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AP Literature Syllabus

AP English Literature and Composition

Sandra Strom

Room 2410 – Paris High School



  • Because our school mandates an American Literature survey in the junior year and a British Literature survey in the senior year, my senior level AP English Literature and Composition course is a survey of British Literature.  I also teach the junior level AP course, however, and most of my students have come through that course.  Therefore, by the time they graduate, they have had both American and British, with some world literature occasionally inserted.  Authors whose works are covered in the American Literature survey include the following:  William Bradford, Ann Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, H. L. Mencken, Arthur Miller, Ralph Ellison, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Miller, Martin Luther King, and Annie Dillard.

  • Our year is divided into four nine-week periods.  Students are expected to do a major research paper, several in-class essays (rhetorical or literary analysis) each grading period, and a variety of short quizzes, tests, group projects, and assignments each grading period.

  • I operate on the assumption that I am preparing everyone for the exam.  Paradoxically, the course is all about the exam and at the same time all about life outside the exam!  It is a course about great ideas, great pieces of literature, and insightful interpretations of the human condition.  Thus, I believe that it is critical preparation for college, for the workforce, and for life in general.

  • This course is designed to comply with the curricular requirements described in the AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam Description.


Goal:  This course aims to engage students in careful close reading and critical analysis of imaginative literature.  The goal is that, as students confront a work’s structure, style, and themes, they will better understand the conventions of literature, become more adept at deriving and conveying meaning and insight about that literature, and develop an appreciation for literature and for the pleasure and depth that it can bring to their lives.


Objectives:  Upon completing this course, students should be able to

∙ read and appreciate texts from various periods and genres;

∙ understand a work’s complexity, absorb its richness of meaning, and analyze how that meaning is embodied in literary form;

∙ discuss textual detail and historical context and bring both to bear upon literary interpretation;

∙ write logically and clearly with stylistic maturity to generate analyses that effectively meet the demands of the Advanced Placement Exam, which include analytical writing on prose and poetry selections.


Philosophy:  My philosophy regarding the value of literature courses is beautifully summed up in the following quote by Edgar V. Roberts.

            The techniques students acquire in approaching literature as a reading-writing undertaking will help them in every course they will ever take, and in whatever profession they follow.  Students will always read – if not the authors contained here, then other authors, and certainly newspapers, legal documents, magazine articles, technical reports, business proposals, and much more.  Although students may never again be required to write about topics like setting, structure, or poetic rhythm, they will certainly find a future need to write.  Indeed, the more effectively students learn to write about literature when taking their literature courses, the better they will be able to write later on – no matter what the topic.  It is undeniable that the power to analyze problems and make convincing written and oral presentations is a major quality of success in all fields.  To acquire the skills of disciplined reading and strong writing is therefore the best possible preparation that students can make for the future, whatever it may hold.


Behavioral Expectations:  This is a college course.  Therefore, students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with the best universities’ standards. Personal discipline, daily preparation, and mutual respect enhance the classroom environment and ensure all participants of a positive, enriching learning experience.


Texts:   My Perspectives – English Language Arts IV - Pearson (Students will have access to an electronic version of the text as well as to a class set of books.)

             How to Read Literature Like a Professor – Thomas C. Foster

            Literature:  Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama – Robert DiYanni


Supplementary Works:

∙ Beowulf  / Grendel - John Gardner

∙ Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

∙ Macbeth – William Shakespeare

∙ Hamlet – William Shakespeare

∙ A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

∙ Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

∙ 1984 – George Orwell

∙ selected novel of student’s choice from list for independent study project



∙ Notebook with dividers

∙ Loose-leaf notebook paper

∙ Blue or black pens

∙ Red pen

∙ Post-it Notes

∙ Highlighters

∙ Spiral notebook or composition book

∙ Note cards (large ones)

  • Chromebook or other computer


Grading Policy:  Standard PHS grading percentages

            Daily work, class work, and homework – 25%

            Tests, major projects, and essays – 75%

            Semester Average:  Each nine week period grade - 40%

            Semester Exam - 20%


Late Work Policy: 

            One day late – 30 points off

            Two days late – 50 points off

            After that – zero

     Only three late work opportunities in a nine week period


Make-up work:

            Your responsibility to ask me

            Your responsibility to schedule in a timely fashion

            According to district policy – a day allowed for a day missed

            Ask for work in advance for edays.


*According to district policy, students who are failing are mandated to attend tutorials.  This year tutorials will be virtual.  My students can log into the Google Meet link on the AP Lit and Lang Tutorial Classroom at 7:45 in the morning for tutorial assistance.  I am also usually available after school for tutorials and make-up work (including tests).  Just schedule with me to make sure.



Basic Outline of the Year

Each nine weeks will include vocabulary, AP multiple choice practice, reading quizzes, essays, oral work, and major tests.  Students will read and respond to a variety of related works:  short stories, essays, poems, novels, plays, memoirs, films, and more.


Literature of Epic and Legend / Archetypes in Fiction

After discussions of the summer reading assignments, we begin the year with some exercises on essay writing, thesis development, and writing and reading about literature from Lucile Vaughan Payne’s The Lively Art of Writing and How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (their summer reading). These exercises and writing assignments refocus the students’ attention on the task at hand for the year, crafting cogent expository arguments about literature.  Every writing assignment at this point is brainstormed, outlined, and presented in rough draft form for a peer editing process.  Only then is the final copy submitted.  At least one of these assignments is conferenced over with the teacher and then resubmitted for a grade.  The benefit of this process is that I am able to instill my standards of quality writing for the year for all writing, whether it be research, personal journal writing, or critical essays.


Another building block that is laid at the beginning is literary vocabulary.  We begin with a rather extensive review of literary terms that is then tested.  We also review AP strategies that the students practiced during the previous year in their AP language course:  close reading, multiple choice strategies, and acronyms for literary analysis DIDLS (diction, imagery, detail, language, syntax) and PATTR (purpose, audience, tone, theme, rhetorical choices).  Students are reminded of dialectical journaling where they select pivotal quotes from a piece of literature and then write about the author’s purpose and significant rhetorical strategies and how these contribute to the development of meaning or to the furtherance of the central argument.  Students are also encouraged when they read a major work to create a note card on that work that includes information about major characters, point of view, setting, themes, tone, symbols, and plot implications.  These note cards are kept for students to remind themselves of the salient features of various literary works for the literary argument question on the AP test.


As a routine part of their vocabulary instruction with SAT vocabulary words, students write pattern sentences on each word, imitating the writing styles of various authors and practicing rhetorical patterns, such as introductory participial phrases, absolute phrases, subordinate clauses to complicate the verb, personification, metaphor, and simile.  In this way we can focus on style as a major component of writing skill as students develop their own narrative voices.


My senior students also compete in a number of statewide essay and short story contests, sponsored by the Air Force Association, the VFW Voice of Democracy, the Soil and Water Conservation Essay Contest, the Future Problem Solving Scenario Competition, the Paris Junior College Writing Competition, and the Letters about Literature contest.  Historically we have done very well in these competitions.  This past year, we won district, regional, and state competitions in two of the essay contests.


To refresh students’ memories on critical approaches to literature, we will be reading and analyzing Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” and addressing the complex characterization issues and narrative perspective in that work.  To review and focus on Literary Elements, students will complete a Literary Elements Clinic focused on the works “The Flowers” by Alice Walker and “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes.


Before we begin Beowulf, we do a study of the English language and how it has changed through the ages.  We bring down the Oxford English Dictionary from the library so that students can see how words and phrases have changed in our language.  At this time they also solve some interesting Anglo-Saxon riddles.  When they read Beowulf, just as with any other work that we will study during the year, they are guided by discussion questions, notes that they take on their own reading, and dialectical journals that they write on quotes they deem to be especially significant. Beowulf also provides an opportunity to study archetypes and heroes that we will revisit as the year goes along, both in novel and in film. I use a film clip from the movie Dances with Wolves and an excerpt from Peter Stillman’sIntroduction to Myth.  We also compare the monster of the original Beowulf with the Grendel of John Gardner’s philosophical treatment.

With Canterbury Tales, students learn a character inside and out, take on that persona, and create a comparison with a modern day character in society. These are then presented to the class. 


We continue our study of archetypes with Heart of Darkness, which I introduce with material from King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.  We also view slides of Impressionist painting and discuss how Conrad layers images the way the Impressionists used light and shadow.  The culmination of this book study is a mini-research paper on critical approaches to Heart of Darkness.  This year as a follow up, we will be adding the critically acclaimed modern novel, Purple Hibiscus as a modern take on the Africa of today.


∙ Beowulf / Grendel by John Gardner

∙ Film The Thirteenth Warrior

∙ Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

∙ Canterbury Tales project

∙ Essay on archetypes

∙ Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

∙ Film Apocalypse Now

∙ Literary Criticism  Researched Essay


Literature of the Renaissance / Conventions and Conceits


We begin this period with a study of the sonnet form.  We look at sonnets of different types from several different authors, Elizabethan, Victorian, and modern.  This culminates in an AP essay.  After historical context on Shakespeare and the plays we will be studying, we approach the text of Macbeth from the view of the Elizabethan stage…his plays were written to be seen, so we act them out and stop to discuss salient points, such as what does the dagger soliloquy reveal about Macbeth’s state of mind?  Students journal responses to questions that they ask themselves as they read, and then we respond in class, as well.  A major test and AP essay await at the end of this adventure, but not before a stimulating concluding discussion, conducted by student groups with visual aids. Student groups will enact scenes from the play that they have reinterpreted into modern vernacular with costumes and props.


We study Hamlet in much the same way with the added technique of selecting out his soliloquies for close reading and for the purpose of showing the development of his character and the progress of the theme.  Also students must chart as they go through the play the plot developments, the comic relief scenes, the instances of irony, paradox, hyperbole, litotes, puns, foreshadowing, and allusions, as well as the following motifs in the text:  darkness, sickness/poison/disease, rottenness/decay, outer space/the stars/the planets, gardens/flowers/plants/trees.  Students have a choice of essay topics at the end of the discussion of the play, and they must develop an arguable thesis and support with textual evidence from the play.


Throughout this unit, students are working on a major research paper dealing with some topic from Shakespeare’s body of work.  The paper must be critical in nature and contain a works cited and parenthetical documentation.  The research format is MLA.


During this unit, students begin a poetry project that will carry us across several periods from the Elizabethans to the Victorians.  Students must research one poet of their choice and prepare a presentation to the class that includes biographical information, particularly that which would make the poet come alive for us, critical overview of the author’s work, oral presentation and analysis of one of his/her poems, and creative visual image of the poem.  This presentation may be accompanied by appropriate music. Presentations are not done all on the same day, but rather in time order, as we get to those periods.  After the student presentations, we will study and explicate several of the author’s poems. For help with explication, we use Laurence Perrine’s Structure, Sound and Sense.


∙ Renaissance poetry – especially the sonnets

∙ Macbeth by William Shakespeare

∙ Hamlet by William Shakespeare

∙ Shakespearean literary criticism researched essay incorporating argument

∙ Poetry analysis

∙ Original poem


Romance and Revolution / figurative language

During this period, my students participate in a statewide competition through the Texas State Future Problem Solving Program.  Students write 1500 word scenarios, creative futuristic short stories based on one of the five FPS topics for the year.  The stories must be set 20 or more years in the future and must be in response to a challenge of the present and trends from the present extrapolated into the future.  A solution to the problem in the present, when enacted, creates unanticipated consequences for the characters of the future world.  Though this assignment does not fit strictly into the confines of the AP English Literature and Composition course, I find that it is a productive creative impetus for my students and enhances the creation of their own narrative voices.


Students continue with the presentation of their poetry research and their explications this period.  After we set the stage for the historical background of A Tale of Two Cities  through student groups who present on different aspects of the French Revolution and after close reading of the famous first chapter, students are encouraged to look for symbols in the novel and what they represent and to answer the question, how does Dickens use metaphors to reveal character and how does Dickens use the devices of language to portray his complex attitude toward the revolution?  They also do dialectical journals on the novel and culminate with an AP essay.


∙ Romantic poetry

∙ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

∙ Nature journal

∙ Poetry project

∙ Poetry One Pager assignment

∙ Character study essay / thematic essay


The Victorians – Romance and Realism / the dramatic monologue

We continue the student poetry presentations which this year covered John Donne, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, William Blake, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and Thomas Hardy.  As students read and explicate many of the poems of these authors, they work sometimes individually and sometimes in groups.


They also work to do a powerpoint presentation of an illuminated poem, allowing the words of the poem to dictate the movement on the powerpoint.  These are usually very moving and vivid presentations that bring poetry to life for the students.


This year we will be adding the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and we will be discussing and writing about the concepts of creature and creator.


∙ Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

∙  Victorian poetry – Tennyson, Brownings (both of them), Arnold, Hardy, etc.

∙ Illuminated Powerpoint Projects

∙ Argumentative essay on ending of the novel


Modernism in Literature / symbolism and stream of consciousness

Based on the novel 1984, students in groups of four complete a modified Future Problem Solving project on the topic of privacy.  The FPS six-step module includes brainstorming potential challenges from research, selecting an underlying problem to solve, brainstorming potential solutions, defining criteria to judge those solutions, developing a grid to chart the solution scores with regard to the criteria, and an action plan on the best solution.


Student groups also write and perform Two Minute Hates on some aspect of modern society.  They discuss parallels to modern-day oppressive societies and to the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451.  They do a modified research paper which is a symbolism essay, researched with critical sources on some symbol of modern life suggested by the novel.  It is modified in the sense that the notations come primarily from the novel or from critical commentary about the novel, and it is more of an essay than a full-blown research paper. The students, upon completion of the novel, watch the movie Enemy of the State and write about parallels in the two societies.


  • World War I poets

  • Yeats, Eliot, Thomas

  • James Joyce and Virginia Woolf

  • 1984 by George Orwell

  • Future Problem Solving project

  • Symbolism essay – researched with critical sources

  • Film Enemy of the State


Independent Study / AP exam review

During this final unit, students have three principle programs of work:

  • An examination of satire through Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

Students read the piece, answer questions on it, discuss it, and then in groups decide on a problem in their school or community that they would like to see solved.  Then, in a satirical piece, they make their own “modest proposal” for correcting the problem.  They must utilize the devices of humor, exaggeration, understatement, and irony to develop their satire.


  • In lieu of the senior autobiography project, students answer ten thought provoking personal questions with an elaborated one page response on each.  Questions cover goals, personal qualities and beliefs, life milestones, challenges, and other topics of interest.  This culminates in a day to share what students have learned and how they have grown in the past twelve years.   


  • Book clubs – students divide along lines of interest and group together to read and study novels of their choice from a list.  They must answer very specific questions about the books in discussion format (such as, in what ways do the events of the book reveal evidence of the author’s world view or controlling philosophy?).  They must write dialectical journals on significant quotes from the book.  Then they must prepare a presentation on the novel where they assume a persona of a character in the novel or create a scene from the book or do a critic’s roast of the book and author.  With these presentations, we wind up our year.


  • Students conclude the year with their Legacy projects, a two page spread that includes a collage of photographs and a personal narrative about the legacy that they want to leave behind.  All of these are compiled into a book that is given to the students for graduation.


 Academic Dishonesty

Student violations of academic dishonesty are handled by the faculty member(s) involved. For clarification, see the student handbook.  Should the student object to the decision of the faculty member(s), the appeals process for instructional due process may be utilized. The following list describes the most common forms of academic dishonesty.

1.       Taking an exam for another student

2.       Having another student take an exam for you

3.       Altering or forging an official college document

4.       Paying someone to write a paper to submit as your own work

5.       Arranging with other students to give or receive answers by use of signals or cell phone texting

6.       Copying from someone’s exam with or without that person’s knowledge

7.       Allowing another student to copy from you during an exam

8.       Writing a paper for another student

9.       Copying answers from a source without doing the work independently

10.   Getting questions or answers from someone who has already taken the same exam

11.   Copying information without documenting in a paper

12.   Failing to give appropriate credit for paraphrased information

13.   Taking someone else’s original idea without giving appropriate credit

14.   “Padding” items on a bibliography or works cited

15.   Working on homework with other students when the instructor does not allow it 


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