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Are we actually reading all these books? Do we read the whole book of each selection? How many books do we read this year? Do you do in class group readings?
You should complete an “elite eight” of titles by the end of the course. Some we’ll read in class together, and the others you’ll read on your own. I’ll assign the bulk of the works, but you’ll have a few opportunities for input into what we’ll be reading. If you’re talking about reading aloud for the class, no.

Will we be reading more modern or older books?
The works I’ve selected are a blend of both. We’ll be spanning the gamut from ancient Greek drama to 20th-century masterpieces. And no, they won’t all be Shakespeare.

Are there other readings other than listed?
We will read a few short works at the very beginning of the course to warm up your literary engines. We will also study poetry throughout the course alongside the major plays and novels.

Is the reading going to be very hard to understand?
Some works will be more challenging than others. If you work diligently and ask questions, you should be fine. Students who complain that books are impossible are usually the ones who either 1) Haven’t read them at all and are trying to justify using the SparkNotes instead (not recommended) or 2) Procrastinated until they couldn’t complete the assigned reading, even if they intended to, and are therefore lost because they have no idea what everyone else is talking about. But if you ever do hit a snag, ask me. Helping you is my job!

What is the workload like? Will we have a lot of homework?
Plan to do some reading nearly every night when you have an assigned novel in hand. Other assignments, like out of class essays, will have due dates for both the initial draft and the final copy to be submitted for grading posted well in advance so you can plan for them. Class will be a mixture of individual and group work, while homework is usually reading, completing tasks associated with the reading, poetry journals, and occasional out of class writing assignments or projects. Socratic seminars will be conducted at the end of each major work; you will be expected to prepare for these by completing a Six Pack Sheet as you read. More details later.

Will I be expected to read at my own pace, or are we given a schedule for when certain books should be read?
I don’t usually specify a certain number of pages per night, since all of you differ in the kind and amount of homework you have. I will post on the class calendar how far you need to progress at certain points, like everyone being at the end of Chapter 10 on a particular date. Those days are usually posted on the whiteboard in the front of the class as well.

How often will we write? How many essay types will we work on?
Writing practice happens frequently. Expect either an in-class timed writing or an out-of-class prepared essay for each major work. Out-of-class essays and the occasional revision of an in-class writing will be submitted electronically. You’ll also be practicing the prose and poetry questions of the AP exam. AP Lit essays, since they explore themes within works, are nearly always a kind of analysis. There is no synthesis-style question on the AP Lit exam. Figure on about an essay a week, on average. Alas, there’s very little time available for creative writing (short stories/poetry), but if you’re inclined to write that, I’d love to hear about it!

Is this class harder than AP Lang?
That’s tough to answer. Both Lang and Lit are asking you to analyze writing at some of the highest levels. They’re designed to stretch you. They look at two different things, though. Lang focuses on claim and support for argumentation and primarily focuses on nonfiction works (essays, letters, speeches, etc.), while Lit asks you to provide textual evidence for interpretation of meaning. The claim and evidence structure is the same, but the type of claim and the evidence differ. If you tend to love novels and plays more than nonfiction, you might find Lit “easier,” although that’s really not the best word for it.

How many tests but we have per month? Is there a curve on tests?
You’ll be writing far more often than you’ll be taking a test. An occasional reading quiz (quote and short answer format, primarily) might pop up, but old-school, end-of-chapter tests with a bajillion multiple choice questions? Not in here. Most of the multiple choice questions you’ll see will be AP practice items, and they aren’t graded like regular tests. I rarely curve because I rarely need to.

What materials do we need?
Didn’t you read the syllabus? Notebook paper, a writing utensil (preferably pen), and a composition book. NO SPIRALS. Why? Because spiral notebook paper likes to have inappropriate relations with other spiral notebook paper, littering my desk with wee spiral shrapnel and generally making a nuisance of itself. Spiral paper is no bueno. If you can tear pages out of a spiral neatly and without that evil shredded wheat on the side, okay—but you’re pushing it!

majestyWhat is life like when you take AP Lit?
Pretty much like life without it, but with more books. Seriously, though, that depends on what kind of reader you are. If you enjoy reading and writing or are really good at planning your study time, you should be able to fit things in just fine. If you put it off or take shortcuts, it will start to dog your life and make you say naughty things. If your procrastination level equals the completion date of the Majesty Building, then ask me for tips on how to become a ninja in completion rather than avoidance.



How is the exam going to be set up?
The AP Literature exam has two parts. Part I, the Multiple Choice section, comprises 45% of the overall score. The section has 55 questions which will test your close reading of both prose and poetry. Selections will be drawn from pre-20th century and post-20th century works. This section takes one hour. Part II, the Free Response, comprises 55% of the overall score. You will write three essays. One asks you to respond to a poem, one asks you to respond to a prose passage, and the third asks you to select a work of literature to illustrate/explore a given theme. This section takes two hours. There is no reading period on the AP Literature exam.

Will I be surprised by the AP exam?
The only thing that will be a surprise on this exam will be the content of the questions themselves. You will practice every type of question several times so that you can be relaxed and ready to rock on test day.

What happens if I don’t pass the AP exam?
Technically, there is no “passing” an AP exam, since the 1-5 composite score expresses the College Board’s recommendation for conferring college credit for the coursework. Typically, most colleges award credit for a score of 3 or higher, which means less money coming out of your pocket for tuition. The course is designed to train you to produce college-level work. Regardless of your score on the exam, if you do your work diligently for me and listen to me when I try to help you improve, you should be just fine in college. Your high school credits and graduation status are not affected by your AP score.



Do you write recommendation letters? How about help with college essays? Scholarships?
Yes, and yes. For letters, you might want to consider waiting until second semester, when I know you better, and ask me for scholarship recommendations or assistance. I’m happy to review essays as long as you give me some lead time. Last minute requests for either make me cranky; if I’m feeling benevolent, I might help you out—but you’ll have to grovel first. And I’ll put that picture on Instagram (you can bow your head in shame to hide your face, though).

Can you help with finding scholarships? What scholarships are available to seniors? How to obtain as much scholarship money as I can?
Attaining scholarships can feel like a real burden, but they don’t have to be. The main thing is to stay organized and apply, apply, apply. The best scholarships, and the ones you’re more likely to earn, usually require effort: a full application, an essay, etc. Make sure you qualify for the scholarship you’re applying for so you make the best use of your time. And keep checking the Dr. Phillips Student Services page—it lists scholarships all the time, usually organized by deadline.

Where did you go to college?
I earned my bachelor’s at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. I double-majored in English and Fine Arts (drama/speech concentration) and minored in history. I earned a master’s at UCF in secondary English education. College was awesome. I highly recommend it.

What’s the best tip for doing well in senior year?
Plan. Schedule your commitments, including homework, community service, jobs, etc., and stick to it. Remember that even though it feels like you’re done with high school, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, and it ain’t over until May. Keep on pushing!

What are some good anti-procrastination techniques?
If I knew a great answer to that, I’d be a gazillionaire. Since I’m not, I’ll refer you to some great time management apps you should install on your phone or extensions to add to Chrome. Check out links to some of them in the “Simplify Your Life” menu to the right.



Can we eat in class?
I’ve had seniors who swore to me that they would be neat but who actually turned out to be Visigoths. Don’t be like them. I’m fine with drinks in containers with caps. Finger snacks like Goldfish crackers or carrots are okay, but save anything you have to eat with utensils for later. And pick up your trash!

Can we listen to 70s/80s music all year? Can we listen to music in class? What’s your favorite band? What’s your favorite rapper/rap group?
I actually have pretty wide musical taste, so you’ll hear a little of everything except things I can’t concentrate to (sorry, screamo and hardcore rap). I won’t play music every day, but it makes regular appearances. As far as bands go, I have a bunch of music from R.E.M., Rush, Sting, The Police, U2, Jimmy Buffett, Foo Fighters, big band orchestras, Miles Davis, Liz Phair, and 80s music. I’m always open to new artists as long as they’re melodic, which is how my kids got me into Alt-J and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. And although rap is a genre I don’t listen to often, I like artists who have something intelligent to say in an interesting way, so bring on the Public Enemy, De La Soul, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Missy Elliott.

How long have you been teaching? What is your favorite thing about teaching?
Since last century. It’s never the same day twice, and being around young people keeps me young.

What’s your favorite children’s book/book?
Children’s books: Go, Dog. Go!, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Nicholas Flamel series, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and The Phantom Tollbooth.
Grown people books: Pride and Prejudice, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Winter’s Tale.

Other favorites (color, animal, country, TV show, movie, thing ever)?
• Blue, green, or purple (depends on the day)
• Horses for beauty and dogs for loyalty and companionship
• Scotland, because it’s the home of one of my hidden talents—traditional Scottish Highland dance. My other “hidden” talent is that I’m a published author.
• British murder mysteries, especially those with history like Foyle’s War and Grantchester, The Big Bang Theory, classic Star Trek. I also enjoy hate-watching House Hunters.
• The Princess Bride, Better Off Dead, Raising Arizona, Young Frankenstein, Galaxy Quest, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And Star Wars. All of it. Even The Phantom Menace, because you should always be kind to the awkward people.

What was your hair color before it was grey?
Medium to dark brown. It’s still in there, but the white is taking over. Look closely and you’ll see.

What’s something you’ve never said aloud? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
If I’ve never said it aloud, why would I write it down? And probably agreeing to an AMA with high school seniors, LOL.

What is your favorite subreddit? Do you use Reddit a lot?
Actually, I don’t use Reddit at all, but if I did, you’d find me with the writers and geeks and general know-it-alls. I’m all over Twitter, however.

Could Ned Stark have found a way out of that “situation”?
Not really. His loyalty was to Robert Baratheon, so it’s not like he could refuse the request to become the Hand of the King. And he was basically too honorable to think that Cersei Lannister was plotting to get him and King Robert out of the way, but he figured it out. Too bad it was too late when he did. I’m sure Arya will set things straight, though. She’s on a roll.

Is this class going to be lit?
If you’re being literal, then of course, because it’s already LITerature. If you mean the colloquial phrase closely related to “turnt,” then clearly you haven’t received proper intel, or you’d know the answer to this question already.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?


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Prepping for the AP Lit Exam

studyAP Lit is a different beast from most AP classes, since there isn’t a study guide of names, dates, events, or what have you that you should review. However, there are some things you can do to help you face the exam with confidence. First, gather your materials. Have your class portfolio, poetry journal, and copy of Sound and Sense handy.

Multiple Choice
Review your sets of practice questions, paying attention to the types of questions being asked. Many of the questions ask you to relate selected words or phrases with others in the passage or poem, so this is where you unpack your syntactical skills from AP Lang class. Pay attention to punctuation—it will often reveal relationships among the words, phrases, and sections.

Quick Tips:

  • Scan the question stems and bracket any specified lines stated in the questions before reading the poem or passage.
  • Don’t overthink things, smart people. You’re pressed for time, so go with your first, best instinct.
  • If you can eliminate at least two of the possible choices for a question, it’s better to go ahead and guess on the answer. If you’re truly stuck, skip it and move on.
  • If you skip questions, pay close attention to where you are on the answer sheet. Getting off by one can really screw things up.
  • Watch your time. Remember the one-minute rule for passages: each passage and question set should take the same number of minutes as the number of questions, plus one minute; i.e. allow thirteen minutes for a twelve-question set.
  • If you get down to the last minute or so and still have unanswered questions, then it’s okay to begin singing. (“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, I think I’ll mark this answer ‘E.'” Or B. Or what have you.) There is no penalty for an incorrect answer, but you will accumulate points for those last minute lucky guesses.

Free Response
Remember that the ultimate goal for all of the writing prompts is to reveal your understanding and analysis of the work, passage, or poem in question. Summary is not required! Really. The AP readers assigned to the poem and prose prompts basically have them memorized by the end of the second day of the reading, and the ones on Q3 are most likely teachers or college professors who really don’t need to have the plot of The Great Gatsby or Romeo and Juliet explained to them. Especially that one professor from the Ivy League school who wrote her dissertation on Fitzgerald, or the gentleman who’s taught R&J to his freshmen classes every year for the past decade. Yes, those kinds of people read AP exams.

To avoid this, my friend and AP colleague Skip Nicholson suggests that when you write, try pulling examples from different parts of the work, but don’t present them in order. As he says, “If students begin at the start of the work, you can be sure the next detail will be whatever follows in the text, and the Great Tide of Retelling is on the way to carrying them into the Brown Swamp of Plot Summary for novels or the Murky Pools of Paraphrase for poetry. There be dragons there.”

Q 1 – Poetry
Review the poems you selected for your journal, keeping in mind the focus of the selected chapter in Sound and Sense. Each poetry prompt asks you to relate the poet’s techniques with the overall meaning or theme of the poem itself. Reread some of the poems you annotated and see how those annotations help build to a theme. Practice on some of the additional poems for study to sharpen your skills.

Quick Tips:

  • Titles of poems go in quotation marks: “Song of Myself”  “Dulce et Decorum Est”
  • The voice presented in a poem belongs to the speaker, not the narrator.
  • Tone is a vital part of any discussion of poetry! Make sure you address tone in your commentary.
  • Pay attention to shifts—in tone, in style, in rhyme. They often accompany shifts in meaning.
  • Don’t arrange your essay by device! Instead, talk about how the poem presents meaning as you work from beginning to end, discussing important devices like word choice, imagery, etc. as you go.

Q 2 – Prose
The prose passages ask you to focus on evidence for a particular theme, stance, or point of view. Often they will ask about how a character is being presented and ask you to select the specific evidence from the passage to support your reading of the piece. Review your previous attempts at Q2 and see how you’re doing with using specific textual evidence as support.

Quick Tips:

  • Read the prompt carefully! Be sure you are addressing all parts of the prompt.
  • Remember that any list of techniques presented is usually a suggested list; you may choose to discuss some, all, or none of those techniques, depending on the wording of the prompt.
  • Relate any specific technique you select back to the meaning or thrust of the passage as a whole. Don’t be a tour guide shouting “Hey, look! A metaphor!” without explaining why that metaphor is important or how it connects to a larger idea.
  • Again, don’t organize your essay by device. Consider what the prompt is asking about characterization or what have you and show how that builds from beginning to end, weaving in appropriate devices as you go.

Q 3 – Open
Here’s where all those Six Pack Sheets will come in handy! Question 3 is truly an open question. As we discussed in class, Q3 will list suggested works, but you are not required to select one of those works as your response. You may select any work that you believe you can use confidently and that will help you craft as detailed and thoughtful a response as possible. My advice is that you select six works to review so that you will have names and specific details handy. From your class folder or laptop, find all of your Six Pack Data Sheets. Pull the foldables we made for Light in August and Their Eyes Were Watching God. You will also need your Window Notes pages from the Literature Circles (play and novel). These should represent all of the works we studied during this year together in AP Literature. From all of the works, select your top six. These do not have to be the six you like the best! Consider a range of time periods; include some historical works in addition to modern ones. Think about the various points of view, style, and settings represented by the works as you select your six pack. Once you have chosen your six pack, review the information in the appropriate Six Pack Sheet, foldable, or set of Window Notes. Check this website for posts about the works—use the search feature or the tags to go directly to posts about the works in your six pack. Review the Canvas discussion boards for each work. Skim SparkNotes (yes, this is what they were made for!) to remind yourself about character names and plot details. Think carefully about theme/MOWAW you have recorded on your Six Pack Sheets and decide what details within the texts support your ideas.

Quick Tips:

  • Titles of these works should be underlined since you can’t create italics with handwriting. No quotation marks. Ever.
  • Resist the urge to retell the story. The person reading your essay is probably familiar with the work and doesn’t need you to retell the plot. Refer to incidents as if you’re having a conversation with someone who read it along with you.
  • Avoid the phrase “meaning of the work as a whole” by substituting what you think that meaning/theme is. You’ll sound instantly smarter—and the essay will be more powerful as a result.

Whether you believe it or not, you’re ready. You’ve done the readings, we’ve discussed, you’ve written. You know what you need to do in order to succeed. Now go in there and make it happen!

Good luck on the exam. I’m proud of all you’ve accomplished.

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Improving Your AP Responses


Now that you have received your first scored AP essay back, you might be thinking about ways to improve your writing–especially if you’d like to get into the 7Up club. Completing an AP prompt can be challenging, even for students who are confident writers. Although AP officially stands for Advanced Placement, it’s also telling you the key to success:

AP = Answer the Prompt

The number one thing separating a top scoring AP essay from one that doesn’t get the job done is whether the student has carefully considered and addressed all parts of the prompt. Here are some things to consider when you sit down to write.


Be thorough. Make sure you have identified everything the prompt is asking you to do. Doing a brilliant job of identifying the literary devices in a prose passage or poem is great, but if you never show how they are working in the piece to reveal the theme (or whatever the prompt is asking you to comment on), then your essay won’t rise much higher than a 5.

Be specific. Quote from the poem or passage to support your points; don’t generalize. Embed the quotations smoothly within your analysis rather than copying chunks and dropping them into the text for the reader to make the connection. Refer to specific events, conversations, and characters in your selected novel or play for Q3.

Be generous. One example, no matter how sparkling, is ever enough. To move from “plausible” (6-7) to “persuasive” (8-9), you have to provide plentiful support for your ideas. That means tracing an idea throughout an entire larger work instead of mentioning just one key scene, or connecting the images in every stanza of a poem, not just the most vivid one in the final couplet.

Be aware. Consider your audience. These people are experienced teachers and professors. They’re also avid and careful readers. Pitch your essay at a level they expect. Employ formal language. Use present tense when writing a cricial discussion of a piece of literature. Leave yourself out of it; keep the focus on the work itself, not what you think, like, or dislike about it.

Be yourself. The very best essays are always a combination of excellent analysis and a strong, unique voice. Yes, a formulaic five-paragraph essay from a three-part thesis will get the job done, but when it comes to AP, style points are crucial. Now is the time to show off your fabulous vocabulary or your interesting insight. Remember, the full name of the course is AP Literature and Composition. Include the niceties of writing that can help your essay sing.


Summarize. The last three words of the Q3 prompt are always “Avoid plot summary.” Your job is not to explain to the reader what happens in the novel or what occurred next in the play. The reader is assuming that you, as an AP student, have read the work and “get it.” You should assume the same about the reader. The college professor who wrote a dissertation about Shakespeare is not going to appreciate (and doesn’t need) the two paragraphs you just wasted explaining what happens in Othello.

Parrot the prompt. Your thesis statement should reflect your thinking about what the prompt is asking, not incorporate the wording in the prompt itself. The more copying you’re doing, the less thinking.

Regress. Signal phrases like “In conclusion” or openers like “Webster’s defines X as…” reveal a lack of confidence in your ability to structure and present original, quality writing. These are training wheels from elementary school. Leave them in the past where they belong. Check out the Verboten list for other phrases to avoid.

Cheerlead. Your job is not to convince the reader of the writer’s brilliance or how the passage reflects humanity, literature, or writing in general. Stay away from statements about the nature of society and phrases like “Great writers often…” “Authors often use…” or “We as humans…”

Dump. Pointing out a metaphor, symbol, or other literary device to the reader without analyzing further is like a cat dropping its dead mouse offering on the doorstep. It’s not enough to identify that a writer or poet is employing a particular device. You have to connect the use of the device with the MOWAW (meaning of the work as a whole). The same is true for examples and support in Q3. Mentioning the use of winter imagery in a poem is one thing. Explaining how those images enhance the sense of isolation expressed by the speaker is something else entirely.

Panic. The reader is well aware of the time constraints you are working under. Plan your essay and execute it to the best of your ability in the time you have available. Read carefully (you can do that). Annotate as you go (you may not like it, but you can do that as well). Create a structure for your essay. Get started. If you’re stuck on an introduction, start with a body paragraph and circle back to write the introductory paragraph later, once you have a firmer grasp on the scope of your essay. Include specific examples that reinforce your thesis throughout. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.”

Happy writing!

Adapted from material by Jane Gutherman, AP Literature instructor at Dr. Phillips HS.

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Semester Exam Review

Semester I exams are here! To be successful, please review the topics below. Page numbers correspond to your textbook.

Archetypes – presentation is available for review on the Honors IV Resources page

Seven Deadly Sins – presentation is available for review on the Honors IV Resources page

Lord of the Flies – try Sparknotes or Wikipedia for an overview/refresher on characters, events, and themes in the work

Anglo-Saxon period – pp. 2-16

Beowulf – pp. 18-46

Medieval period – pp. 74-88

The Canterbury Tales
General Prologue – pp. 105-125. Understand the overall scope and purpose and review your character sheet.
The Pardoner’s Tale – pp. 129-136
The Wife of Bath’s Tale – pp. 138-147
The Franklin’s Tale – text available here
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale – text available here

Ballads – pp. 91-95 (“Lord Randall,” “Edward, Edward,” “Get Up and Bar the Door,” “Frankie and Johnny”); “The Lady of Shalott,” 808-812

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – 159-165

Research Skills – pp. 1207-1214

Remember, your test will be 100 multiple choice questions, 15 points of short answer based on a passage, a 35 point essay in which you use what we read this semester as your support for your position, and five bonus questions. Good luck, and happy studying!

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