Essay Organization – Three Common Methods

Organizing Literary Analysis-What's Your Plan-

Writing a timed essay for an AP exam is stressful for even the most confident of students. The job of an AP teacher (or any writing teacher honestly) is to provide as many tools as possible for the student to have in their writing toolbox. Having different methods of organization is fundamental because it provides the outline and structure for the analysis and ideas of the essay. Organizing can be challenging because there is no one “right” way to do this. Below are the three most common ways to organize a timed writing response with examples of sample essays from AP central.KEEP READING

Using Sample Essays to Improve Student Writing

Anchor Student Writing

One of the most underused resources in AP Literature are the sample essays (or anchor essays as I call them) on the College Board AP Lit exam page. College Board provides sample responses for Question 1 (poetry), Question 2 (prose), and Question 3 (open-ended) for every year dating back to 2003. In addition to the essays, College Board provides a summary justifying the scores the essays received at the reading. These essays are GOLD, and the possibilities of using them to improve student writing are endless. Here are a few ways I use them in class:KEEP READING

Five Books to Jump Start 2017

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With so many books and so little time to read, our AP Lit Help team offers reviews of their favorite professional reads from last year. Happy reading and learning in 2017!

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Writing with Mentors – How to Reach Every Writer in the Room, Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell                                                                                                                                                   Review by Jori Krulder

Writing with Mentors is one of those books with ideas so straightforward and obviously useful that you ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of this years ago?” It is based on the simple premise that the best way to create engaged and independent writers is by teaching them to find and use current texts as models for writing. Students read and analyze the text and use what they learn to write their own texts. In addition to providing step-by-step ways to build units of study tailored to the needs of your students, this book offers several resources for finding the real world texts that will help students to see the possibilities out there when it comes to writing. Once I learn the process for finding a mentor text to fit the needs and interests in my classroom and using it to guide students in creating their own writing, I was given limitless possibilities for instruction. And once students learn the process, they’re also able to apply it to future writing endeavors. This book empowers both students and teachers with one of the most important gifts of learning: independence.

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Who’s Doing the Work? By Jan Burkins                                                                                                                                       Review by Elizabeth Metheny

I read Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ new book, Who’s Doing the Work?, at the start of this school year. It was a perfect shot-in-the-arm to help me reflect upon my role in student learning. I’ve taught high school English for ten years and have worked with all skill levels from struggling freshmen to Advanced Placement seniors. As I read through the book I saw myself in many of their examples. When students struggle, teachers often feel responsible to do more. Check! When teachers define, scaffold, or summarize for students, the student becomes dependent upon the teacher. Check! When students are assigned a complex text, they rarely use the strategies teachers have taught them. Check!  Burkins and Yaris argue that reading and English Language Arts teachers must take a step back and allow their students to grapple with material. Additionally, they explain how teachers can make easy adjustments to facilitate authentic learning and how those adjustments can help students become more independent and capable of transferring their learning.

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Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie                                                       Review by Roy F. Smith

What started out as required reading for a professional development session, John Hattie’s book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning turned out to be an essential addition to my professional library.  Hattie’s work is grounded in data and effectively argues for a visible “practice of teaching.”  While most teachers work to assist their students in becoming more knowledgeable, Hattie focuses on those teachers who are “expert teachers” in their disciplines.  Hattie argues that these expert teachers are not only content experts, but they are also “passionate and inspired teachers.” Visible Learning leads teachers and administrators to an understanding of the strategies and techniques these knowledgeable and passionate teachers practice every day.  Hattie’s work is not a “theory only” lecture. The heart of his book develops the key stages of the expert teacher’s daily lessons. He delineates a framework that includes chapters on preparing lessons, starting lessons, the flow of lessons, feedback, and the end of the lesson.  Evaluating expert teachers’ strategies to make learning “visible” for all students, and putting these strategies under rigorous scientific measures, helps all teachers practice these strategies in their own classrooms.  Hattie sums up his book’s goal when he claims that “My point is that teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we have some control – and this book outlines those beliefs and commitments.”      

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In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom by Kelly Gallagher                         Review by Susan Barber

Seeing Kelly Gallagher’s name with “the best interest of students” on a book left me no choice but to buy, and this book did not disappoint. Gallagher honestly reviews Common Core standards and argues that teachers need to stay true to teaching reading and writing rather than a set of standards. This book provides practical and theoretical content, old and new ideas, and teacher and student insight. In a world where many educators seem to either be highly outspoken against the standards or all in with them, Gallagher walks the line between the two putting best practices and students at the forefront of the book rather than engaging in an argument about standards, the current state of education, or the despair of literacy in today’s society. Some of the book is common sense which in my opinion is what is missing from many of today’s classrooms. Other parts of the book fights for student choice and engagement pushing educators to stay current with research and continue to grow as an educator.  My copy is already earmarked and worn from use already, and I have no doubt yours will be as well.

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The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark                                                                                                                       Review by Susan Barber             

I read a lot. I grade a lot. I confer a lot. So when I find a book with lessons ready to roll out in my classes, I have found a gem. The Art of X-Ray Reading is a gem. From Fitzgerald to Shakespeare to Homer to Joyce to Morrison, Clark provides a lesson for a section of a text focusing on close reading. Do not confuse the term “close reading” here with a fad of filling out a worksheet on a passage but rather a serious study of a section. Students wade through syntax, determine diction and connotation, and tie the small to the big picture of the work. Clark turns the texts into mentor texts for writing and labs for teaching reading skills. His lessons are meaty, thorough, and engaging. Though only providing lessons for twenty-five works, teachers apply the principles of these lessons to any and every work taught in their classrooms. 

Best Lesson Series (Concept 1e)

I would be amiss if I failed to remind you of the Talks with Teachers book The Best Lesson Series: Literature written by teachers for teachers. If you have not read this, you are missing out!

What was the best professional book you read last year?

Quick Writes

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Recently, I received a Facebook message from Travis, a student that I’d had the privilege of working with in my 11th grade English class several years ago. He wanted to tell me “In the spirit of Thanksgiving” how much my quick writes helped him “grow as a person.”  

This message surprised me, as my quick writes are nothing revolutionary; students are given a prompt and simply write their thoughts on the topic for 5 minutes. Next, the class discusses their ideas about the topic – usually for about 10 minutes, sometimes more if the discussion takes off, and then we move on to the next activity. Occasionally, the prompt is related to the main activity/lesson of the day and sometimes it is just a topic I think the students might like to discuss. You can find countless great prompt ideas on the internet – a wonderful one I found recently was in the New York Times titled Questions that Lead to LoveBut all that’s really required to make a good quick write prompt is that it’s thought-provoking. Later in the year, you can even mix things up by letting the students write the prompts.KEEP READING

Bridging the Gap between AP Language and Literature

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I became an English teacher largely because I love literature. Most of us would consider ourselves “readers” and have a love for words that led us to this career. That’s why I was really surprised when I loved AP Language so much.  There was no poetry, very little fiction, just nonfiction works (articles, essays, speeches, letters) to synthesize, analyze, and argue.  AP Language gets down the building blocks of why and how an author uses words to achieve his purpose. From my first introduction to the course, I found myself analyzing every sermon, televised speech, and opinion column for its use of rhetoric. … KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Reader: “Juggler” Question 1

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Writing a timed essay for the AP exam on “Juggler” by Richard Wilbur was much like juggling; students had to manage a prompt asking them to analyze the juggler and the speaker’s attitude toward the juggler while considering poetic devices Wilbur detail the juggler and the speaker. Trevor Packer from College Board posted on Twitter last week that students “continue to find analyzing poetry more difficult than prose” in regard to this year’s AP Lit exam; writing about poetry may be the biggest challenge for students in AP Lit. After reading approximately 1,200 students essays, here are my observations and takeaways from this year’s reading.

What Students Did Well:

  • Taking advantage of multiple entry points in the poem
  • Addressing both literal and figurative meanings
  • Identifying poetic devices

Even though I definitely scored more lower level essays than higher level, I was surprised at what students were able to accomplish in approximately 40 minutes. Essays scoring a 4 often offered good thoughts about the poem but failed to go deep or back up ideas with textual support. I came away encouraged that AP teachers are teaching students to find the point of the poem they connect to or identify with and enter the poem there. KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Lit Reader: Question 2

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The College Board dotingly refers to their first-time readers as acorns and even distinguishes us with an acorn on our name badge.  “The Reading,” as it is so fondly referred to, is a surprisingly pleasant professional development opportunity that involves reading 1.2 million essays in a collaborative effort with colleagues from all over the country and even the world.

When the Chief Reader report comes out it will be a valuable resource for all teachers. According to College Board, sadly only 11% of teachers who access the exam questions take advantage of the material provided by the question leaders.  This will use much more sophisticated vocabulary likely including words such as penultimate and ubiquitous. In the meantime, here are my observations as a first-time reader on Question 2 that are designed to be helpful for implementation into the AP Literature classroom.  KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Lit Reader: Question 3

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Many of the lessons I learned from reading Question 3 essay after essay were ones I’d learned before, but the prevalence of some the problems that cropped up reinforced in my mind the points I am going to emphasize with my students next year. Here are some of the crucial ideas I’ll be bringing to my classroom this fall:

Introductions: GET to the point and HAVE a point

AP readers who are looking at many, many essays for many, many hours do not enjoy reading lengthy introductions. Students have a very limited time to write their essays and readers will understand (and appreciate) not having to hunt for a thesis amidst historical accounts of the author’s time period and your thoughts on which politicians tend to lie the most. Do not bother to restate the prompt, as I can assure you, many, many students have already done and do not give a laundry list of the three literary techniques you will be discussing in your essay. Instead, formulate an idea that answers the prompt using the novel you have chosen and hopefully incorporating the meaning of the novel as a whole and get on with your essay. KEEP READING

Summer Writing

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Assigning summer reading for students is commonplace in most schools. All research supports the need for students to remain active in learning over the summer in order to continue to make intellectual gains and move forward in skill building. Students are assigned a book or two to read during summer break providing the opportunity to continue to build critical reading and thinking skills.

But what about writing? Other than a possible essay on the assigned reading during summer break, most students do not have regular writing practice over the summer and miss out on the benefits of continued writing skill building. Fortunately for me, the AP Lit teacher who preceded me recognized this and had students keep a summer journal. I loved this idea and decided to keep it when I began teaching AP Lit and morphed it into my own assignment by asking students to explore the city and experience some different activities. Here is a copy of the assignment my students will receive before the end of the year: KEEP READING

No More Poetry and Prose Prompt Predicaments

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No formula exists for writing the perfect AP essay; however, these general guidelines can give students confidence and serve as reminders going into the exam.

Typical poetry prompts include:

  • Analyzing how the structure of the poem affects the overall meaning of the poem
  • Discussing how poetic devices are used to convey meaning
  • Discussing similarities and differences between two poems, considering style and theme 
  • Contrast the speaker’s views toward a subject in two poems, referring to tone, form, and imagery.
  • Analyzing an extended metaphor

Typical prose prompts include:

  • Analyzing characterization through narrative and literary techniques
  • Analyzing the attitude of the author including tone and style
  • Analyzing the relationship between the characters or a character and the setting.                                                       

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