Posted in Teach

How to Prepare Kids for the AP Lit Test

Let’s start this blog off by first saying that I am no expert at teaching AP Literature and Composition. In fact, last year was my first time EVER teaching AP Lit. It was an absolute blast, and I hope I can teach the course for years to come. That said, my scores were pretty decent for a first year AP teacher, I think (okay, I’m going to go ahead and say they were even really good). I beat the national passing average by 25% and had the highest AP Lit scores my school has had in years. I worked my you-know-what off and nearly died in the process, but it seems to have paid off.

Here’s the national score breakdown by average:

5 6.8%     4 16.1%     3 29.9%     2 33.9%     13.3%

Here’s my school’s score breakdown by average (I wasn’t the only AP Lit teacher):

5 6.6%     12.2%     37.7%     2 36.8%     6.6%

Here’s my score breakdown by average:

5 10.9%     4 19.6%     47.8%     2 19.6%     1 2.1%

I’m really happy with my scores. My administration doesn’t put as much pressure on our test scores as some do, so I didn’t have that hanging over my head all year and could just focus on teaching. When I first started teaching, I moved to Texas and taught at a school where the emphasis on test scores was high. If you didn’t have high scores, then you were not doing a good job. I found myself surrounded by teachers who tried to teach to a test (understandably so, though). I didn’t focus much on the test there either, and my scores ended up being just fine, but I left as soon as I could. I decided to carry that philosophy over with me to teaching AP Lit this year. In fact, I barely taught the test at all. Why? Because we really have no clue what will be on the test. Seriously, if kids know how to read and read well and analytically, then they will be prepared. That’s the place to focus your energy! I’m not all about that “Multiple Choice Monday” life some AP teachers do. Like, yuck! I would hate it as a student, so I’m sure my students do, too. And they don’t need it if you teach them strategies for handling multiple choice questions (which will help them in college, too!).

Beginning of the Year

My students read How to Read Literature Like a Professor (Revised Edition) by Thomas C. Foster over the summer. This is their introduction to the kind of analytical reading that will be expected of them throughout the course. I read Foster’s original text in high school, and it helped transform me as a reader, so I think this text is paramount to helping students in this course. Student reactions to the text are mixed (they either love it or tend to hate it because they don’t like Foster’s tone), but they all admit that it’s beneficial and teaches them things about analyzing literature that they don’t already know.

During the first full week of school, my students also take a full AP Mock exam. If you’re an AP Lit teacher, make sure you have access to your Course Audit. The “Secure Documents” section of your Course Audit account includes multiple, full mock exams with scoring guides, score reports, and the 2016 practice exam even breaks down the multiple choice in three skills to focus on: comprehension, interpretation, and recognition of literary technique. You can do this with any of the tests on your own as well using the question stems in the multiple choice section (I prefer the 2014 practice exam). We do the multiple choice section on a block day and the FRQs on regular schedule days. I change the prompt for FRQ 3 to fit their choice summer reading novel (which they read in addition to How to Read Lit), so we don’t have to do another essay for the summer reading assessment.

After giving the mock exam, I quickly read through FRQ 1 and FRQ 2 and make notes to give feedback to the entire class on how to improve for that type of question (poetry or prose) for their next timed write. I spend a little more time on FRQ 3 and give specific feedback in the form of questions. For example, “How can you make your thesis more explicit? What, exactly, are you trying to argue?” This way, kids know they need to work on thesis development and make their argument clear in the thesis, and I don’t have to focus on giving 5 positive comments to every 1 negative comment (because they’re all questions to drive thinking).

Once I’m done grading the FRQs, I have my aide enter scores into a Google Spreadsheet to analyze the types of MC questions students are most struggling with. I’m going to skip this step this year, and I’m going to use the new Google Forms to have my kids enter their own MC results. For example, I will type “1” as the question, and kids will answer the multiple choice question of “Correct” or “Incorrect” under that number. That way, I get nice little pie charts for every question! They analyze their scores and set goals to focus on throughout the year based on the skills they struggle with most.

During my “Lit Fit” unit, a literary analysis bootcamp unit on short stories and poetry, we also talk about “The Unwritten Rules of Poetry.”

Then, we don’t explicitly talk about the AP Lit test again until after spring break . . . We do continue to give timed writes, and I do continue to give individual and whole group feedback and teach the kids how to give peer feedback, but I don’t talk about the test much here at all (other than scoring).


I think some of my kids were a little mad that I didn’t start preparing them for the test sooner (though, I kind of was, because I made them keep Major Works Data Sheets for everything we read and gave them multiple choice tests on what they were reading every now and then using AP question stems). If you don’t know how to write AP-style questions, just pull out a released exam and use the question stems there to create your own questions (you know that whole “mentor text” idea? This is using it yourself!). I went over the test using a Google Presentation on The AP Lit Exam that I made based on the notes that I took at my AP Summer Institute (APSI) training for new AP Lit teachers in July 2016. I might go over this at the beginning of the year (after the Mock Exam because I like to track growth between the beginning of the year mock and end of the year mock), but I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll leave it up to the kids!

At the beginning of April, I give kids the same mock exam they took in August. This time around, I give individual feedback on EACH FRQ (they get a different prompt for FRQ 3 though), and they compare their scores and evaluate if they met their beginning of the year goals.

Lastly, for multiple choice practice once a week leading up to the test (only in April!), I pull from the 2009 released exam which came in my APSI Workshop Handbook. I hand out one excerpt and the accompanying ten questions to students. They spend 3 minutes reading and annotating the excerpt (I tell them when it’s been 3 minutes the first few times we do this) and then they spend the last 7 minutes answering the questions. They’re often surprised how much time they have left over. Once all the questions are answered individually, students get into groups of 4-6 and answer the questions as a group. If they all agree on the answer, they may move to the next question. If anyone disagrees on an answer, the group must go back to the excerpt and question and discuss until they come up with what they think is the correct answer. Once all groups have finished their discussions, I pull them together. Each group must share out the answer they got to each question, and we go through the questions, answers, and explanations one at a time. I don’t explain the answer if all groups got it right unless an individual student requests I explain something.

I also shared advice from the #APLitChat community over on Twitter (every Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET hosted by @TalksWTeachers) and showed the video advice from Susan Barber and company are a FANTASTIC resource. Check them out!

Poetry w/ Susan Barber (@susangbarber on Twitter)

Prose w/ Adrian Nester (@adriantnester on Twitter)

Free-Response w/ Jori Krulder (@JoriKrulder on Twitter)

Again, I am new at this and have never been to The Reading. If you’re a reader, please let me know if you have any other tips to add to my presentations!

If students want to study, they’re welcome to check out AP Lit test prep books from me, the school library, or our public library, or they may purchase their own. I don’t really have a favorite recommendation for kids to get, but I tend to use Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP English Literature and Composition Exam the most myself as a reference. I also like the 5 Steps to a 5 series.

Feel free to use my resources in your own classes. You can make a copy of them and change them however you see fit, but please don’t sell them.

What tips do you have for preparing students for the AP Lit exam? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear more ideas!



Posted in Teach

First Day of School

Oh, hey. It’s been a looooooong time, hasn’t it? I told you I’m never good at keeping up with blogs, but this year I’m determined (and also sort of, kind of required to but not exactly). I also really want to. After six years in the classroom, I finally feel like a good teacher, and I feel like I have something to offer other teachers. That said, I’m done rambling. Here’s the plan for my next few posts: “How I Prepared Kids for the AP Lit Test,” “High School Classroom Decor,” and a whole slew of book reviews. I’m also planning to make some KonMari checklists and graphics and talk about decluttering and organizing a space to feel like you’re a real adult with your life together-ish. Today, though, I want to talk about the first day of school. I’m a bit in denial that my first day with kids is NEXT WEEK. How?! I haven’t finished even half of my TBR! I need more reading time! Seriously, though, I’m excited now that I’ve been in and started setting up my classroom (new this year: no desks). Want a sneak peek of my new classroom? Follow @athomeintheclassroom on Instagram. I won a classroom makeover from my District at the end of last year, and these ladies are helping me transform my new room!

Last summer, I saw a blog post about using stations for the first day of school, and I’m a huge fan of stations in other situations, so I decided to steal a few of Brynn’s ideas and create some of my own. In the past, I’d been the really boring teacher who highlighted parts of the syllabus and read through the “Code of Conduct” highlights before I had to collect signatures (English teachers see all kids every day, so we are blessed with this responsibility!). I hated doing it, I’m sure the kids hated me doing it, so I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do to change it up. I remembered that the only thing I wanted to do on the first day of school was talk to my friends and catch up (let’s be honest, I still want to do this), so that’s what I set out to do.

Enter stations! I felt like this would be the perfect opportunity to give kids the time to socialize if they wanted while also being productive. Here’s an overview of my stations:

Beware, your room will likely look like this at the end of the day (DISASTER ZONE):


Station 1: Syllabus Scavenger Hunt 

I’m an English teacher. I like words (and, apparently, parentheses! HA!). My syllabus has lots and lots of words. I teach juniors and seniors, and if they don’t know how to read on their own then I have a problem. I never had a college professor read the syllabus to me–I was expected to read it before I came to class the first day or on my own time after the first class and before the second. It’s time my own students learn how to do this. I designed a collaborative little scavenger hunt using items I wanted to highlight from the syllabus, and I set a timer for 5 minutes. The group had to locate and answer questions, and each student in the group with the highest number of points got a sympathy pass (a two-day extension on any assignment other than summer reading and end of semester assignments). I may update a few questions, but it served its purpose this year. Students then take the syllabus home, read it thoroughly, and sign their name (and get a parent to sign as well).

Station 2: SMART Goal Setting

I’m a huge fan of goal setting. I set hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals for myself, so I encourage my students to set goals each semester. I give them a graphic organizer (optional to begin with but required if they have to amend their goal because of not following directions) to help them plan their goal if they don’t already know how to create a SMART goal (my school does this as a whole, so most of my kids already know), and I also have them write their goal onto this handout. I MAY move this over to Google Forms and have kids use their phones with a shortened link and/or QR code on the directions, but I haven’t moved this form over electronically yet. We’ll see if it happens! We’re a POD (personally owned device) school, so kids usually have a device (and can use their phones with Google Forms, if needed). By the way, I’m sure I stole the graphic organizer at some point from somewhere, but I have no idea where and couldn’t find it. If it belongs to you, I’m happy to give you credit; send me an e-mail!

Station 3: Setting the Stage

At one point, I saw an activity on Pinterest where you ask kids questions, and they answer on little sticky notes, and I’ve done it for the last few years, laminated the sticky notes onto the chart paper, and kept them on the walls the entire year. This year, I don’t have much wall space (I’ve moved to a room with a window!), so I’m not sure if I’ll keep this activity or not. I’ve debated having kids use Padlet and making it a little more interactive and permanent (just not hanging on the walls). I added questions over the years, but I can’t find a more recent picture.


I asked the following questions:

  1. What do you hope to learn this year in English?
  2. What should kids in our class be doing to make sure our class runs as smooth as possible?
  3. What will you need to do in order to be successful this year?
  4. What will Ms. Tripp need to do to help you this year?
  5. Our classroom should be ________ every day.
  6. English is important because ________.

Station 4: Because I’m Happy!

I’ve always been someone who tries to focus on the positives and things that make me happy rather than dwell on what makes me upset (I’m human, though!). I wanted to find a way to incorporate this into the classroom, so when I saw this on Pinterest, I knew I had to do it!

Wall of happiness. What makes you smile? A good bulletin board idea. This could even be used to help decorate the hall.

I’ll find a space for this in my room again this year, no matter what! I include the picture on my directions (see the bottom of this post), and I don’t hang any up that are inappropriate. I ask kids to write their names on the back in the directions, which usually curbs inappropriate comments, but if there is something that isn’t school appropriate, then I have an individual conversation with the student who wrote it, and we discuss what might have been a more productive option. Last year, I also had students decorate popsicle sticks at this station, but I never once used them to call on students because I didn’t need to (I think I do a pretty good job of building relationships and a safe environment where all of my kids are willing to share out–another potential post??). I buy nice cardstock and cut them all the same size (2.2″ x 4.25″) using my personal paper cutter (best 40% off coupon I ever used at Michael’s!).

Station 5: STOP! Survey Time . . . 

Sympathy pass to the first student who can guess the reference! One of the ways I build relationships with my students is through surveys. I do a basic student inventory survey and a reading interest-a-lyzer survey about reading habits (inspired by Donalyn Miller). This summer, I moved these handouts onto Google Forms, so I can reference them anytime I want. I’ve tried everything to share my Forms, but I haven’t been able to share any outside of my district. You can view them here and here, though. I updated a few of the questions!

Station 6: Code of Conduct

English teachers have the honors on this one. Our administration sends us pages to cover and highlight. I give kids a copy of those pages and make it over to that group every rotation to make sure every kid signs saying they’ve reviewed the Code of Conduct. Because I have upperclassmen, they know the drill. I just point out anything that’s changed or been added and answer any questions if they have them.

Station 7: Poetry Socratic

I needed an 8th station this year, so I’ve been inspired by the AP Lit group on Facebook to have students quickly read and discuss a poem in a small group. I’m not sure which one I will choose (any suggestions?), but I will make sure it’s short! I love this idea! Thanks to David Rickert for inspiring me to add something a little more “academic” to the day.

Station 8: Homework

Every year I have students create a personal mandala. Please excuse my inability to center lines while frantically drawing shapes at the copy machine without a ruler (my room is really far from the copy room, okay?!). I have done this ever since my cooperating teacher did it when I student taught, and I’m not sure I’ll EVER give it up. Every year I’m blown away by my kids’ creativity, and I instantly have art to hang all over the classroom (I’ve hung every single one in the past and still hope to, but I might have to offer a sympathy pass for the ones I choose to hang because of space). Here are some past mandalas:


In the past, I’ve also had students write a personal essay answering the question, “Who am I?” based on the symbols on their mandala, but I’ve cut that out to save time. I mainly care about building relationships and connections, getting my students’ creativity flowing, and getting them in front of their peers to talk about themselves with this assignment. Not only do I get to know my kids better this way but their classmates do, too. This assignment constantly shows up on end of year surveys as being one of the favorites.

Here’s an editable copy of the personal mandala assignmentTip: I’m going to draw a circle and print it on cardstock for next year and have kids use my circle. This will help save on space, and I think it will just work better for my current classroom, but you can see I’ve not done that in the past. It’s totally up to you! Tip: On the day of presentations, you can have kids write one positive note to a student they might not know well yet based on their interests and share their phone number. This helps build connections and friendships in your class!

Lastly, I also send kids home with a copy of my library letter to sign and bring back. I have a huge classroom library, and this covers me. I load kids who have permission to check out my books into my Booksource Classroom Library app. If a kid wants to check out a book but isn’t in my phone, they must bring back a signed form! I wrote this years ago, but I am pretty sure I used Kelly Gallagher’s letter from Readicide as my model.

Station Directions (PDF)

Station Directions (Editable)


  1. If you print station signs to hang from the ceiling, make sure you print the station titles on both sides of the cardstock . . . HAHAHAHA.
  2. Five minutes per station might not be enough time . . . be okay extending this part of another day if you need to and have a short period! I keep the groups together even when the activities are individual.
  3. Kids remember this day at the end of the year! I love it! My AP kids definitely handle it better than my juniors, so I’d spend more time giving directions to gen ed groups.
  4. If you want my fonts to show up on the editable Word docs (I’m old; I haven’t transferred most of my Word docs to Google Docs yet, please don’t judge!), you may download Kimberly Geswein’s font bundle on TpT!
  5. I found this blog post on Eat. Write. Teach.’s blog about stations that looks pretty cool, too, but you’d have to purchase it. I’m not sponsored, I was just trying to find the original blog post that inspired me and came across this! I have not purchased it.
Posted in Read

Book Talk: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (January 6, 2015)
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary
Interest: Student recommendation
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

Amazon          GoodReads

Synopsis (from the Book Jacket)

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for–and manages to find–something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school–six stories above the ground–it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising–just like life.

Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself–a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.

My Thoughts

I was a little nervous to pick this book up because I’d heard so many mixed reviews about it, but when three of my students told me I had to read it this semester, I decided it was time to finally just pick it up and see how I liked it myself. I am glad that I read it and didn’t just listen to some of the reviews on GoodReads.

When I heard that the book is about two teens who meet at the top of their school’s bell tower and then embark on a school project to explore their state together, I was immediately drawn in. There aren’t enough young adult books that talk about mental health issues, and I think these types of books are important–especially for teens.

I feel like Niven gives an honest portrayal of mental health in All the Bright Places. I definitely understand some of the reviews that question how she handles depression and suicide within her book, but I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t sugar coat it or glorify it (at least I didn’t feel she did). I know some people are upset with how she handles mental health in her book, but it is obvious why she handles things the way she does when you actually read the book, which I can appreciate. I think Niven was brave to write this book how she did; the ending becomes especially poignant after reading Niven’s author note at the end of the book. Do yourself a favor and make sure that you read this after you’ve finished the book, especially if you’re upset with the ending.

As far as the characters went, I was  a little disappointed in their development. I felt like I didn’t get to know who the real Finch actually was, but I guess that could have been the point. As a character, he was just so all over the place. I liked Violet’s character development much more, but I had a hard time relating to her and felt like too many of her decisions seemed childish. I think this is more a result of me getting older and struggling to accept some of the irrational decisions made by teen characters. I think I would have been able to relate to her much better when I was a teenager.

My biggest problem with this book comes in the form of the parents. I had an incredibly difficult time with both Violet’s and Finch’s parents, but especially with Finch’s mom. She becomes extremely worried at points only to become totally aloof at others. This seemed more like a convenient way to drive the plot (which created too many holes) than something that actually made sense.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I read it in just a few days and couldn’t put it down. Though it was predictable and unbelievable at times, I appreciate the author for writing this book the way she did (even if that’s not the most popular opinion).

Trigger Warnings/Flags: suicide/depression, sex, language





Posted in Live, Read, Teach

“Bless Your Heart!”

. . . Or some other iteration is what people say to me when I respond to their query: “What do you do?” “I teach high school English,” I always say (usually with a bright smile on my face).

I’m really proud of this part of my identity, and I rarely understand why people usually quip with something like, “God bless you! I could NEVER work with teenagers. . . . ” Which leaves me to wonder, why not? Occasionally I ask them, but I never like to hear the answer to that question (which really should just stay in the rhetorical realm). I disagree 98% of the time with what the person says about some of my favorite people in the world (teenagers), and then I question why I’m still standing there listening and talking to them.

You see, I teach high school English. I teach a subject where building relationships is part of the curriculum. I teach a subject where I am lucky enough to get to know kids through their writing (remind me of this when I have a stack of essays to grade) and their reading habits. They often tell me things they haven’t even told their parents or their siblings or their best friends. They show me how empathetic and compassionate they are. They show me their hopes, their dreams, and their passions. They show me their struggles. They show me their heartbreaks. They show me their deepest fears, and they come to me when, God forbid, those fears are realized. And then, with time, they show me their resilience and general continued optimism with the world, even after their life has shattered. Sure, they sometimes tell me things I would have been just fine never knowing, but even in these moments I’m reminded of the fact that I have the best “job” in the world. I’m in the business of building relationships. These teenagers that people say they couldn’t possibly put up with constantly prove to me that I couldn’t possibly put up with not having them in my life. They truly are some of the coolest people I know.

Teach. Read. Live.

Teaching is not an easy career. I know people laugh at me sometimes when I say this, but I had no idea how difficult teaching would be as a student considering a career in teaching. And I would guess anyone who isn’t already a teacher has no idea how difficult teaching is. It is extremely challenging. I want to share my struggles and my successes. I want to show people what it takes to be a teacher. I want to discuss teaching with other teachers and community members (because, really, I never actually can get enough of talking about teaching). I want to learn and try new things and also share what I have learned along the way. A large part of this blog will be dedicated to my life as a teacher: the beautiful; the good; the bad; and even the ugly (hey, politics, I’m looking at you!). I’m starting a new chapter in my fifth year teaching (sixth if you count my year of student teaching, which I often do because I did all the things I do now, just for free). I really wish I had started blogging before this past school year because it really has been my best teaching year yet, but I guess it’s better late than never. I am taking on the challenge of teaching AP Literature for the first time next year. This blog will be as much a reflection of that journey as it will be a resource (at least I hope) for others. In addition, I teach ESL and, currently, Contemporary Literature (my absolute favorite!).

I don’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read and wasn’t currently reading a book. Seriously! I started reading abnormally early (I was three), and I haven’t stopped since. I want a platform where I can explore and expand on my relationship with books and reading. I want a place that can serve as a resource for other teachers, for their students, and for my own students. I just want to talk about reading! I mean, if I’m not talking about teaching, the other thing I most want to be talking about is reading. I really do believe they go together (like a horse and carriage . . .). I read a lot of YA literature, probably more than is healthy for a 30 year-old to admit, but hey! it’s for the kids! HA! I also love reading literary fiction, adult fiction (especially contemporaries), new adult, science fiction, fantasy, psychological thrillers, historical fiction, nonfiction, self help, graphic novels . . . OK, OK, I admit it! I like to read pretty much everything. And I hope to share a little bit of everything with you as well.

This last category is something that has taken a backseat to the first two categories the last seven or so years of my life. I have been so hyper-focused on establishing my career and becoming what I consider “well-read” that I’ve neglected life a little bit too much. Time to fix that. I am hoping to improve my life by writing about it. I want to talk about psychological well-being (I was a psych major after all). I want to talk about stress. I want to talk about health. And exercise. And food. And body image. I want to talk about simplifying things and trying to be more mindful in my life. I want to be able to practice gratitude when things get tough without even needing to think about it like I used to before “adulting” happened. I want to talk about my dreams and future goals and my introverted tendencies that sometimes get in the way of chasing my dreams. I want to talk about anxiety (a recent development) and insomnia (not so recent). I want to talk about self help, continuous improvement, and adulting (Peter Pan was onto something, kids . . . Never grow up!). I want to talk about my hobbies and favorite things. I want to talk about decor and clothes. I want to talk about finance. I want to share more about my beliefs in life and reflect back on my own education . . . You get the picture. Essentially, I want to talk about life in hopes that it will help me be better at lifing (a word I am pretty sure I just made up right now).


I hope you’ll introduce yourself if you’re reading this, even if you already know me. You see, I’m in the business of building relationships, and I want to have a relationship with anyone who reads this. Somehow. Someway. Leave a comment! Who are you? What do you do? What are your passions?

I hope you’ll stick around. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay. And I hope you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself (or for yourself) along the way.


P.S. I am a fan of the fragment and its affect on voice. If that bothers you, you actually may not want to stick around. I use it. On purpose. Often. Promise.