Weekly Annotated Reading

Reading is an important component to any writing class. You will be required to submit evidence of brief, weekly independent reading. Since this reading is independent, the choice of topic is yours. Read widely to explore a range of topics.

The goal of this assignment is to become exposed to as much high quality longform essay writing as possible. Read in a variety of publications or examine the writing styles of a single publication. Read one writer or a different writer each week. Note that the culminating project of this course is a research essay on a topic of your choice; use your weekly independent reading as a way to explore topics that interest you.

Expect to share what you have read with the class.


Find a piece of writing from a respected publication from the list below. Find feature-length, longform essays. These are generally longer articles or journalistic works (1000+ words), often originally published in the print edition of the magazine and then republished digitally. No blog posts (if you are unsure about what a “blog” post looks like, ask first). If a publication has a “magazine” tab, look there. Better yet, check out the great magazine display in the library (which is conveniently located next to the copy machine!).



  1. Print or photocopy your article if it is not your own
    • Two words on printing: Save paper. Copy/paste into Word Online or Google Docs. Make the font smaller, single space the document, and increase the margins so you can annotate).
  2. Annotate the article for style and content.
    • Observe diction, syntax, rhetorical strategies, selection of detail. Be sure to comment on what the author is doing (what effect do certain words or passages have? what does it make the reader think about? why?).
    • Record your responses and questions in the margins. Make connections to other readings and things you have learned or heard about.
    • You may annotate either directly on the article or on a separate sheet of paper. Consult Chapter 2 of our textbook for ways of analyzing a text.  If you don’t annotate, use a dialectical journal or graphic organizer.
  3. Reflect:
    • For WARs #1-6 . . . Type up a SOAPSToneS analysis for each WAR. Be thorough. When you analyze the “occasion,” you may need to do some additional research to determine why a piece was published. Consult Chapter 1 of your textbook as needed.
    • For WARs #7+ . . . Summarize and analyze your article by completing a Graff Template.

Turn in your weekly reading every Monday. First annotated reading is DUE MONDAY, 10/5 10/12.


longformThe following publications should provide you with plenty of interesting articles and essays to read. If you find a compelling article from an alternate publication, run it by me first.

For your convenience, hyperlinks provided below.

Please note that Op-Eds are not permitted at this time. We we will be doing a separate opinion writing unit later this year. Feel free, however, to read reviews―film, music, book, etc.

Note: If you hit a paywall while looking at articles, take note of the title, author, and publication.  Then search using the Stoga databases (try Ebsco or ProQuest). Chances are, you’ll be able to retrieve the article through the school’s subscriptions.


For examples and ideas for the types of reading you’ll want to do for your WARs, check out our AP Lang Diigo Group Page. I’ll be posting essays, articles, and other readings worth sharing to this group page throughout the year. (You are not required to use what I share, but you may find it helpful to see different types of recommended readings.)

Diigo AP Lang Page Screenshot

NOTE: You must join the group first before viewing articles.

  1. Request to join by clicking the link on the group page.
  2. Set up a Diigo account.
  3. Once you have set up your account, edit your profile. Set your privacy settings to the most private settings possible. See below.

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Screenshot 2015-09-30 at 5.07.59 AM


SaulSteinberg_IDoIHaveGreetings! You have been assigned the wonderful task of thinking about language as it relates to you. Using whatever materials you’d like, create a personal word book.

Your book of words should have a creative cover and be visually appealing by incorporating various fonts (see below for some sites where you can download free fonts). Please either handwrite your words or use illustrative fonts (see sources below). Weave visuals throughout to help bring your words to life. Layout should be thoughtful and cohesive. Each section should be labeled.

The following items should be included (and in this order).

  1. your first word
  2. your top ten favorite words, one being your favorite
  3. your top five least favorite words
  4. a word that has gotten you in trouble—use asterisks if necessary (rated pg-13)
  5. a word that is often used to describe you
  6. one of your parent’s favorite words
  7. one of your friend’s favorite words
  8. slang word/phrase you like to use
  9. a word you learned this past year
  10. words in action (use visuals to really animate these words)
  11. a made-up word with definition, part of speech, etymology*

*Because this is your own made-up word (or phrase), the etymology should reflect how your word came to be. When considering your “made-up” word, think about what words are “missing” from the English language. For example, you may want to create a word for the specific smacking sound that flip-flops make when you walk down the hall (not to be confused with the click-click-click sound that high-heels make).

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For inspiration for your made-up word―and your word book in general―check out the book Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the WorldSome of illustrations from Lost are below. Click here to see more.



Some online font resources (you can Google for others):


(Assignment originally created by Mr. Trainer.)

An Essay of Introduction

Welcome, AP Lang’ers! The success of our year together will depend partly on how well we get to know each other. So for your first assignment, you’ll write a brief essay that introduces yourself to me and to your classmates, which you will read aloud during class.

Some guidelines:

  • Make it memorable: include a detail, a story, an experience, etc. that SHOWS who you are. With that said, what your essay should not do is read like a list or resume.
  • Write small. What does this mean? Don’t try to tell us your entire life story. Instead, focus on a specific part of your life—one that is meaningful and telling—and explore just that. After we hear your essay, we should get a sense of what’s important to you.
  • Let your personality shine. Write in a voice that sounds like you. This is an informal, personal essay. Use humor or sarcasm if that’s who you are. Don’t be afraid to be creative! In the past, I had a student who even played the ukele and sang a song for us. 🙂

And the specifics:

  • Your essay should be approximately 400-600 words.
  • Bring two copies to class: one to read, and one for me.
  • Double (or 1.5) spaced, MLA heading, double-sided preferred.
  • DUE TUESDAY, 9/8.

Be sure to practice reading your essay aloud several times before class. Doing this will also help you in the revision process as you “hear” what you’re saying and how you sound.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you and hearing your essays!

Common App Essay Prompts

UPDATED SEPT 2015: The sign-up sheet for college essays is outside my door. Come by!

Below are the 2015-16 Common App essay prompts, which can also be found online here.

As you can see, the essay prompts invite many possible responses. Consider all the things you’ve thought and written about over the course of the last year. Your notebook and blog, for example, are filled with reflections on many meaningful moments in your life. It is highly likely that the beginnings of your college essay (or more) has already been written. Take the time to review and reflect upon what you currently have.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

WRITING CONFERENCES: Use your time this summer to draft your college essays. I will be holding limited “office hours” in the fall to review college essays with students. On the first day of school, I will post a sign up sheet outside my classroom door. Appointments are first-come, first-serve until the schedule fills up. (Please note that Mrs. Zahn in the Achievement Center will also have appointments available to review college essays. Sign up early, as her time gets filled up quickly.)

COLLEGE RECS: Finally, if you have spoken with me about a college recommendation letter, please follow the directions in the “Request College Recommendation” form found under the “Student Tools” tab.

New (school)Year’s Resolutions

Each August brings with it mixed feelings.

The first is always shock: Wow, August already? Didn’t we just get out of school?

The second is denial: August? Really? It can’t be. Didn’t we just get of school?

Then anger: What, August?!? Why?!? We just got out of school!!

Eventually and slowly comes acceptance: August? Okay, deep breath, and here we go. For some teachers, this can happen in mid-August; those are the teachers who can be found coming to school early to get their classrooms set up.  For other teachers, acceptance may not happen until sometime during the first inservice day when they look around and realize: Wow, I guess this is really happening.

August always comes too quickly for me, mostly because I tend to have a huge to-do list for the summer that never gets done. This summer, for example, I was supposed to paint the downstairs powder room and renovate the boys’ bedroom. I got as far as picking out a few paint swatches from Lowe’s and taping them to the wall. (Somehow I still overestimate how much I can accomplish while watching/entertaining/feeding/herding my three boys.)


These guys keep me pretty busy in the summer (and year round)!

But now that it’s officially August, thoughts of back-to-school take center stage again and nervous excitement builds as I get closer to that first day. I love the beginning of the school year—the energy, the optimism. While January may be the time that the rest of the world makes their resolutions, for teachers, September is our new year, our time to begin anew, to set goals, be inspired. I suspect some students feel the same way, too.

Sometimes students ask if I get bored teaching the same thing over and over again. And my answer is always no, of course not! First, my students are different every year, so even if the material is the same, it’s the unique interaction between students and the material that makes each year special. And second, every year, I make it a point to try something new. Sometimes that means piloting a new book—such as when I introduced The Kite Runner two years ago. Or a new project—like the This American Life project my colleague Ben Smith and I did with our juniors last year.

So what will this year bring? A few of my goals:

For all my students:

  • Integrate more visual art—paintings, sketches, photography—into my writing instruction.
  • Create a system of visual note-taking or sketchnotes in my own notebook and teach students how to do the same.
  • Redesign various parts of my current instruction to reflect a more “Creativity Workshop” approach, including more opportunities for creative writing and for students to develop/express their voice

For my ninth graders:

  • Implement a more comprehensive reader’s/writer’s notebook approach with my ninth graders
  • Establish clearer goals and more structure to the independent reading program
  • Find a place to include more Asian literature in our world literature course

For my juniors:

  • Teach rhetorical analysis writing more explicitly, with a focus on pre-20th-century texts
  • Explore some flipped learning opportunities with writing mini-lessons

Of course, looking at this list already feels overwhelming! But it’s a good kind of overwhelming. The truth is that teaching can be an incredibly frustrating job. Increasingly, teachers are being tasked to do more with less: fewer resources and less time. That’s why setting personal teaching goals have been so valuable for me: they provide a sense of autonomy and a little “light at the end of the tunnel” even when there are outside forces tugging in other directions.

View from my ballroom

One of the things I love about teaching is the creativity: creating new assignments, finding more effective ways to engage students, and designing materials that are more inviting.  Thinking like a teacher doesn’t end with the school day, and I find myself planning lessons everywhere I am, whether it’s in the kitchen when I’m cooking dinner or in the car when I’m driving to work.  Teachers live and breathe in the world of ideas.

IMG_2360So when I heard that the AP conference was going to be held in Philadelphia this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to attend and to pick the brains of some of the leading AP teachers from around the country.  And so over the course of two days in July, I attended several workshops facilitated by some wonderful presenters. Workshop topics included:

  1. Developing Schema for Successful Rhetorical Analysis
  2. Entering the Conversation of Synthesis with Students
  3. Pictures that Bridge Gaps: The Photo Essay and the Synthesis Essay
  4. Learning to Decode—and Enjoy—Pre-2oth-Century Texts
  5. Making Connections: In-Depth Analysis of Full-Length Texts Using Learning Stations
  6. Novels as News, Poetry as Proof: Using Literary Sources as Evidence

Even though the conference was only two days, I walked away with so many great ideas for not just teaching AP Lang but any English class.  Some key takeaways:

  • Try to use more engaging and interesting “real world” mentor texts that students can rely on as they develop their own voice. I can’t expect students to know how to write without first seeing what the possibilities for writing are.
  • Create more explicit writing scaffolds for students as a way to improve their rhetorical analysis skills.  Writing is thinking, so helping students write more clearly through the use of scaffolds can also help them think more clearly about the text they’re analyzing.
  • Show the similarities between visual arguments and written arguments, using visual arguments to improve students’ ability to understand written texts. This would be especially helpful in teaching the rhetorical triangle.
  • Use strong characters in fiction to teach students about tone.  Even though the AP Lang course is focused primarily in non-fiction, it can be difficult for students to hear the tone in non-fiction texts, especially if most of the non-fiction they are accustomed to reading has been primarily expository or informational texts.  In the pre-20th-Century workshop I attended, the facilitator demonstrated a lesson on tone using Pride and Prejudice and Gatsby. It was wonderful! After all, who can’t hear the snobbery dripping from Tom Buchanan’s voice or the ironic and haughty lines in many of Austen’s characters? Revisiting excerpts from books students have read in earlier English classes would be a great starting point since they are already familiar with those texts.


  • Find ways to integrate more literary texts into persuasive writing. The workshop facilitated by Renee Shea and Robin Aufses, two of the authors of our textbook, focused on how to use literature to advance arguments in persuasive essays. During the workshop, we read an editorial published in the NY Times as well as an essay in The Atlantic, both of which used literary texts as evidence in making an argument. Not only does this help students further their own arguments, integrating literary texts in this way also reminds students that great literature does the same thing that great non-fiction does: raise questions and make arguments about some our most pressing societal concerns.  Issues of social class raised in Austen and Fitzgerald are the same issues debated between pundits in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • Examine more pre-20th-century texts to give students additional practice reading these sometimes difficult texts.  The average score on rhetorical analysis prompt on this year’s AP Lang exam—a letter from Abigail Adams to her son—was only 3.64 out of 9, the lowest in the history of the exam (the previous low was 3.96).  One way to help students is more direct instruction in learning how to read the nuances in the grammatical structures in these texts.

While some of the ideas weren’t necessarily new, it was nice to see so many other teachers affirming some of the best practices I’ve used in my own teaching over the years. I also enjoyed seeing the ways in which tried-and-true strategies—like learning stations—could be reinvented for the AP course.

Because the school year is typically a busy—and yes, sometimes frantic—time, it can be hard to find the time to implement new ideas or revise lessons. But opportunities like attending this year’s AP conference, or going to NCTE conference a few years ago, are what rejuvenate my teaching spirit and hopefully will help keep me—and my students—engaged in the upcoming year.