Ap literature and composition course syllabus

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Description: AP Literature and Composition is a challenging class that will prepare students for the Advanced Placement Examination in Literature and Composition. It is also our hope that the course will encourage you to read and analyze literature in a more comprehensive and profound way.

In this course students will read, analyze, discuss and write about dense, challenging literature from a variety of eras and genres. Emphasis will be on close analytical reading of all forms of literature, and on the steps necessary for the completion of a number of thesis-driven essays, in which an argument is presented and defended. Students can expect a number of in-class essays, as well as two major critical/analytical papers, each of which will involve advanced research. Literature will be organized thematically according to the philosophical concepts of fate and free will, moral ambiguity, and the relationship between self and society, in addition to exploring satiric and comic challenges to convention. Students will study poetry in conjunction with the longer works read, as well as participate in a formal poetry unit. Students will also study critical approaches to literature and apply techniques of the various schools of literary criticism to some of the works studied. Finally, students will be provided with strategies and practice opportunities for taking the AP Exam in Literature and Composition.

Essential Overarching Questions for this course:

• What cultural or societal commentary is the author posing through this work of literature?

• Why is this piece considered a work of literary merit? What impact has it had on subsequent literature and art?

• How does an author’s style and technique enhance the meaning and significance of a work of literature?


The following list of units and works will serve as the course syllabus. Some units and/or assignments may change during the course of the class. Students will also write a college essay for the course. Assessment for each unit will include: journals, reading quizzes, in-class essays, longer, critical-analytical essays, and, on occasion, creative pieces to show further understanding of the work studied. Conferencing and rewriting opportunities will be available on all formal writing assignments and required on some.


Introduction to Course

Syllabus of class distributed – including required readings and expectations, explanation and format of AP Exam. (Includes showing AP tests and samples.) Students will read, discuss and write about James Baldwin’s “The Artist and Society” to delve into art and literature’s meaning as it relates to society and history. Journal Write: Can society exist without artists? What kind of society would it be? Are history and art intrinsically connected? Why?

Unit 1: Summer Reading

Essential Questions:

• How does narrative technique lend to story telling? Awareness of the structure of stories – how character and action are revealed – enriches interpretation.

• What significance do time and memory play in character development?


Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver

Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexi

Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

Activities / Evaluations: Students will arrive with an AP Open-Ended question response essay on the second day of class (handed out at the end of the prior school year) and close-reading passage responses (their choice) for each novel, which will be returned in approximately one week’s time. Students will revise and resubmit for a second grade (C essays must conference). During the revision period, further guidance and instruction will be given regarding effective organization/structuring of essay. We will move into novel discussion groups where students present findings on novels to their classmates addressing major themes, motifs and narrative structure. Students will generate discussion of their specific novel and will connect novel to literary criticism to ideas/themes presented in a provided poem.

Unit #2: Importance of Allusions

Essential Question:

• Why is it important to recognize allusions? (mythical, historical, religious)

Texts: Genesis (Old Testament), “Blackberry Winter” Robert Penn Warren, “The Second Coming” William Butler Yeats, excerpts from “Paradise Lost” John Milton

Activities / Evaluation: Students will respond to Genesis in a journal write relating to provided writing prompts. They will also create a poem on a biblical character. Students will read and write a journal on Warren’s “Blackberry Winter” that explores biblical allusions as well as attempt to understand the story’s ambiguous ending. Students will read and analyze Yeats and Milton and their use of allusion.

Unit #3: Personal Essay for College Admission

Essential Question: How does one write about oneself for a specific audience and purpose?

Activities / Evaluation: Students will read several college essay questions, including those from the Common Application. They will then read models of college essays to determine effective use of voice, tone and purpose, and consideration of audience. Students will write an expository essay suitable for submission. Students will peer-edit each other’s essays as well as conference with the teacher. Techniques for enhancing cohesion and coherence, as well as establishing and maintaining voice/tone will be discussed further during the revision process. Rewriting will be mandated.

Unit #4: Romanticism

Essential Questions:

• How and why does a literary movement arise? How does nature influence an artist?

• Is all technological progress necessarily good?

• How does an author’s life impact a piece of literature?


Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Activities / Evaluations: Students will read Rime of the Ancient Mariner in-class aloud to gain appreciation for language and to further the understand elements of Romanticism. In conjunction students will read Frankenstein, looking closely at Shelley’s narrative structure and the influence of Romanticism on her work. Finally, students will read two pieces of feminist criticism and apply this information to the text to further understand the social commentary the author poses. To show mastery of these texts, students will complete journal writes on various topics and participate in a Socratic Seminar relating to these works. Finally, students will be assessed with an AP Open-Ended In-Class essay using Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Unit #5: Classical Tragedy

During this unit we will study the principles of Greek tragedy and its influence on subsequent works of literature. Students will understand that tragedy is a type of literature that transcends time and contains specific enduring themes about human nature.

Essential Questions:

• What is the philosophical nature of fate and free will?

• How is the nature of morality ambiguous?

• What is the relationship between self and society?


Oedipus Rex and Antigone, Sophocles

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare

Activities / Evaluation:

Things Fall Apart: Students will review the characteristics of a tragic hero and will read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as well as Achebe’s essay “The Novelist as Teacher” to further discuss previous ideas found in Baldwin’s essay. With particular focus on the proverbs Achebe uses, students will create journal writes to analyze the literature. To connect contemporary day and cultural issues, students will read a New York Times article written by an Ibo woman regarding her divorce and ostracism from the community to spark a discussion on women’s rights. Students will also read Alice Walker’s “Roselily” to admire creative narrative structure, tone, and motif in a short piece. Evaluation for this unit will include Brathwaite’s poem “Ogun,” an in-class close reading poetry assessment.

Oedipus Rex / Antigone / Heart of Darkness: Students will read Antigone and Heart of Darkness outside of class while we read Oedipus in class, looking closely at the qualities of Greek Drama as well as the question of a tragic hero. Students will read Freud’s “Oedipus Rex” at the conclusion of the play to see application of psychoanalytical theory applied to classical literature. Students will read Ruth Eiesenberg’s poem “Jocasta” to explore contemporary connection in a different medium. For Antigone, students will complete a journal write and come prepared for a Socratic Seminar on her role in the play. Finally, this unit will end with a few days discussion of Heart of Darkness in which students will analyze the text and connect to Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” as well as view an excerpt of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

Final evaluation will be an AP Open-Ended Question In-Class essay in which students will choose one of the four works on which to focus.

Hamlet: Reading Hamlet takes about 6 weeks of class time. Students will read /act out a bulk of the play’s first three acts in class, including close-text reading of Hamlet’s first three soliloquies to focus on the poetic devices Shakespeare uses to achieve meaning, ambiguous or intended. (Such as “To Be or Not to Be”.) Topics of journal writes and discussion will include: revenge tragedy, great chain of being, moral decisions, effectiveness of language, narrative structure, social institutions, Freudian interpretation, feminist interpretation, Plummer’s “The Ophelia Syndrome,” Pipher’s “Reviving Ophelia,” the actor’s paradox. In addition we will watch different movie versions to enhance understanding. Students will also parody and share Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. Finally, the unit concludes with two journals writes responding to previous AP Open-Ended questions, as well as a Socratic Seminar addressing Fay Weldon’s quotation about “Happy Endings.” Midterm will include a Multiple-Choice Question and Answer section, an annotated passage, and creation of an essay’s introductory paragraph and an Open-Ended AP Question using Hamlet.

Concurrently, (during the reading of Hamlet) students will be assigned a research project on a specific author and novel that includes two polished writing pieces.

Unit #6: Independent Novel Unit

Essential Question: How does literary theory and criticism enhance one’s basic understanding of a work of literary merit?
Activities / Evaluation: Students will choose a novel from a list of works of literary merit. The objective of this unit is to read a book of literary merit, seek out and process literary criticism on the text, and then produce two assignments one of which will synthesize the literary criticism, the second of which will produce a sophisticated analysis of the work. Both assignments require students to follow MLA format for citing text and documenting sources. Both papers will be submitted to Turnitin.com for authenticity. Synopsis of assignments as follows:

Assignment I : Find two pieces of literary criticism (from Gale, Icon, a book or other database) and read them. Create a dialogue (conversation or debate) between the two critics that highlights their positions about the text and connect to your own reading of text. Avoid mere summary of the two positions.

Assignment II: Create an AP Open-ended essay question and write an essay that answers this prompt. Unlike an in-class essay where you do not have access to the text, please follow the conventions of formal critical-analytical writing where a strong introduction and thesis lead to literary analysis enhanced by direct quotations.

Unit #7: Existentialism / Theatre of the Absurd

With Hamlet as our guide, we will delve into the world of existentialism to look at the theme of alienation.

Essential Questions:

• What is existentialism and how did it arise?

• How does an author create meaning about life through an absurd, and perhaps comic, approach?


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

The Stranger, Albert Camus

Activities / Evaluations:

We will begin the unit with Esslin’s definition of the “Theatre of Absurd” to understand the historical context of the movement. During this unit we will further discuss the use of allusions (Stoppard’s use of R&G), as well as the heavy use of metaphor and stage directions as they relate to overall meaning. We will watch excerpts of Stoppard’s movie, as well as an Irish production of Waiting for Godot, to discuss the differences between written text and visual text. In addition, students will read an essay that received a score of 9, in which a student uses Waiting for Godot in addressing the prompt: “Literature is the Question minus the Answer”. Students will participate in Socratic Seminar in which we attempt to understand how Camus can imagine Sisyphus happy. This discussion will segue into evaluating Meursault’s character in The Stranger. Journal writes will explore the idea of the modern individual as existentialist, the break-up of the novel into two distinct sections, use of language and imagery and minor characters. At the conclusion of The Stranger, students will read three poems (“Ethics” by Linda Pastan, “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke, and “We are Many” by Pablo Neruda) to further explore existentialism as well as make connections between different genres. As a final evaluation for this unit, students will complete a creative assignment in which they either comment (in artistic format) all of the things they are waiting for, as well as provide an explanation for the need for waiting in our lives, or create a one-act play focusing on a metaphor for life, or create an assignment that somehow explores the meaning one brings to his/her life. In addition to this creative assignment, students will also complete an in-class essay on an AP Open-Ended Question using The Stranger, as well as in-class passage response essay on Mavis Gallant’s “The Other Paris.”

Unit #8 : Novel Choice Unit

Students will choose from either A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce or Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte with focus on close reading of text reading. Students will analyze (and connect) several poems, including Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets 32 and 43, and Nash’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man.”

Essential Questions:

• How does a writer convey culture of a specific time and place?

• How does conflict between conformity to time and place influence the development of a character? (especially in a coming-of-age story)

Activities / Evaluation: Students will read historical background information for either one of the two novels, as well as brainstorm themes and motifs for coming-of-age novels. Students will participate in an activity that explores religious ideals and expectations and their influence on character development. Students will take reading quizzes as well as write journal responses on specific topics. In a lesson in which students are given two distinct passages (one from each novel), they will pull out literary devices, discuss differences in tone and voice and structure, and ultimately determine the author’s intent and purpose. Furthermore, students will complete two different AP Multiple Choice practice tests that relate in theme to the novels. Finally, students will, individually, pull a passage to their liking, annotate the passage, and develop an AP Free Response Question, which is answered in a timed essay.

Unit 9: Poetry

In addition to studying and reading poetry all year (that connects to the above mentioned units), students will also have a more intensive unit studying the conventions of poetry.

Essential Questions:

• How do elements of language and structure affect and create meaning?

• How do words and spacing achieve an aesthetic purpose?

Texts: Poetry from the 18th century to current day.

Activities / Evaluation: Students will read, discuss and analyze various forms of poetry including the villanelle, sonnet, sestina, as well as more modern and contemporary verse to review poetic devices to understand meaning. In addition, we will listen to various authors recite their work as well as discuss the literal and figurative ways of “reading” a poem. Students will further their understanding of how to “read” a poem and write an analysis of a poem in essay form. They will compare and contrast poems as it relates to meaning, genre, style and form. Students will complete an AP Free Response essay on a poem or two poems to show mastery. They will also write their own poetry, inspired by various topics. Finally, as a process piece for the unit, students will research a poet of their choice, “teach” the class a lesson on one or two of his/her poems, and write a paper providing research information on the poet – his/her background and inspiration, as well as analysis of one or two poems. As with previous research assignment, students will be expected to follow MLA format for documented work.

Unit #10: Satire / Comedy

Essential Questions:

• How does a certain genre convey meaning about the world at large and human nature?


Candide, Voltaire

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde

Activities / Evaluation: Students will review the concept of satire. In analyzing the text, students will identify the use of allusion, motif, and irony as it works to create meaning. Students will debate and discuss the use of humor in order to draw conclusions about the author’s depiction of humanity. Students will take a quiz and complete journal writes to show their mastery.


Unit #11: The Artist and Society

Essential Question: How do we continue to make meaning and analyze society’s art forms?


Choice of texts and films

Gertrude Stein, “If I told him” Portrait of Picasso

Various portrait painting and art books

Tom Waits, (song) “Nighthawks at the Diner”

Fuddy Mears, David Lindsey Abair

Activities / Evaluation: It is our hope that this time of year can be a bit more relaxed and that there will be room for self-exploration as a writer and appreciator of art in many forms. This unit will include looking at how various writers have been influenced by art and will provide students a chance to experience these influences. Students will visit an art museum, create their own poetry depicting a painting or work of art, and create an end-of-the-year assignment in which they will produce two chapters of their own life. This will be done with at least one chapter as formal prose (of some type) and the opportunity to create the other chapter in verse, drama, music, or visual art. These projects will be presented to classmates.

* * * * *
INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES FOR WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: Writing in this AP class will be often and varied. Assessments will include weekly exploratory journal writes (of which successful models will be shared in the first weeks of class), formal and informal creative writing (informal ex: poem on a character), in-class essays and process pieces. To further student understanding of expectations, we will introduce the AP rubric and scoring guidelines early in the year and use these guidelines in evaluating student performance. Successful student models will be used to more fully understand the rubric, to aid in self-evaluation, and prior to rewriting. Using AP Board materials, students will be able to view different levels of writing – the 9, 7 & 5 essays as they relate to both prose and poetry to see use of literary terminology and sophisticated writing. Students will also be given the opportunity to conference on their writing (and in certain cases, rewrite the essay) as well as submit process pieces (out-of-class essays) to Turnitin.com for further self-evaluation. Occasionally, students will be given the opportunity to take in-class essays home to edit and rewrite before receiving a grade. Finally, lessons relating to mechanics of writing (grammar), style and diction will occur as they arise and are needed. Literary terminology and pertinent vocabulary is emphasized during each unit.

GRADING / EVALUATION: Student essays will be evaluated according to the AP Rubric and guidelines. Students will receive written paragraphs on their essays rewarding them for what they do well and pointing out what could be improved. AP essays will be graded on the AP Scale of 9-1, which converts to 9/8- A range, 7/6 – B range, 5/4 – C range… Each assignment has a point value and grades are determined by the accumulation of points throughout the quarter. A participation grade composed of performance grades in discussion, Socratic Seminars, oral quizzes, readiness and enthusiasm will also be factored into student grades each quarter.

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