AP Literature and Composition Syllabus
Intertextuality is the organizing principle of this course: the idea that a work of
literature can often be understood better by comparing it to a related work of
literature. We will study all of the major literary works in pairs:
INTRODUCTION: PAIRED STORIES
Carver’s Carver’s September
TRAGEDY: SHAKESPEAREAN AND MODERN
Shakespeare’s Shakespeare’s September –
King Lear Hamlet October
Shakespeare’s Smiley’s October –
King Lear A Thousand Acres November
THE HUMAN PSYCHE: LIGHT AND DARK SIDES
Shelley’s Bronte’s November –
Frankenstein Wuthering Heights December
Woolf’s Cunningham’s December –
Mrs. Dalloway The Hours January
THE LEGACY OF SLAVERY: BLACK AND WHITE
Faulkner’s Morrison’s February –
The Sound and Beloved March
RELATIONSHIPS: THE DYNAMICS OF POWER
Spark’s Mamet’s April
The Prime of Miss Oleanna
Yate’s Albee’s May –
Revolutionary Who’s Afraid of June
Road Virginia Woolf?
In each unit, we first read the earlier work (in the left column of the above table),
reading closely for themes, structure, style, and perspective on the macro level, and
for figurative language, allusions, symbolism, tone, and irony of the micro level. We
analyze the later, related work (in the right column of the above table) in relation to
the earlier work, concentrating on differences in social and historical significance as
well as the macro and micro criteria already mentioned. Students engage in a wide
variety of frequent writing activities including online interactive journals, in-class
paragraphs, out-of-class essays, and responding to essay prompts resembling those
in the actual AP Exam. Discussions also take place in different formats including
full-class discussions, Socratic seminars, and oral presentations.
Based on the philosophy that students perform better under a consistent,
predictable structure, each weekly schedule remain basically the same. The agenda
ensures that all students participate in significant discussion, listening, and writing
activities each week.
MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY
Poetry In-class Socratic In-class Practice for AP
presentations paragraph Circles paragraph Exam or
and discussion Full-class Full-class Focus on
discussion discussion literary concept
Poetry Presentations and Discussion
Each Monday, a pair of students delivers poetry presentations and conducts a
discussion of the two significant, related poems chosen from the following pairs of
Sylvia Plath & Adrienne Rich
Walt Whitman & Allen Ginsberg
William Wordsworth & William Blake
Samuel Taylor Coleridge & Lord Byron
John Keats & Percy Shelley
John Donne & Andrew Marvell
Audre Lourd & Ntozake Shange
Elizabeth Bishop & Marianne Moore
Octavio Paz & Pablo Neruda
Wallace Stevens & William Carlos Williams
Henry David Thoreau & Ralph Emerson
Gwendolyn Brooks & Maya Angelou
T.S. Eliot & Robinson Jeffers
William Shakespeare & Edna St. Vincent Millay
A third student will recount relevant biographical information about the two poets.
The analytical presentations should take about 7-10 minutes/student and the class
discussion comparing and contrasting the two poems should occupy the rest of the
period. The students are assessed on the following components:
Relevant autobiographical information
A sensitive reading of two relatively short poems
A discussion of the structure, imagery, and theme(s) of each poem
A comparison/contrast between the poems
Provocative discussion questions for the class
This activity gives students experience in the following areas:
Speaking in front of the class
Conducting a unified, sustained discussion
Comparing and contrasting two poems which is a common essay
prompt of the AP Literature and Composition Exam
In-Class Paragraph and Full-Class Discussion
On Tuesday and Thursday, students usually respond in writing to a well-focused
discussion question on the board. I’ve found that a 40-minute discussion following
student writing is almost always better than a 55-minute discussion alone.
Constructing an in-class paragraph gives students: 1) the opportunity to articulate
and organize their ideas and 2) practice in writing under pressure to prepare for
the AP Exam in May.
Each student is responsible for participating frequently and substantively in class
discussions. Comments should be based on close reading and careful annotation of
the text. Students are expected to extend or disagree with their peers’ ideas
successfully. Logical critical reasoning and compelling evidence are the
cornerstones of effective contributions to class discussions.
Each Wednesday, students have the opportunity to interact with each on a more
intimate basis. Approximately half the class form a circle surrounded by the other
half of the class. The inside circle conduct a structure discussion in which each
student has specific responsibilities while the outside circle evaluate the
effectiveness of the discussion. For example if the topic is to analyze Quentin
Compson’s character in the second section of The Sound and the Fury, some students
may have the task of extolling Quentin’s personality while other students may have
to critique it. Still other students may play the roles of Caddy, William Faulkner, or
the book’s editor. The goals of Socratic Circles are: 1) interactive engagement by all
students and 2) honing critical reasoning skills. Each student in the outer group
assesses the speaking and listening performance of one student inside the circle.
Midway through the period, the inner and outer groups switch locations.
Practice for AP Exam and Learning Literary Terms
Every other Friday students practice writing one of the three types of essay prompts
for the AP Literature and Composition Exam in May. Sometimes, the topics will be
actual prompts from previous exams. 9-point AP rubric will be used to assess the
practice essays to measure the students’ progress. We will also devote time to
practicing the multiple-choice portion of the exam. On alternate Fridays, students
study important literary terms and concepts, completing accompanying exercises, in
The Norton Guide to Essential Literary Terms. Students will also practice sentences
combining techniques involving appositives, participles, and absolutes to ensure
that their sentences are vigorous and varied.
Below is a synopsis of the essential discussion questions and intertextual questions
considered to facilitate: 1) in-depth analysis and 2) effective comparison and
contrast of texts. While these questions are certainly not exhaustive, they cover
both macro concepts (theme, structure, style, and perspective) and micro concepts
(figurative language, allusions, symbolism, tone, and irony).
Where I’m Calling From
Essential Questions for Carver:
1. What fundamental questions does Carver ask about human nature?
2. Why is Carver so interested in the dynamics of marriage?
3. How does Carver employ his minimalist style to intensify the dramatic
impact of his stories?
Further Questions for Carver:
1. What are some significant differences between Carver’s first and third
2. Are Carver’s female voices as convincing as his male voices?
3. Do you prefer Carver’s minimalist tales or his later post-Lish fully
Hamlet and King Lear
Essential Questions for King Lear:
1. What are Lear’s serious character flaws that will bring about his
2. What important similarities and differences exist between the two
3. What serious questions and answers does this play provide about the
issue of growing old?
Intertextual Questions for Hamlet:
1. How does Hamlet’s tragedy as a young man compare and contrast to
Lear’s tragedy as an old man?
2. How do the female characters influence the tragic destiny of the two
3. The fool is sometimes referred to as the son that Lear never had. How
would Lear and Hamlet have fared as father and son?
King Lear and A Thousand Acres
Essential Questions for King Lear:
1. In what ways is the play more sympathetic to Lear than to his
2. Compare and contrast the evil natures of Goneril/Regan and Edmund.
3. Examine disguise as a plot device and theme in this play.
Intertextual Questions for A Thousand Acres:
1. In her modern retelling of King Lear, how does Smiley transform the
tale by choosing one of the daughters as the narrator?
2. How does Larry Cook compare to King Lear as an aging father? In
what ways do you sympathize with one more than the other? How is
Jesse analogous and antithetical to Edmund?
3. Does Smiley ascribe some different characteristics to modern
American tragedy than Shakespeare conveys in King Lear?
Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours
Essential Questions for Mrs. Dalloway:
1. In what ways is Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness narration
more or less realistic than the standard third-person limited
2. How do dialogue and description of setting function differently in this
novel than in Jane Eyre and other more traditional novels that you
3. How does Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of female and male characters
compare to Charlotte Bronte’s depiction of the two genders?
Intertextual Questions for The Hours:
1. The novel is an homage to Mrs. Dalloway. How successfully has
Cunningham achieved his goal to emulate Woolf’s style and themes?
2. In The Hours how does Cunnigham develop the theme of the
triangular relationship among the author, the characters, and the
3. Whereas Woolf hints at homoerotic relationships in Mrs. Dalloway,
Cunningham presents several openly gay and lesbian characters in
The Hours. To what extent does sexual orientation inform the themes
and agendas in the two novels?
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Oleanna
Essential Questions for Miss Jean Brodie:
1. In what ways is Jean Brodie a good and a bad teacher?
2. How does Miss Brodie’s attraction to fascism influence her craft?
3. How does Jean Brodie influence her various students in the short term
and in the long term? Does some of this influence relate to her
inability to separate her personal and professional lives?
Intertextual Questions for Oleanna:
1. As a teacher, how is John similar to and different from Jean Brodie?
2. How do Carol in Oleanna and Sandy in Miss Jean Brodie compare as
students, as people? To what extent are they victims/products of John
and Jean Brodie?
3. When you examine Oleanna as a satire of excessive political
correctness, what connections can you make to this phenomenon in
The Sound and the Fury and Beloved
Essential Questions for The Sound and the Fury:
1. How does Faulkner address race and racism in this novel about his
homeland, the South?
2. How is Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness technique similar to and
different from Woolf’s?
3. To what extent is objective reality discernible in this novel in which
the three Compson brother’s tell such astonishingly different tales
about the same events?
Intertextual Questions for Beloved:
1. Toni Morrison wrote her Master’s Thesis on Virginia Woolf and
William Faulkner. What thematic and stylistic influences can you see
from Mrs. Dalloway and The Sound and the Fury on Beloved?
2. How does Toni Morrison address race and racism differently in her
portrayal of the black and white characters than Faulkner did in his
3. Compare and contrast Baby Suggs and Dilsey as matriarchs, Sethe
and Caroline as mothers. Contrast Denver with the Compson
children, focusing on Denver’s isolation and the Compson children’s
constant proximity to each other.
Revolutionary Road and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Essential Questions for Revolutionary Road:
1. How does the title of the novel apply symbolically and ironically to
Frank, April, and their relationship?
2. John Givings is supposed to be the insane character in Revolutionary
Road. Explain how he actually functions to reveal the madness in
other characters and in suburban life.
3. Identify the strengths and weaknesses in April and Frank’s marriage.
Do you blame one character more than the other for their tragedy?
Intertextual Questions for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf:
1. To what extent are George and Martha – Frank and April twenty or
thirty years later? How does not having or having children affect the
2. Compare/contrast the major battles that threaten the two couples’
3. At the end of the play, George and Martha walk upstairs together.
Why doesn’t Yates let this happen in his novel?
The first step to succeeding in the course is close reading, the second is
perspicacious interpretation of the text, the third is effective discussion. The last
and perhaps most important skill is writing powerfully about the literary works. In
this course, the students write frequently and thoughtfully in a variety of formats to
ensure consistent progress.
Writing an in-class paragraph before a class discussion give students practice
in organizing their thoughts and writing under pressure. I am convinced that
writing cogent, well-organized paragraphs is essential to successful
performance on the AP Literature and Composition essays.
Students use Moodle to post a weekly reflection on the text they are reading.
Each week, students respond to a well-focused question they pose to
themselves about the literature. As with their in-class paragraphs, the
writing should exhibit compelling critical thinking and ample evidence from
the text. In addition to posting their own thoughts, students must respond to
the post of at least one peer each week. These online reflections hopefully
bolster the quality of classroom discussions. Since each Moodle entry will
have a deadline, students must practice self-discipline and punctuality to
Every other Friday, to practice for the AP Literature and Composition essays,
students practice writing one of the three types of essays on the actual
examination in May. This gives students the opportunity to learn what
qaulities different essay prompts require for successful responses. We also
go over student responses to previous prompts to understand why they
received a particular score the AP 9-point rubric.
This activity affords students the greatest occasion to think deeply and revise
their writing thoroughly. Students write four out-of-class essays each
semester, two on single literary works, and two comparative papers. For
each essay, we follow the writing process: brainstorm, evidence cards,
outline, rough draft, peer edit, and final draft. Students must turn earlier
stages of their writing along with the final draft. Examples of out-of-class
essay topics can be found on pages 11-15 of this syllabus. I will read and
provide suggestions for improvement on each student’s rough draft before
s/he revises her or his work.
All in-class and out-of-class essays are evaluated according to the 9-point AP essay
Oral presentations and shorter writing assignments such as in-class paragraphs are
evaluated according to the following point scale:
5: Exceptional 4: Good 3: Satisfactory 2: Poor 1: Unacceptable
Each marking period grade is determined by the following percentage weights:
Participation in Class Discussions 25%
In-Class Paragraphs 15%
Moodle Journals and Responses 15%
In-Class AP Essays and Multiple Choice Practice 15%
Out-of-Class Essays 25%
Oral Presentation 5%