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Strategies for Teaching English AP Literature

by Michael Stratford, studioD

Teaching English AP Literature means test preparation, since AP test success, according to studies, predicts college success. Instruction in AP multiple choice and short essay questions is obviously essential; however, that doesn't mean you need to create a test-driven class. AP teacher strategies for student engagement through literature are designed not to drill, but to guide AP students through unfamiliar literary and linguistic territory.

Wall of Words and beyond

The Wall of Words is a vocabulary strategy used for AP Literature classes to go beyond memorizing; students can also use master vocabulary lists to recognize syntactical patterns in wording. Both strategies encourage them to write contextual sentences, discover synonyms and add vocabulary to their own writing to inject formality into their personal style. Finally, these strategies encourage basic knowledge of syntax; your class might produce the example "We revel in the test-less assembly; our teacher revels in his student-less class." They define the word "revel" while recognizing that they're writing a balanced sentence.

SOAPStone is Not a Rock!

Acronyms create a "conscious plan" for literary analysis. The term SOAPStone suggests questions students ask themselves when approaching a piece of literature. S is the speaker of the piece, the work's voice. O is the occasion: the setting and context that prompts the writing. A is the audience, the group to whom the piece speaks; P is the purpose or reason behind the text. The second S is the subject of the piece, and tone remains, the attitude of the author. Your use of SOAPStone moves the student through the literature, using a road-map anyone can read.

Dante Is Not Always Infernal

Dante's Fourfold method is an AP strategy that analyzes literature on four levels. Patterned after Dante's infernal circles, this strategy spins students up from the surface, historical level of a literary piece to its political and community level, to its moral and spiritual planes. If your class were to approach Shakespeare's "Othello" with Dante, they would first study his marriage and his jealous nature; they would shift to the biased atmospheres of Venice and Cyprus in the Caucasian community. They would end by analyzing the moral and spiritual underpinnings of Othello, Iago and Desdemona.

ELL Can Succeed in AP Literature

AP classes nationwide currently teach English Language Learners, and there are numerous strategies that allow these students to succeed in a rigorous curriculum. For example, your ELL AP class might add color coding to the Wall of Words; they might chart Shakespearean and Italian sonnets to discover differences rather than listen to a lecture. Finally, your class discussion could include Kate Kinsella's Idea Wave, whipping from student to student to quickly brainstorm ideas.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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