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We've Got Synthesis

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

First off, congratulations to all the AP® Literature and Composition teachers for all the hard work they've done throughout this year to prepare their students for the May 7th exam.


Those of us who teach Language and Composition are still biting our nails until our kids are over that hump. Some are still looking for some last-minute ways to prepare their students for the synthesis question. One teacher on the College Board's AP® English Electronic Discussion Group writes:

At this late juncture, my kids are still writing essays that are source driven rather than argument driven. Does anyone have any suggestions and/or activities that I could try?

One technique I suggest is to have the students write to a synthesis prompt as though it were an argument prompt. Take just the first page of the prompt, removing the sources, and ask them either to brainstorm how they would approach it as an argument, or to write the full prompt.

Then provide them with the sources, and have them discuss how to add the support in, and how to adapt their essays to incorporate different combinations of sources (e.g. concession, refutation, etc.). They should see how the response to the prompt should come mostly from them, but that the sources can provide support for their own responses. Discuss the difference between creating their own argument, then supporting it versus simply cobbling together material from the sources with nothing in between. Also, as I've mentioned before, doing source evaluations of the items before adding them in also lends itself to discussing what the sources have to offer.

And if you would like some fun material with which to build your own synthesis question as a last kick at the can before the exam, Renée Shea tipped me off to a few sources that could make for a lighthearted topic: an examination of the recent celebrity of Britain's Got Talent surprise singing superstar, Susan Boyle.

Renée writes:

Robin Givhan (fashion editor turned cultural commentator, and a fine writer) wrote an article published in The Washington Post about Susan Boyle needing a makeover -- which Boyle did in fact have.

The following Saturday's Post has another article: "Susan Boyle 2.0: Debate Rages but Dye Is Cast" by Mary Jordan -- with a photo of Boyle in her new black leather jacket and colored hair (not to mention spruced up eyebrows).

The same paper has several political cartoons about it, and no doubt you can also find letters to the editor. I'm sure other papers -- haven't looked at the Times -- have similar pieces.

It's a dream synthesis question: to be made over or not to be?

There's tons of this stuff on the internet, including, of course, the video of Boyle singing. Plus, teachers might put it together with the Alice Walker essay, "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self" or many other more generalized possibilities (Barbie poems, etc.).

I think kids would have fun, and the visuals are, in this case, essential. It's a topical issue, sort of fluff, but judging from some letters to the editor today (including one from a teenager), lots of strong feelings about why the ugly duckling should stay so.

Thanks, Renée! You could also work this current material in with the sections in The Language of Composition on gender (Chapter 7) and popular culture (Chapter 11).

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