Ideas for Writing Woes

I was talking to my AP Literature class yesterday, and when I asked them how they were feeling about the AP test we’ll be taking next week, the response was mixed. While most students feel that they have the skills they need to go in and be successful, there was some apprehension. “What do I do if I hit a wall?” one of my students asked. When I asked her what she meant, she went on to say, “If I read the poem or passage, and just have nothing to write, what do I do?”

I had a few suggestions for her, but I knew who to ask to get the best ideas. On Voxer, a messaging app that also allows you to record voice messages, I have a group of the kindest, most intelligent, and most generous educators that you will ever find. We all teach AP Literature and Composition and regularly share ideas, triumphs, and troubleshooting in our conversations, so I brought my question to these lovely people. The solutions they shared were so great, I thought I’d share them here.

If you get stuck on a prompt and aren’t sure what to write, you can:

  • Go back and reread the prompt. Circle the key words and phrases and then reread the text and circle words and phrases in the text. Literally draw a line from one to the other and make notes on how the ideas in the text correspond to what the prompt is asking.
  • Start at the beginning and work your way through the text chronologically, explaining what you do understand.
  • Look at the title of the poem and write about what it means.
  • Look at the first and last line of the text (works particularly well with a poem) and talk about how it changed.
  • Look back at the text and annotate, asking yourself What? How? and Why?  What does the writer say? How does he say it? Why does he say it? Use your answers to write your essay.
  • Find an entry point anywhere in the text – something you do understand. Write about that and then try to find something else in the text that connects to that entry point. Write about that. Keep going.

While the above suggestions may not be the ideal way to approach writing an AP Lit essay, they can function as a lifesaver for a student floundering by themselves on test day, and a security blanket for students anxious about the test.
My job in this last week before the test is to remind students of the skills they’ve developed all year and to reassure them that they have everything they need to sit down and do their best. I’m so grateful that I get to work with them and my amazing colleagues in the AP Lit community.