Wednesday, September 1, 2010

AP English Language Teachers: My Audit-Passing Syllabus

Several new AP English Language teachers have contacted me recently, asking me questions, asking for advice, and asking to see my syllabus (since all new AP teachers must submit one in order to "pass" the CollegeBoard's AP audit).

I have done this a few times now--submitted a syllabus, I mean--and I have always passed the audit with no problems.

It's not that hard, really: just make sure that your syllabus meets all the criteria (easily laid out in boxes on the right hand margin of the samples published by CollegeBoard).

Here's my syllabus, too, in case it helps further.  Remember, you don't have to use the books I did (although I am a huge, huge fan of the People's Education series for teaching AP). You don't have to follow this plan. But, if you get any good ideas from my syllabus, do use them, and have a great, rewarding, challenging, inspiring year!

Good luck!

Elizabeth Collins

AP English Language and Composition--11th grade English

Course Overview
Teacher: Elizabeth Collins
Students in this introductory, college-level course will read and learn how to carefully analyze a broad range of challenging nonfiction prose, deepening their awareness of the purpose and effectiveness of rhetoric.

Close reading and frequent writing will help students develop their ability to work with both text and language, while also strengthening their own composition skills.

Course readings will feature expository, analytical, personal and argumentative texts from a variety of authors, over a range of centuries.  Students will read, examine, and analyze a variety of prose styles such as essays, letters, speeches, journalism and diary entries. Graphics, such as political cartoons, illustrations and charts, as well as photographic images, will be studied in conjunction with the written word, and students will learn how each enhances the other, and how both forms of communication affect opinion.

*Classic American literature will studied in supplemental work, some of which was assigned over the summer, and some other works which must be read by students over vacations. American Literature will always be discussed in class, and complementary assessments have been designed to ascertain comprehension.

Featured authors in this AP English Language & Composition course include:
Annie Dillard, E.B. White, Michel de Montaigne, Truman Capote, Susan Sontag, Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Mary Karr, Joan Didion, and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.

The ultimate purpose of this course is to prepare students for the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition exam in the spring.  Good scores on this exam may grant students advanced placement in college, credit, or both.

Central course textbooks include:  The Short Prose Reader (Muller & Wiener, eds.); Analysis, Argument and Synthesis (Brassil, Coker & Glover, eds.); and Advanced Composition Skills by Steven Fox.  Many essays and other anthologized materials will be added to the curriculum readings, and as already mentioned, students will also be assigned classic American literature in order to meet the standard requirements of junior-year English at The School and to help students better understand how various writing effects, such as linguistic and rhetorical choices, affect both meaning and comprehension.

(Note: Students are urged to visit the The School Writing Center, and they will also receive extra in-class writing critiques.  Summer reading and writing in response to summer reading is required at the start of the school year.)

The synthesis of information—based on sources provided for timed writing assignments, and in research required for longer, take-home papers—is an essential part of this course.

Students will also learn how to cite information according to MLA style, and they will furthermore study vocabulary, literary terminology, rhetorical structures, common rhetorical modes and organization (exposition, argumentation, description and narration), and the tenets of Aristotle’s Three Rhetorical Appeals (Logos, Ethos, and Pathos), along with the Toulmin model of Argumentation.

This course is constructed in accordance with the guidelines described in the AP English Language Course Description.

Final note: This is a very challenging, intensive class with a significant reading and writing load. The AP English Language & Composition exam is notoriously tough. But all students who complete all the required readings and written work and who try their best are welcome in this class and will undoubtedly end the year—no matter their ultimate score on the exam, which is essentially out of the teacher’s control—as far stronger students, leading them to increased success in their senior year of high school and in college.

AP English Language & Composition Course Planner
By Elizabeth Collins

Specific monthly syllabi will be distributed at the start of each month; this is a general overview of what we will accomplish during each quarter and over the course of this important year.

First Quarter

  • Course Orientation / Intro to the AP English Language & Composition Exam
  • Discussion of Summer Reading (along with written assignment—informal writing  / reading response and online journals)
  • Introduction to Close Reading requirements—annotation, comprehension, paraphrase
  • Aristotle’s Three Rhetorical Appeals
  • Toulmin’s Model of Argumentation
  • Studying the Argumentative essay (AP practice packet and writing own essays)


  • The Short Prose Reader; Chapters 1 & 2; Chapter 11: Argumentation and Persuasion, pp. 407-514;

Reading examples:
Anna Quindlen, “The Good Enough Mother”
John McCain, “Torture’s Terrible Toll”
Molly Ivins, “Get a Knife, Get a Dog, But Get Rid of Guns”
Nicholas Handler, “The Posteverything Generation”
Jonathan Kozol, “Are the Homeless Crazy?”
Linda Hirshman, “Off to Work She Should Go”
Ronald Takaki, “The Harmful Myth of Asian Superiority”

  • Lessons 1-4: Advanced Composition Skills: preliminary analysis, plus three sections on argument.
  • Various handouts and online readings (projected on SmartBoard)
Analysis, Argument and Synthesis: chapters 1, 2,3, 4.

    • Summer reading journal responses (online journals);
    • Vocabulary units;
    • Quizzes on rhetorical strategies;
    • Three argument essays, varying format (narrative and expository), first written in class, then final revisions done at home.

Collins / AP English Language & Composition Course Planner

Second Quarter

  • Common Rhetorical Modes
  • Rhetorical Analysis strategies and reading comprehension
  • Studying the Rhetorical Analysis essay (AP practice packet and writing own essays)
  • Focus on Satire
  • Multiple-choice AP Eng Lang exam practice
  • Focus on Politics, Essay, History, Nature
  • Graphic and visual images as they relate to written texts and serve as alternative forms of text themselves.
  • Making writing more sophisticated—polishing diction, syntax, organizational techniques such as repetition, use of transitions, ways to emphasize ideas.
  • Citation and research skills (evaluating, using and citing primary and secondary sources in an argumentative research paper that asks students to present an argument of their own that includes the analysis and synthesis of ideas from an array of sources). MLA formatting emphasized; use of style manuals.
Readings:  Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7, The Short Prose Reader: Description, Narration, Process Analysis and Illustration; Comparison and Contrast

Lessons 5-10: Advanced Composition Skills (more refined analysis skills)

Analysis, Argument and Synthesis: chapters  5, 6, 10

End of second quarter is marked by the course Midterm Exam (practice AP English Lang & Composition exam)

--SAT prep
--American Literature re-reading assigned for Winter break: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (novels originally assigned for reading over summer…review for in-depth discussion in class.) 
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgeralad

  • Three Rhetorical Analysis essays (multi-stage writing/editing with both peer and teacher review before final work is submitted;
  • Longer research-style paper;
  • Vocabulary unit quizzes;
  • Literary terminology quiz;
  • Midterm (double-weighted)

Collins / AP English Language & Composition Course Planner

Third Quarter

  • Visual Images
  • Journalistic writing (handouts)
  • Synthesis of information
  • Studying the Synthesis essay (AP practice packet and own assignments)


The Short Prose Reader, chapters  8, 9, 10: Cause-and Effect Analysis; Classification; Definition

Lessons 11-16: Advanced Composition Skills—attitude, details, purpose, diction, rhetorical strategies, synthesis

Analysis, Argument and Synthesis: chapters 7, 8, 9.

Writing the Synthesis Essay (handouts)

Viewing: “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

American Literature (spring break readings—acquire on own): A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Other Assessments: 
  • Class blog writing;
  • Vocabulary quizzes;
  • Two synthesis papers (multi-stage writing and grading);
  • Visual image comprehension assessment—test.
  • American Lit quizzes/essays.

Collins / AP English Language & Composition Course Planner

Fourth Quarter

  • AP English Language Examination--intensive, strategic prep and review
  • Official Exam
  • After exam--The Personal Essay and the College Application Essay
  • American Literature  (specifically, Poetry and Short Stories)

Advanced Composition Skills, Lessons 17-20
Personal and College Essay handouts
Poetry text
Short Stories text

    • Practice exam sections;
    • Vocabulary-- final test
    • Personal / college essays (two—written in multi-stage drafts);
    • Poetry Test;
    • Essay on short stories studied

AP English Language and Composition Grading system

Three-part scoring, worth 40% of quarterly grades.
Teacher grade given after final essay is handed in, along with all drafts.

Most essays are first written as in-class essays and counted first as rough drafts.  Rough drafts are self-edited, and then peer-edited (peer editing is graded) before students type the final copies (after teacher input via conferencing). 

Students must submit all drafts with final copies.  Graded final copies are kept in a portfolio that counts as part of the final grade for the semester. Any work that is missing from the portfolio will be counted as a zero; any work that is substantially late will not be counted, either.

When tests are given, each worth 10% of quarterly grade

The only tests in this course are very occasional practice multiple-choice tests based on AP English Language test preparation materials, and focused on rhetorical devices and their particular function in given passages of writing; at the very end of the year, after the AP exam, there will be a poetry test.

In total, quizzes are worth 30% of quarterly grade; one quiz per week, generally. Quiz grades will be averaged together.

Quizzes include reading checks, vocab application quizzes, grammar, terms and rules that must be memorizes, etc.

Daily Assignments
Worth 20% of quarterly grade--includes annotation checks, peer critique work, Homework preparedness.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times! Will spread the word on AP NING if you haven't already done so! Thank you!!

  2. This makes me want to sit in one of your courses! But I understand that you feel it's time for a change. Your students were lucky to have you.

  3. Thanks, Aurelie and @AP Newbie. I struggle all the time with whether or not it is really "time for a change," and I think it is somewhat, but not in all ways. I mean, I am having a really good time with my tutoring. I do it well and I see the results and it's quite gratifying and fun. What I can't picture is myself in the old situation...and that might mean my former school only; it might not apply anywhere else, but I just don't know and can't really bear to try that at the moment.



  4. With the global spread of English serious economic and political disadvantages will probably come to those not having a reasonable command of the language.

  5. Thank you for posting your syllabus, it was extremely helpful and I'm in your debt for helping me get my syllabus approved. I've recommended your site to several other teachers who are trying to get theirs approved as well.

  6. Good--I am glad. Thanks for your note.