top of page

Free AP Language & Composition Unit: What is Success?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The Practical EnglishTeacher is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

This unit was from early in my AP career. Since we teach AP Lang & Comp during junior year, which is also supposed to be American Literature, I went through a phase where I tried to merge the two. I eventually moved away from that, but that is why this unit includes Ben Franklin along with Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I always felt it was important to try and do this unit with my juniors because I so vividly remember being a junior and being crushed by the weight of it all. I learned my limits, but that was not how I remembered it back then. Back then, I just felt like a failure all the time-and it was depressing. I wanted to give my juniors the perspective that I didn't have when they inevitably failed so that they wouldn't get too down on that's where the idea for this unit was born. I am not sure that I reached any kids or made a big difference in their thinking with this unit, but I still felt it was an important topic to cover at the start of the year.

The unit below is one iteration of my AP Lang & Comp "Success" unit. This was sometimes the first full unit I did but other times it was the 2nd or 3rd.

This unit always came after a brief discussion of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. For a few years, we had students read Outliers as their summer reading. It took me a while to figure out exactly how to approach Outliers at the beginning of the year, from an AP Lang & Comp perspective, but I usually settled on a reading test (paid product), just to make sure they read the dang thing, some discussion, and a toe-dip into analysis.

​Side note 4/26/23: I am listening to the book Range by David Epstein and it is a great counterargument to Gladwell's 10,000 hours chapter.

Once we finished Outliers, I would do some version of the steps below. At the bottom I included materials that I used in the past during other units.

Good luck! I hope some of these readings help your kids rethink the failures they will face during their junior year.

Success Unit


  • To show that success comes in many forms and happens for many different reasons

  • Start identifying literary devices in difficult texts

Essential Question (essay question):

  • What is success and how does one reach it?

Time: 5 weeks (~12, 84-minute class periods)


  • An excerpt from Ben Franklin’s The Autobiography of Ben Franklin- “13 Virtues”

  • National Geographic article

  • “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” Wall Street Journal

  • 1 full-length non-fiction text

My daily class routine was usually grammar or vocabulary to start, and then the core of the lesson.

Day 1

-Vocabulary Time: Have kids take our their Ben Franklin vocabulary chart and work on it for 10 minutes.

-Opening Unit Discussion: The opening for this lesson was the article "Failure is an Option" by Hannah Bloch, which was published in National Geographic. I asked students to read and annotate the article and then answer some questions about their connection to failure.

To contrast this article, I then had students read an excerpt from The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. In this book, Chua describes a tough parenting style that, personally, makes me cring.


-Vocabulary Time: Have kids work on vocabulary packet for 10 minutes.

-After vocabulary time we got into Ben Franklin. I didn't have my kids read the whole Autobiography, just the part where he describes his plan for self-improvement. At this point in the year (fairly early), I was also trying to introduce the rhetorical analysis essay to my kids, so the lessons were heavy on literary analysis. I gave them the printed excerpt and we went through the first paragraph together so that they could wrap their head around the language and practice annotating the way I wanted them to. For each paragraph or section (depending on the text), I used to make my AP kids summarize the section, identify its function within the passage, and then identify some obvious literary tools and techniqes. I gave them the rest of the period to work.

Day 3

-Vocabulary Time: "Find Your Partner". Each student is given a piece of paper with either a vocabulary word or a student-friendly definition on it. The students with coordinating vocabulary word and student-friendly definition must find each other. Once everyone has found their partner, mix up the papers and repeat the process several times.

-After going over the first paragraph with my students the day before, I realized that I need to lecture on a few literary devices. I spent about 20 minutes going over some of the more common terms from this list:

  • anecdote

  • allusion

  • mature diction

  • parallel structure (repeated grammatical structure; different words)

  • repetition

  • alliteration

  • polysyndeton

  • ethos (building credibility)

  • humor

  • use of quotations

  • personification

  • irony

  • chiasmus

Once I finished lecturing, I gave kids time to finish reading and annotating the excerpt and whatever they didn't finish became homework.

Days 4 & 5

This lesson was one that I recorded for my National Boards submission, which is why the handout was so extra. I think I did maybe end up using an excerpt but I don't really remember. The goal of the lesson was for students to be able to identify literary devices in a passage with difficult language.

In the first part of the lesson they answered some general questions about the passage, then they practiced identifying devices. Lastly, I assigned each group a section of the passage and students had to prepare a presentation and share out their analysis. Both rubrics are on the handout.

Day 6

-Vocabulary Task : Choose 10 Ben Franklin vocabulary words and create an original practice sentence with a context clue for each.

Once we got through the presentations, I gave students a "teenage improvement chart" in order to mimic the improvement chart Franklin made for himself. I thought it would be funny to give students the chance to try his methods and then reflect on it at the end of the unit.

The next thing I did was introduce the choice book assignment. There are so many great books out there related to success and I wanted to give my kids a choice of what to read. I provided them with this list below (the list is also on the assignment sheet) and asked them to choose a book by next class. They could also pitch me a book of their choice.

​How To

Difficult Childhood







I also wanted to give kids a choice in how they demonstrated their understanding of their choice book, so I created a menu of options on the handout below and tried to organized the options by learning style/preference.The choices included an advanced book review. I got the idea for this assignment when I was reading The Washington Post and realized that their book reviews had some overlap with the rhetorical analysis essay.

Homework: Get your choice book from the library or Amazon and start reading it.

Days 7-10

Today they had time to work on their choice assignment.

Day 11

For the first half of this class, I had students do a timed writing. The 2014 AP Exam has a letter from Abigails Adam's to her son John Quincy Adams that fits well with this unit.

Next, students worked on a practice vocabulary quiz in preparation for a real quiz and we went over the answers together.

Lastly, students had time to finish up their success choice assignment, which was due next class.

Day 12

For vocabulary time, I had kids do a practice vocabulary quiz in preparation for a quiz next class.

Next, I had students share out their success project. I put students into groups of 8-9 and had them sit in a circle. Each of them then had to share out/do the following:

  • What they read (author and title)

  • A 1-sentence summary

  • Their thoughts on the book

  • What they did for their task

  • Briefly show their task if they did a visual option

  • Explain if they had any “take-aways” or anything they learned.

  • Share out what happened with their Ben Franklin tracking chart.

Day 13

Odds and Ends

This unit was a bit different each time I tackled it. Below are some other articles or activities that I used with the unit at some point in time.

I hope these materials are helpful to you!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page