5 Tips for Teaching AP Lit

Tips for Teaching AP LitIf you’ve been teaching AP Lit for a few years you know how much fun you can have with this class. And if you are teaching AP Lit for the first time, you’re in for a treat! It can be very challenging and you definitely have to stay on your toes with the kids that sign up for your class, but I’ve found it a rewarding experience, probably the most rewarding of my career. I mean, who wouldn’t want to teach some of the great works of literature to a bunch of kids who are (for the most part) eager learners?

Over the years here are a couple of things that I keep in mind when designing curriculum for the class.

Don’t bury them in work because they’re AP kids.

Anytime that I’ve tried to pile on the work it’s been counterproductive – kids get overwhelmed and are more likely to resort to Sparknotes rather than reading the books. I try to keep in mind that my students often have other AP classes as well as extracurricular activities and don’t expect them to do more work simply because they are in an AP class. We are fortunate in AP that we don’t have a set curriculum that we have to cover, so there’s plenty of opportunity to add some breathing room. I don’t make my students earn their spot in the class by piling on work.

Don’t punish kids that you think don’t belong in your class.

I will get students in my class that won’t do well because they don’t have the ability or the passion and won’t do well. I will never solve that problem. And in the past I’ve really wanted to make those kids understand that they aren’t up to the task and never should have taken it.

But eventually I realized that didn’t really get me anywhere with those kids, and if I did my best to bring them up to the level that I expected I could usually do that. So now I’m willing to take anyone who wants to give it a try (we don’t have prerequisites for the class), keep the level of discourse high, and help those kids catch up if they aren’t ready. The College Board always encourages students to challenge themselves by trying an AP course, and we should welcome that. We don’t want kids that are completely overwhelmed, but sometimes I find that the seniors who are taking their first AP course are the hardest workers.

Don’t sacrifice depth for breadth.

I try to keep the class moving at a fairly fast pace, but not so fast that we don’t take the time to get to know a few works really well. That requires looking at them from various angles. I like to use literary theory, scholarly articles, and creative activities that get them interacting with the texts so they know them well. It’s good to keep the class moving, but a truly immersive experience is better than a surface level reading.

Don’t get novel heavy.

In the past my class has been more or less completely centered around novels to the exclusion of everything else. I made a deliberate attempt a couple of years ago to include more poetry (probably more than my students would have preferred). I also try to include a play that isn’t Shakespeare – students need to read other dramas besides the Bard.

Don’t make it all about the test.

I can’t afford to do this because about half of my students that won’t take the test for various reasons. But even if all of my students were taking the test, I’d be doing them a disservice if I just focused on the test. There are a lot of skills – writing essays for instance – that are valuable. Timed writings do help develop critical thinking and writing skills, but I don’t want that to be the only way that students are interacting with text. I went overboard this year with timed writings – balance is the key.

Do you have any other tips for teaching AP Lit? Add them in the comments below.

David Rickert is a high school English teacher in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. He has been teaching for over 20 years and has taught virtually every grade and every subject. He is passionate about developing lessons that make difficult language arts subjects fun and engaging. He is also an author on Teachers Pay Teachers

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