Lesson Plan

Literary merit

Understanding the concept of "literary merit" & experimenting with defining terms as a rhetorical strategy
Jackie S.
Classroom teacher
University High School
Fresno, United States
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My Grades 10
My Subjects English Language Arts

To respond to question three of the AP English question, students must understand the concept of literary merit. This beginning-of-the-year lesson helps students begin to understand this concept and experiment with defining terms as a rhetorical strategy. This is intended as an introductory lesson, the concepts of which will be revisited many times over the course.

Students will be able to...

  • understand the concept of "literary merit"
  • notice an author's organizational pattern
  • notice & name an author's rhetorical strategy of defining terms, & imitate the strategy

Note: The structure & some language of the lesson plan is from Jeff Anderson's Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Page number references are also from this source.

English Language Arts
Grades 11 – 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Mentor text (reading)

Activity: Reading

Read the essay “What is Reading?”, found in Perrine’s Literature: Structure, sound, & sense.

I generally read one third to one half of this essay as a class, discussing as we read, and then release them into reading with a small group. Depending on your learners, you may ask them to read it in small groups first, highlighting or marking items for large group discussion.

2 Notice (observe)

Activity: Conversing

We use Jeff Anderson’s advice: “when a passage or sentence resonates with us, we pause and consider what the writer did to get that reaction” (28).

Students might notice:

  • use of italics
  • the author defines commercial and literary fiction for the reader
  • the author acknowledges that these categories aren’t neatly defined
  • the author talks about different approaches for reading commercial vs literary fiction
    • this goes from simple to more complex
  • he uses an analogy (inventors vs explorers).


3 Interact (question)

Activity: Conversing

Ask students to share where they are “in the text, zeroing in and rereading the passage so that the craft or strategy becomes more apparent” (Anderson 29).

Students might ask:

  • Why does the author first define terms?
  • How does the analogy help us understand the nuances between commercial & literary fiction?


4 Name (hypothesize)

Activity: Conversing

Anderson says “students need to name what they see...a strategy is something they can recognize in their reading and use in their writing” (Anderson 30-31).

Students might observe these ideas from the essay:

  • defining of terms for the reader
  • definitions are quite broad, allowing the author to make sweeping claims about both commercial and literary fiction
  • movement from simple to complex ideas
  • use of analogy to help the reader understand

5 Experiment (test)

Free, Paid

The next class period, I ask students to respond on Socrative to the question “What are the characteristics of literary merit?”. I use the quiz option to do this.

Students input answers using smart phones. I direct them to input answers as all lowercase with no spaces, into Socrative (for example, enhancedunderstandingoflife). 

Discuss repeated responses. What did we all notice?

Vote on responses (Once students take the 'quiz', this is an option in Socrative.).


6 Expansion experiment (test)

Activity: Other — writing

Students also experiment with the author’s structure: defining a term for their audience, ensuring that the definition serves the claim(s) they want to make. I generally keep this low-stakes: for example, if they are interested in eliminating lanyards, they may want to define the term 'safety', as this is part of the administration's (their audience's) argument.


7 Reflect (conclude)

Create a Wordle using Socrative responses.

  • Post on class webpage
  • Print for students to put in their writer’s notebook for reference

8 Expansion reflection (conclusion)

Activity: Other — writer's workshop & reflection

Students share first draft writing with their writing group, and discuss their writing process.

  • What was most challenging about the assignment?
  • How did defining terms serve their overall purpose?
  • How might they use this rhetorical strategy in the future?