Literary Terms meets Periodic Table

When it comes to literary terms and how to teach them in the AP classroom, I am often stumped. Typically my approach is to teach them in context, and students seem to have a grasp on those terms. I don’t quiz students on terms and definitions. Early in my teaching of AP, I did this and found students simply memorized the terms and definitions without much skill in applying them to the text they were working with. This is what I wanted to avoid. I want my students to be prepared for the exam and to be able to apply terminology to the texts they read.

This year, I decided to try something different. When I began working at my current school, I inherited a periodic table of literature from my predecessor. I’ve loved looking at it and seem to discover a new author each time I view it. Each element has the initials of a famous author, and each author is plugged into the periodic table. This poster served as the inspiration for the literary term assignment.

I knew what I wanted the end product to look like, the poster on my wall, but I wasn’t sure how to get the students there. When we returned from break we borrowed copies of the periodic table of elements from our chemistry teacher and examined the organization of the elements. Students decided to organize the literary terms into four categories: drama, poetry, literature, and general list of terms. The students paired up and began filling in the empty template I found in Google. Students began to fill in the chart using terms they were familiar with. The conversation was encouraging because as the students worked to fill in the chart they began to recall terms we had gone over or ones they had learned from past teachers. After they had exhausted their knowledge base they began searching for terms to complete the chart.

The day before the project was due we shared the charts in class. Because my class is small, we combined the five charts into one. Students used the remainder of the class to pool their terms into one chart complete with definitions.  When we meet again, I may suggest adding some terms to the list and removing a few of the more obscure terms that would not be frequently used. Once we get the chart finished I plan to print it and have it on display in our classroom so students can refer to the terms as we work toward the exam in May. Students will have access to a printed copy of the definitions as well as the shared document in Google.

Amy Adams teaches AP Lit and 9 – 12th grade English in Iowa and loves learning with her students every day.  Family and education are her two passions.