AP Language and Composition Syllabus
Nate Stearns “There is nothing to
Room 607 writing. All you do is sit
firstname.lastname@example.org down at a typewriter and
website: http://nstearns.edublogs.org bleed.”
Course Overview --Ernest Hemingway
This is a course about writing and how we understand it. Writing involves hard work, frustrating distractions,
societal contempt, and the constant feeling that everything you create isn‟t worth very much. And then you
bleed. But, you do get an iPad! Take that, Ernest!
On the other hand, writing is one of the most effective ways to send forth your thoughts into the universe,
into the future, into some kind of immortality. Your well-rendered ideas and metaphors could outlive you a
thousand times and give you the best shot at bugging other people for all of eternity.
In the College Board‟s description of the AP English Language and Composition class, they describe the
purpose of the course:
An AP course in English Language and Composition engages students in becoming skilled readers of
prose written in a variety of periods, disciplines, and rhetorical contexts, and in becoming skilled
writers who compose for a variety of purposes. Both their writing and their reading should make
students aware of the interactions among a writer’s purposes, audience expectations, and subjects as
well as the way generic conventions and the resources of language contribute to effectiveness in
Similarly, in this class we will engage a number of varied texts in order to understand and analyze them, but
we will also use those texts as models of our own writing. We will work to become powerful readers—able
not only to understand what a writer is communicating, but also to manipulate the English language to
achieve those effects. Furthermore, we will take this knowledge and apply it to our own writing. We will
have opportunities to write for a number of purposes—to teach, to persuade, to tell a story—and in a number
of styles—memoir, editorial, journalistic, satirical. In the end, we will explore what words have the power to
50 Essays by Samuel Cohen and Everything’s an Argument by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J.
Essays, Projects, Tests: 80% Essays we write in class involve a multi-step process that goes from pre-
writing, research, drafting, editing, and publishing. Some essays will have grades at different parts of the
process to assess how well you navigate the demands of writing. Some essays will be edited by peers or
outside editors (web editors or guest editors). Most major writing will be graded one-on-one with the teacher
and to some extent expectations and grading standards will be negotiated individually according to the needs
and abilities of each student. Periodically, we‟ll also be learning terminology and concepts necessary for
writing and will therefore need assessments to make sure you understand them before we begin integrating
them into your writing.
Blog and Daily Work: 20% One of the major methods of providing you with the space and opportunity to
display your analysis of readings is the blog. Regularly, you and your fellow students will engage with
readings and explore the issues, techniques, and purpose behind the writing. The blogs give us the added
ability to share these insights with students within the class and outside of the school community. We will
also be able to use commentary, hyperlinks, accompanying visuals (charts, photos, illustrations), and RSS
readers to broaden the intellectual experience and anticipate the methods the modern marketplace of ideas
employs and will employ in the future. I grade every Monday the previous week‟s work.
Happy Mondays: Mondays are reserved for reading non-fiction works that will serve the basis for an end-
of-the-semester project. You‟ll choose 4 works that revolve around an interest you‟d like to pursue (the
French Revolution, neurobiology, the philosophy of memory) and read on Mondays as well as the rest of the
week on your own. In January, you‟ll write a report and give a 4-6 minute speech.
AP Practice: Periodically, we‟ll practice AP test-specific skills including multiple choice paragraph analysis,
synthetic essays, and in-class, timed essay writing geared towards the types of items you‟ll see on the AP
exam. At times we will work backwards, taking essay questions or multiple-choice questions and diving what
is being assessed. Still, there must be balance.
Interest Blogging: I believe in ways that I cannot accurately put into words, that the wonders of education
and in technology-assisted education, is in the exploitation of our tools to explore the ideas, areas of interest,
and subject matters that means something to us personally. What this means for you is that I will be asking
you to write blog posts that aren‟t only direct class assignments but are semester-long explorations on topics
that you care about. For instance, you might love science and technology, especially when it comes to
genetics and the implications new discoveries have on ethics. You‟ll write posts, read articles, contact like-
minded people, and contribute to the debate in a responsible, productive way. Our blogs will not only be
records of our work, but also places where we can discuss what is important to us with people from around
the world. This means that we‟ll have to learn how and why conscientious attention to good behavior norms
and practices is important as well as how to protect ourselves from the more unsavory denizens of the
Covers down: While we either discuss or I teach, iPad lcovers will be closed. iPads can be very distracting
so we need to work together to make sure that we use these devices for classwork and avoid being distracted
Homework and tardy/absence Policy:
First off, I don‟t take late homework unless the situation is particularly special (e.g. your family moved to
Borneo yesterday and “forgot” to bring you along). For larger papers and projects, I subtract 10% off for
every day you‟re late. When you are absent—excused—it‟s your responsibility to find out what the
homework was (it‟s on my website) and get it to me the next school day. If your absence is unexcused, you
get an automatic 0 for the assignment. Students who are tardy more than 15 minutes are considered absent
for that class period and if you are absent more than 10 times in a semester (for any reason) you may not
receive credit for my class. I also reserve the right to decrease your grade by 10% for every day you are
absent over 10 days.
Every student will be expected to have their iPads (charged) in class every class period. Also, you will be
asked to maintain an academic blog where much of your in-class work will be entered as well as your longer
assignments. During class, you‟re expected to work only on class work; any time you spend on other sites—
Angry Birds, Tower Madness, whathaveyou—I will confiscate your tablet for the duration of class. Also, if
you‟re unable to resist the siren song of the multitask, of checking your email while comparing prices on
shoes at Nordstrom‟s while laughing at LOLCATS pics, I might bust you back down to the Stone Age where
you will relearn what life is like with only dead tree products and pencils. Similarly, I restrict all uses of cell
phones and MP3 players to out of class time. Please keep these devices in your pockets or backpacks. If I
see you using one in class, I will confiscate it and take it to the front office.
The Final Exam and the AP Exam
First, I encourage all students to take the AP exam; the exam is a difficult, exhausting ordeal, but one that I
truly believe makes us better, more intelligent, more generous people. The final exam will be a major part of
the final grade for the class and will mirror the AP exam: a persuasive essay, an analytical essay, a synthetic
essay, and a multiple-choice section. Everyone will be required to take my Final Exam, but those who take
the official AP exam will be able to miss the 2nd day of the exam.
Other Behavior Expectations
I am not OK with students disrespecting or belittling other students. The first time this happens, expect to be
asked out of class or sent to the front office. I take it very seriously. Besides that, I hope for a classroom of
mutual respect where I treat you with the dignity and honor you deserve and you do likewise. Education has
such a potential to be a force fro good in the world and I expect all of us to treat it that way.
Note: Any of the major writing we do in class can be used in your Class Portfolio.
Unit 1: Beginnings
To re-familiarize ourselves with practice public speaking and group discussion skills
To familiarize yourself with the skills being assessed by the AP Language and
To establish a set of terms and concepts needed to analyze your writing and others‟.
To analyze the rhetorical strategies and stylistic devices of personal essays
To understand the elements of the writing process
To learn the basics of sentence variety and the writing of anecdotes
Also, we‟ll review and evaluate our knowledge of the parts of speech and of sentence
mechanics (clauses, phrases, antecedents, sentence types) in order to establish a common set
of analytical labels for our writing. We‟ll then apply those tools to short writing selections
(from the memoirs we read for summer reading) in order to practice methods of evaluation,
connection, synthesis, and application.
Finally, we‟ll present short passages from our summer memoir readings to showcase our
newly learned analytical tools. This will also give us an opportunity to figure out how our
class discussions (both small group and large) can contribute to our learning.
Personal Essay: Using NPR‟s This I believe and the Newsweek‟s My Turn essays as a guide,
we‟ll write personal essays that combine the use of narrative with expository writing in order
to explain and personalize your view of the world.
Models: “Defending our Skies against the Elderly” by Diane Dimond Newsweek
“Just Walk on By: Black Men and the Public Space” by Brent Staples 50 Essays
“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris 50 Essays
“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell 50 Essays
“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass 50 Essays
“An ideal of service to our fellow man” by Albert Einstein This I Believe
“The Autumn of Multitasking” by Walter Kirn Atlantic Monthly
“How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche? By Lorrie Moore
Unit 2: Ad-hominem this! Rhetoric in the classical and modern time
Learn and analyze classical models of rhetoric: Logos, pathos, ethos
Learn Toulmin‟s argumentation model and apply it to sample texts
Learn and apply rhetorical figures in writing
Read and apply Everything’s an Argument chapters 1-4
Read and apply selection from Thank you for Arguing
Explore sentence structure and parallel constructions in good writing
Learn common rhetorical fallacies used to convince and manipulate
Analyze how good presentation technique is used to persuade and convince
Research and conduct a debate on a contemporary topic
In this unit, we‟ll engage in the messy process of convincing and persuading people to agree
with you, to pursue a particular policy, or to trust/mistrust someone. Part of this will be
learning classical rhetorical concepts and reading historical persuasive attempts and part of
this will be applying those ideas in our own writing. We will also take a look at persuasion
works today in both online and offline media. How does the explosion of blogs and
anonymous commenting mirror classical ideas and how do they change the nature of opinion-
making? Also, we‟ll see how visuals have in the past and now in the present communicate
Debate: Prepare for and conduct a debate in which you defend your side of an argument
against an opponent either in this class or in another class linked to us from Skype.
Persuasive Speech: Give a 5:40 minute Pecha Kucha speech on a persuasive topic that uses
classical rhetorical methods, research, powerful visuals and an understanding of your
audience to convince of a
“The Declaration of Independence” by Thomas Jefferson
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King
“Crito” by Plato
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” by Francine Prose
“Bilingualism in America: English Should be the Official Language” by S.I. Hayakawa
“On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau
“Mercy for Leopold and Loeb” by Clarence Darrow
“The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X
“Ain‟t I a Woman” by Sojurner Truth
“Every Man a King” by Huey Long
“Brandenburg Gate Address” by Ronald Reagan
A selection of blog posts from across the political spectrum
Unit 3: Welcome to (or Fear) the Singularity: Expository Writing in Science and Nature
Learn and apply methods of research collection and outlining
Learn and apply the How to Make Things Stick rubric for communicating ideas
Learn MLA citation rules
Evaluate the bias of information sources on and offline
Practice the synthesis of information from disparate sources into an essay that both
informs and speculates
Learn, practice, and master the strategies necessary to write an AP synthesis essay
In this unit, we‟ll be exploring issues of nature, technology, and science as discussed by
contemporary and historical writers. Along the way, we‟ll also learn the process of research
in which we search for relevant and credible information, select the information we need,
speculate on the implications, outline our arguments, and shape our writing for specific
audiences and purposes. We‟ll learn how to use the MLA citation format to indicate where
our sources come from and we‟ll discuss issues of plagiarism and bias in the modern era.
We‟ll also work backwards on sample synthetic essays from previous AP exams and create
our own reading sets with sample questions that revolve around scientific issues.
Synthetic Science Essay: Write a research-based essay that uses a recent scientific advance
(culled from Kurzweill‟s AInews service) along with other research to put forth an original
argument about the technological advance‟s implications on society and culture.
Annie Dillard “Death of a Moth” 50 Essays
Henry Waldo Thoreau “Where I lived, and What I lived for” 50 Essays
Oliver Sacks “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”
“Women‟s Brains” by Stephen Jay Gould 50 Essays
“Digital Maoism” by Jared Lanier The Edge
“Know it All: Can Wikipedia conquer Knowledge” by Stacy Schiff The New Yorker
“Reinventing Humanity: The Future of Human-Machine Intelligence” by Ray Kurzweil The
selection from Bill McKibben‟s from Enough
“The Bird and the Machine” by Loren Eisley
Unit 4: I was there! Descriptive Journalism
Continue to learn how to effectively use specific detail
Learn how to use fictional techniques to infuse expository writing with energy
Learn how to balance narrative and commentary
Continue to kearn how to use imagery and figurative language to capture experience
Learn the strategies necessary for the AP rhetorical analysis essay
In this unit we‟ll see how various authors capture experiences and then comment on its
meaning. We‟ll analyze the writing techniques the authors employ and the strategies they
exploit to capture experience but also to shape perceptions of the audience. Also, we will
explore groups such as the New Journalists and other who combined modes of rhetoric for
powerful and unexpected effect.
Expository/Journalism: Go somewhere you‟ve never been that has the potential for something
strange to happen and write about what you see and notice there. Your focus will be on
capturing the experience and portraying it for the reader.
“How it feels to be colored me” by Zora Neale Hurston
“The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf
"The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" by Tom Wolfe
“Once more to the Lake” by E.B. White
“Serving in Florida” by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Arms and the man: Saturday Night in West Virginia” by Kathy Dobie
“The Silent Season of a Hero” by Gay Talese
“Kill „Em, Crush „em, Eat „em Raw!” by John McMurty
Unit 5: Look at this! Visual grammar
Study the elements of visual grammar (rule of thirds, foreground/background, color
theory) and analyze how they create effects
Learn the terminology of visual description
Adapt the rhetorical techniques of persuasive argumentation and expository description
Our culture is moving more and more to a visual culture where images entertain, persuade,
inform, and inspire us more often than the use of words alone. In this unit, we‟ll learn how
visuals follow some rules and principles similar to words but also how visuals differ in
quality and effect from words.
Compare/Contrast Visual Essay/video: Create a short 2-3 minute video which uses images,
words, and sound to put forth a particular proposition and convince us to consider it.
Models: Family Peale vs. Degas, Ch. 2 Frames of Mind
The Kiss—Rodin/Brancusi: Ch.2 Frames of Mind
Slate Magazine and Magnum Photographs: Photos that Changed the World
“Show and Tell” by Scott McCloud excerpt in The Language of Composition
“Visual Arguments” Chapter 14 Everything is an Argument
“An Introduction to Visual Understanding” Chapter 2 Frames of Mind
excerpt from When Images Dream
Videos: “The Machine is Us/ing us” by KSU Digtial
“Independence Day” by Savetheinternet.com
“The Google Masterplan” by Ozan Halici and Jurgen Mäyer
"What Barry Says" by Simon Robson
Unit 6: Don‟t make me laugh—satire and parody.
Learn the techniques and strategies of satire and parody.
Learn how to use and analyze the effect of humor on argument
Analyze word choice in terms of audience and purpose
Sober and serious is not the only way to get a point across. The use of satire, parody and
humor are not only breaks from the crushing pressure of modern life, but valid methods of
argument as well. We‟ll analyze these techniques and practice them in a modern satirical
Satire and Parody: Write your own satirical essay that uses irony, exaggeration, the mixing of
genres, and ridiculousness to comment on an aspect of society or culture.
An Immodest Proposal, Jonathan Swift
“Mass Transit Hysteria” P.J. O‟Rourke
“Lost in the Kitchen” by Dave Barry
“Immigration Bill is a Fraud” by Mark Steyn
“The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden
selections from The Onion, Satire Newspaper
selections from “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish.” The Simpsons: Episode #7F01.
selections from adbusters.org
video selection: “The Yes Men”
Unit 7: Define Your Terms: Historical and Philosophical Definition in the hypertext era
Learn and apply different types of essay organization
Read philosophical essays and understand the purposes and techniques used
Connect personal and historical examples to philosophical ideas
Explore the difference between traditional and hypertext argumentation
We will continue our work on the synthetic essay, focusing on how writers attempt to define
crucial concepts (love, fear, patriotism, happiness) by placing them in historical context,
engaging in philosophical discussion, marshalling popular and personal examples, and
categorizing ideas. In writing, we will focus on organization strategies to shape your writing:
cause/effect, process, and classification.
Philosophical Definition: Define a common word and explore its meaning in current culture
in a hypertext argument which mixes words, images, links, sounds, and embedded video.
Include a mix of philosophical history with recent history and pop culture.
“The Insufficiency of Honesty” by Stephen L. Carter 50 Essays
“On Being a Cripple” by Nancy Mairs 50 Essays
“Clashing Civilizations” by Edward Said 50 Essays
“On Compassion” Barbara Lazear Ascher 50 Essays
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
“The Four Idols” by Francis Bacon
selection from “I and Thou” by Martin Buber
“Apollonianism and Dionysianism” by Friedrich Nietzsche
“Education” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
selection from “Labor” by Thomas Carlyle
Unit 8: Sausages and Legislature—Process Analysis
Learn how to break down a process into discrete steps
Learn how to use voice and attitude to infuse energy into expository writing
Learn how to think critically to categorize and order thinking
In this unit we learn how to explain not only how things work but to narrate the process.
We‟ll study how master writers find ways to explain clearly and with style without sacrificing
authority, credibility, or accuracy.
How to do it: Write an essay that explains how to do something in a clear but dynamic way.
selection from The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
“The Qualities of a Prince” by Niccoló Machiavelli
“How You Became You” by Bill Bryson 50 Essays
“On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion 50 Essays
“Learning to Read” by Malcolm X 50 Essays
“Why we Travel” by Pico Iyer
from How I learned to Ride the Bicycle by Frances Willard
Slate Magazine‟s Explainer column
“Why Woman Have to Work” Amelia Warren Tyagi
selections from Make Magazine and Instructables
Finally, I will have a final exam which will ask you to apply everything you learned in
conducting a 20-minute lesson on the reading of your choice. I will evaluate you on your
ability to combine visuals, guide discussion, and suggest interpretive methods.
After the Exam…
We don‟t get to play! Or rather we get to read a play. We‟ll finish with some literature: The
Tragedy of Hamlet by Willam Shakespeare. The unit will involve class discussion, literary
analysis, and acting!