When the 2013 AP English Language and Composition exam prompts were released, I was instantly enamored with the second question, the passage from Richard Louv. The passage is highly accessible while also being highly complex, allowing a variety of interpretations. As a result, I’ve decided to use it with both my AP English Language students and my academic-level 11ths graders. To develop deep analysis from a variety of ability levels, I have created several activities. These activities can give students an entry point into the text and then help them develop their analysis to better understand and appreciate rhetoric.
- I would begin by having my students read the passage silently, then I would read it to them aloud to help deepen understanding. To help narrow interpretations, I would then give them a variety of topics (nature, advertising, parenting, human interactions, technology) and ask them to determine which is the central argument and how the remaining areas relate to it. This allows them the opportunity to think about the complexity of the argument.
- To get students thinking about style, I would also adjust the arrangement of the passage. I’d switch the first two paragraphs with the last two paragraphs. When students have a comparison/contrast they are much more adept at evaluating the choices an author makes. Asking them to analyze which arrangement is more effective will allow them to better understand the rhetorical strategies and how they impact the audience. Consider asking students if it is better to open with rhetorical questions or close with rhetorical questions and what it reveals about the speaker’s relationship to the audience.
- I think it is helpful for the students, especially my academic-level, became acquainted with the text. While I normally don’t give worksheets, I find that these students often struggle with close reading because they don’t know what they need to identify. I’ve drafted these questions to help student engage with the passage itself.
- After closely investigating many portions of the text, it is important to pull the students back into the argument as a whole. For this particular passage, I would, at this point, consider asking students who the speaker thinks is responsible for our current state. They would need to defend their answer using knowledge from the text. I would also ask students what Louv ultimately wants: to coexist with or separate from nature.
- This passage also pairs well with a variety of texts. An excellent companion would be most writing things from the Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I would most likely pair it Chapter One from Emerson’s Nature or “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” from Thoreau’s Walden. I also think that EB White’s “Once More to the Lake” provides an interesting perspective on Louv’s passage because of the suggestion of a generational gap in views of nature. After studying Louv’s passage, I would offer one (or more) of these as an alternate text. We discuss the ways in which the argument and style are similar or different from Louv’s.
Regardless of whether or not you teach AP English Language, I think that this passage is one that really works for differentiated instruction.