Let’s Get Blogging!

Another Snow Day!

UPDATE: We will have some time in class to review the information below, but for those of you curious, feel free to get a head start. What else are you doing on this beautiful snow day?! 🙂

For the rest of the year, we’ll be taking some of our writing into the online world through blogging! Blogging will be your opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas with each other outside of class. As an added benefit, blogging will also give you the opportunity to improve your writing (and thinking) skills. Even though you’ve heard the word blog before, here’s a great 3-minute overview from Common Craft videos:

Before you can begin blogging, you’ll need to sign up for our blogsite, which will be housed on WordPress at aplang1516.wordpress.com. You can also find the link to your blogsite anytime by using the dropdown menu above.

FIRST, you will need a WordPress username. To get a WordPress username, click here to sign up. Once you have done that, you will receive a confirmation email. Be sure to activate your account.

SECOND, send me your username by filling out this form. I will invite you to our blogsite using the information you provide.

THIRD, check your email for your invitation to our blogsite. Accept the invitation. When you click “accept,” you may receive another invitation that says something to the effect of “You’ve been added!” with a “view blog” link.

IMPORTANT: You can’t get started until you receive an e-mail invitation from me. If you do not get an e-mail invitation, let me know.

FOURTH, now that you’ve been added to the site, learn how to log in and take a quick tour with the video below. Just note that I made this video for last year’s students, so some things may be slightly different, but essentially it’s all the same. 🙂

IMPORTANT: Some students have reported that the drop-down menu in the tutorials is not working/appearing. To get to the “Dashboard” found in the tutorials, add /wp-admin to the end of the web address, as such:


Once you’ve watched the intro, continue by heading over to our blog site, reading the overview, and following the tutorials there!

On Writing an “On” Essay

UPDATE 12/19:

Bring in at least one paper copy of your rough draft. Please double or 1.5-space this draft in order to give you room to write in-between and around your words. You’ll use need this paper copy in order to read your essay to your peer response group and to take your own revision notes.

However, you may want to also print out 3 single-spaced, double-sided copies of your essay so that your group members will each have a copy to reference as you read your essay (the visual can help, but it is not necessary).

Choose a topic you know well and write a personal essay that reflects, explores,  and explains this topic.

What makes an effective “On” Essay?

Writing in a variety of modes, the essays we read succeed because they explore complex topics in a very relatable way. They explain, define, and describe; they use anecdotes and allusions. They feature both insight and curiosity. They zoom in and zoom out.

Consider the “on” essays that we read in class together; these serve as our mentor texts. For your convenience, below is a list. Review them carefully, reflect on our conversations, and revisit your annotations.

  • “On Keeping a Notebook” (Didion)
  • On Compassion” (Asher)
  • “On Running After One’s Hat” (Chesterton)
  • On Being a Cripple” (Mairs) <–READ FOR MONDAY, 12/14
  • On Dumpster Diving” (Eighner) <–READ FOR WEDNESDAY, 12/16
  • The Jacket” (Soto) and other short pieces read earlier this year
  • Individual stories/chapters from TTTC

Below is a handful of exemplar essays from former students. As you read their writing, consider the strengths of each one. (If it matters, scores ranged from 7 to 9 on these essays.)

Writing Your Own “On” Essay

Review your notebook as you narrow down to your topic. Ask yourself: What do you need to explain to your reader? What descriptions would be interesting and valuable? What ideas or terms need definition? What comparisons or references could you make to connect with your reader? Where could you slow time? Where should you speed it up?

Yes, it’s a lot to think about–which is why we will do at least 2 drafts for each essay. You will have the opportunity to meet in small reading groups that will act as a writers’ workshop. Keep this in mind when you compose your essay. You will be reading them to a group of 2-3 students for immediate feedback.

The requirements
  • 750-1200 words
  • A narrow focus indicated by your title (“On…)
  • Evidence of different modes of writing (red rhetorical modes quarter sheet in your notebook)
  • Clear organization
  • Sentence variety
  • Strong diction (verbs especially)
  • Awareness of audience

First draft due MONDAY, 12/21, paper copy to class.

I will use a modified 9-point AP rubric, available here. See updated rubric in newer post above. They will be worth 60 points. Questions or concerns, come talk to me.

View my own “On” essay in progress here. UPDATE: I’ve changed my topic. Feel free to view here. And feel free to comment (just don’t change any text).

IN SUMMARY, SOME GENERAL CLASS UPDATES (especially for 2nd period, whom I haven’t seen in two days!

  • Monday, 12/14: WAR #8 due (remember to use a Graff Template, typed or filled in), read “On Being a Cripple” (link above)
  • Tuesday, 12/15: Vocab Quiz (they will be on Tuesdays from now on)
  • Wednesday, 12/16: read “On Dumpster Diving” (link above, handout will be given in class)
  • Monday, 12/21: First draft of On Essay

Place Paragraph

Using “At the Subway Station” as your inspiration, write a precise and succinct one-paragraph description of a place (about 300-350 words).

When choosing a subject (your place)…

  • Choose a place that you know well enough to write well—a place that you can visualize and describe with sensory detail (see, touch, hear smell, feel).
  • Choose a place that is especially meaningful—either in a positive or negative way—where some important event or moment—small or large—has happened. Or choose a place that simply bears some significance to your daily life.
  • Choose a “small” place. Not Pennsylvania, not Paoli, but the Paoli train station waiting area. Not Conestoga HS, not the music hallway, but the chorus room. Consider your “ladders of abstraction” and zoom in on a smaller space to describe in great detail (for example, I might choose to write about sitting in the driver’s seat of my mini-van). 🙂

Decide on what tone you would like to convey about your place. What is it about this space that made it worth noticing for you—made it worth writing about?  What does this place mean to you? Choose details and use diction that convey this tone.

Look at the images of subway stations below. Notice how the photographer’s choices determine the tone or message conveyed in each image (click to enlarge).

What is your attitude toward your place, your message?

When writing…

Review what we discussed about the paragraph.

Think of your paragraph as a “compact essay.”

Consider UNITY—What is your main idea and how do all the sentences in the paragraph contribute to this idea? Consider COHERENCE—In what order are the sentences arranged that make the most logical sense? Consider DEVELOPMENT—What types of examples, details, facts, explanations do you include? Are they enough to fully develop your main idea?

For more inspiration, consider this excerpt for Alfred Kazin’s essay about his Brookville home or this excerpt from Sara Tohamy (CHS Class of 2016 and former AP Lang’er) about her grandparents’ backyard. We will look at both of these excerpts tomorrow in class as well.

Rough draft due Thursday, 10/15.

Personal Essay: “Words of the Wiser”

In literature, the “Words of the Wiser” signpost reveals a “scene in which a wiser and often older character offers a life lesson of some sort to the protagonist” (Beers and Probst 72).  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim reminds Gilgamesh that in life, there is no permanence—that when the gods created man, they kept eternal life for themselves. Instead, Gilgamesh must learn to make his life meaningful not in quantity but in quality, thus eventually becoming a good—and wise—king.


For your first personal “signpost” essay, consider the role of “wise words” in your own life. Choose one of the following prompts to guide you:

  1. Write about the best advice you have ever received: Who did it come from? Why was it given? How was it useful? What did you learn?
  2. Describe an important role model in your life—a “wise person”—from whom you’ve learned something significant.
  3. Find “wise words” from something you have read or seen (book or film) and explain how these words hold true in your own life.


Clearly identify the lesson (the “words of wisdom”) or what makes the person wise. Be sure that the lesson or words of wisdom are specific. For example, let’s say you are writing about your grandfather’s advice to “be a good person.” What does it mean to be a “good person”? Define “good.”

Speaking of being specific… make sure that you SHOW and not just tell. In other words, you may tell the reader the advice you received (“Always be honest”) but you should give examples that show what this lesson looks like in your life (a story about how you were caught cheating on a test by your 5th grade teacher) or other examples in society (a story from the news or about a public figure, i.e. how Lance Armstrong was caught cheating or “Deflate-gate” and the New England Patriots).

Review the writing you have done in your notebook—many of our quickwrites in class represent your initial thinking about any one of the topics above.  For example, in our notebooks we wrote a list of advice we’ve been given and how that advice has affected us. We also listed people—real, historical, or fictional—whom we considered “wise and knowledgeable” and wrote about what made the “wise figures.” We also responded to some of the advice given in the article, “Life Advice from my 99-year-old Grandpa” as well as the Epic Reads video “Words of Wisdom from YA Books.” We thought about what we learned at different points in our lives and from whom. Any one of these quickwrites could form the basis of your first draft.

Use the mentor texts as your guide. Review the essays distributed in class (there are seven total).

  • What did these writers do well? What strategies do they use to express their ideas? What examples do they include and how? What specific details do they include and what do these details show?
  • Note the way the mentor texts essays are organized. How do they start? How do they end? What’s in the middle?
  • What types of sentences do the writers use? How are the paragraphs structured and organized?
  • Take one or more things that the writers did well and make it your own.
  • Remember that unlike more structured literary analysis essays, there is no one right way to write a personal essay. The “right” way is the way that best expresses your ideas and presents those ideas in a meaningful, logical way.

We will have some time in class to write and revise. Your first draft is due Wednesday, October 14. Typed and double-spaced. Be prepared to share.

Object One-Pager Pointers

As you write your draft on your meaningful object, consider the following:

  • What is the impression you want to give your reader?
  • What do you want to convey about your object? Why is it meaningful to you? (Think Purpose.)

All of your decisions and choices as a writer—the words you choose (diction) and the way you arrange them (syntax)—should be informed by the answers to the questions above.

Remember that when we read Soto’s “The Jacket” and Dillard’s Excerpt from An American Childhood that each writer conveyed both the concrete and abstract. Soto’s essay wasn’t just about the jacket (concrete), but also about the struggle to fit in (abstract). Dillard’s essay wasn’t just about the microscope (concrete), but also about becoming independent and finding one’s passion (abstract).

Though it will be difficult, find a way to express both the concrete and abstract about your object. Use figurative language, make allusions, tell a brief story (anecdote).

Your final essay is limited to one page (approx 400-450 words). For your rough draft, you may go over the limit and then cut down as we revise/edit in class. Bring a typed copy of your rough draft (without MLA heading) to class with you on Thursday.

PS – We’ll be writing about a place next. Get ready!

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!