Intensive Journalistic Writing Courses Give Summer Reading Assignments

Intensive Journalistic Writing Courses Give Summer Reading Assignments

Alan Weintraut, the film study, print and online journalism teacher at Annandale (Va.) High School, is an Intenisve Journalistic Writing Institute participant and leader who developed a strong program. When Alan’s AP English Language and Composition sections grew, Joy Korones  teamed with Alan to teach one of the classes. Below is the letter their registered students received before school was out in June 2010. This is the first assignment of the 2010-2011 academic year.

Date: June 9, 2010

To: AP English Language and Composition students

From: Mr. Weintraut, [email protected]; Ms. Korones, [email protected]

Re: Summer reading assignments

First off, we look forward to meeting all of you on the first day of class! The course is officially called “AP English Language and Composition,” though the content has not changed drastically from when it was called AP Journalism. As you know, this is a rigorous writing course, and you’ll need to complete some summer work.

Please remember that this is a rigorous writing course, and students should be enrolled in the course only if they have:

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • A desire to read nonfiction pieces
  • A desire to write every day and improve their writing
  • A proficiency in completing homework assignments
  • A desire to work hard in an accelerated class

Although next year is one of the last things on your minds, here is the overview of the assignments due on the first day of school. Of course, be careful not to leave them until the last minute. You must see your counselor to determine which teacher you have for next year. You will communicate with one of us over the summer about your homework.

Please read all of the following directions very carefully—the deadlines for a couple assignments are nearer than you expect. Please e-mail us if you have any questions, but be sure to identify yourself using first and last name in the heading of the e-mail so it doesn’t get mistaken for Spam.

Assign. #1—Novel Reading & Written Analysis

Choose a book to read from the list below:

What Really Happened to the Class of ’93 by Chris Colin (a TJHSST graduate)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Once you’ve selected your book, complete a 3-4 page analysis of the book as a whole. You must blend some criticism and personal reflection within your writing to avoid a dry retelling of the book. You should consider the response to be more than just a “book review” of your chosen book. The grade will be based on your critical thinking that is applied to the reading.  Please include your personal responses to major sections of the book. You must answer some or all of these questions in the text of your review:

  • For whom is the intended audience of this work? Conduct research on sales figures, publishing house and critical reviews at the time of its publication.
  • What were the cultural, political and social circumstances at the time of the book’s publication? Elaborate with detail.
  • How did the author’s biographical and educational background lead him/her to writing this book? What strategies of rhetoric and persuasion does   the writer employ?
  • What entails good writing? Provide some direct examples from the book, cite page numbers, and explain how those passages constitute good writing.
  • How did you respond to certain passages of the book? How did you react personally? Why?
  • What did book critics say at the time of the novel’s publication? (Do not simply cite quotes from the back cover of the book. Do a little research.)

Assign. #2—Choose one of the following: Do some online research to learn more about these books ( is a good place to start), and choose one to read. You will give a 15-20 slide PowerPoint presentation on the first day of class. The content will be the same as your written analysis. However, the only content you will need to provide is your PPT. Please refer to the rubric when you prepare for this assignment.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Optional, extra credit assignment #3—Reading of Be True to Your School, by Bob Greene

Bob Greene is a famous journalist who was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and he’s written several books, one of them about Michael Jordan. Be True to Your School is an account of Greene’s life in 1964—his junior year in high school as recorded in his journal. It’s a first person, quick read and an amusing account of what high school was like the year the Beatles landed. You will be required to keep a journal throughout your senior year, and this book gives you a good example of what can happen when you are a disciplined, daily writer. Reading this book and completing a 3-4 page critical evaluation of the book will give you between 5-10 percent added to your 1st quarter grade. You will also have a simple “book talk” with me about the novel once school has started.


You must e-mail your teacher with your selections by June 30. We will approve your selections on a first come, first served basis.

For your summer readings, you should buy the book so you are free to mark up the text as you read.


Enjoy your summer, but don’t delay in starting your reading. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have. The total value these assignments will have on your 1st quarter grade can be as high as 20%.

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