  5. Where in the poem is the direct connection between the literature and being a human?
  6. Going back to your evidence, evaluate it. What is the strongest evidence in support of the precise, nuanced theme?

And also:

Students MUST account for the following:

  • Poem’s title & author
  • Theme
  • 3 pieces of strong and well-considered evidence (that create theme in poem and support theme in analysis)
  • A way of explaining how the evidence supports the theme

Students MUST have:

An intentionally designed product that highlights or illuminates a poem’s theme and demonstrates your understanding of the meaning of the poem and your literary expertise

After the project pitch, we were in the juice and ideas were cooking — students were discussing their poems, strategizing their game plans for their products, grabbing supplies, and crafting their well-reasoned and “on the spot” product.


I set aside the last 10 minutes of class for students to gallery walk and talk to other groups about their products. Because all of the students had read all of the poems, it was fascinating to watch them make sense of one another’s work.

It goes without saying that this was a really fun day in my class, but here’s what I saw as the academic takeaways:

  • Students worked hard to make their product concept work, and there was some beauty in that. Instead of TP-CASTT being the end-game, the task required them to think through the literature, to imagine and create a representation of the meaning of the poem. My role was simply to coach and to comment, to offer suggestions and adjustments. I was the Tom Colicchio of the classroom.  
  • Students seemed to have a more developed understanding of the meaning of their poem. They anchored new thoughts and ideas and developed conclusions about their poem’s theme by “making something.” Several students wrote their Poetry Response Journal (a weekly writing activity) about the poem they’d used in the challenge. Their developed insights were evident in their writing, and I noticed more thorough and mature understandings than compared to that of previous response journals.
  • Students participated and had fun, and that matters. And to me, it matters especially when you’re in a rut or battling a bout of Senioritis. The Quickfire challenge helped us to grow and continue to build community.

My final thoughts are this: an exciting day in the classroom is a day when we are challenged and taking risks. The Quickfire challenge can do just that.


8 thoughts on “AP Lit Quickfire Challenge

  1. Love this idea! Are they allowed to write anything on their projects? Like an individual word from the poem on a cup?

  2. This is the coolest culminating activity I have ever seen! So many possibilities and what a great way to tap into kids’ creativity in the process of digging into deeper analysis at the same time they’re articulating a theme in a novel way. Thank you for this.


  3. Thanks so much for sharing! Yesterday I had my AP Lit students choose poems for their groups, telling them only that they needed to choose one to really get to know and they’d learn more next class. They completed the challenge today, and the finished products exceeded my highest expectations!
    Even students who are satisfied coasting on their group members’ efforts took a proud and active role. I will DEFINITELY be using this activity again!

  4. Happy to hear folks have had success with this activity!

    Melissa S., I gave my students a wide open door. The lack of restrictions and guidelines made the activity even more challenging — they really had to think on their feet!

  5. My students are doing this today as their first APLit/Art challenge– while their final products are not spectacular beyond belief, they continue to improve with practice and a little bit of trust! Thanks for the idea!

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