5 Steps to Teaching AP European History
AP European History Teacher
Volcano Vista High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico
AP European History Teacher
Cibola High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Thanks to Greg Jacobs, an AP physics teacher at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, for developing the 5-step approach used in this teaching guide.
Introduction to the Teacher’s Manual
These days, teachers have no shortage of resources for the AP European History class. No longer limited to just the teacher and the textbook, students have access to online simulations, apps, computer-based homework, video lectures, and more. Even the College Board itself provides so much material related to the AP European History exam that the typical teacher—and student—can easily become overwhelmed by an excess of teaching materials and resources.
Some of these resources you may be able to use in your class. This book is a vital resource for your class because it explains in straightforward language exactly what a student needs to know for the AP European History exam and provides a review program students can use to review for the test.
The 5 Steps of Teaching AP European History
This Teacher’s Manual will take you through the 5 steps of teaching AP European History. These 5 steps are:
Prepare a strategic plan for the course
Hold an interesting class every day
Evaluate your students’ progress
Get students ready to take the AP exam
Become a better teacher every year
We will discuss each of these steps, providing suggestions and ideas that are things we use in our own classes. We present them here because over the years we have found that they work. You may have developed a different course strategy, teaching activities, and evaluation techniques; different things work for different teachers. But we hope you find in this Teacher’s Manual something that will be useful to you.
Prepare a Strategic Plan for the Course
The first step in developing a successful AP European History course is to develop a pacing guide and stick to it as closely as you are able. Between teaching both content and skills, it is very easy to fall behind a couple of days here and there. Before you know it, you have used up your review time at the end, and you end up shortchanging the last units. The Course and Exam Description (CED) from the College Board lays out a suggested scope and sequence for the AP European History course. It can be found by doing a search for the course and exam description on the College Board website (https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-european-history-course-and-exam-description-0.pdf?course=ap-european-history).
We follow the College Board’s suggested order of units. Some teachers experience success teaching the course in other ways, such as thematically, but we find a chronological approach helps with causation, among other skills. Especially if you are a new AP teacher, following the suggested sequence will help you with AP Classroom materials, as they include sequenced skill development based on their suggested teaching order. After teaching the course a few times, you will be more comfortable with the material and may want to move topics and units around to better suit your classroom needs.
We begin with a short review summarizing major developments before the year 1200 CE. History does not occur in a vacuum, and many of the historical patterns covered in the course first developed in early history. A short review provides important historical context so students can begin discerning connections across time and space. An emphasis on art, literature, philosophy—the humanities generally—is useful here to demonstrate change over time, connections, and comparisons. Additionally, some students may not have had exposure to European History since middle school, or ever, making a survey of major world regions and landforms a crucial first step. Again, as you become more confident with the material and the needs of your students, you will likely adjust the scope and content of the review based on your particular circumstances.
It is imperative you set aside time at the end of the course for review. We aim for about a month, though there are years it is closer to 3 weeks. Reexamining the material with a more “experienced” perspective at the end of the course not only refreshes students’ familiarity with content and skills, but also deepens their perception of patterns like causation and continuity or change. Furthermore, having students set up small study groups (see Chapter 2, p. 11) has proved an effective way to review the course in general.
The following pacing guide was developed using a traditional 5-day week with 45-minute periods. Although many of the units comprise similar percentages of the exam, the number of key concepts can vary substantially, which accounts, in part, for the variation in allotted class periods. (You will note that Chapters 14 and 19 are repeated due to overlap in concepts.) You should adapt this guide to your school’s academic calendar and class needs as appropriate.
Hold an Interesting Class Every Day
Variety is the spice of life, but predictable routines can minimize stress in high school students and allow them to develop organizational and time management strategies that will serve them well in your course and in the future. Because of this, we develop a syllabus and calendar in advance and give it to students on the first day. Topics, reading assignments, exams, and deadlines are published to keep the students—and us—on track. Each day, the class starts predictably, with a bell ringer activity. After that, the classroom activities can, and should, vary depending on the needs of the students and demands of the course.
Beginning with a short bell ringer activity every day gives incentive for students to come to class on time, starts them working and thinking immediately, and provides you time to organize materials and take care of administrative tasks without wasted instructional minutes. Bell ringers are excellent places to preview or review concepts and practice skills. They can be done individually or discussed in pairs. Assessment or accountability of bell ringers obviously depends on you, your district’s grading practices, and available resources. They could be handwritten in a student’s notebook, or responses could be captured digitally on a Pear Deck or Nearpod presentation. Responses should be briefly shared and discussed. This should take 5—7 minutes per day. Examples of bell ringers include:
Write a practice thesis for a prompt you give students.
Analyze an image (graph, map, political cartoon, photograph).
Read a short primary source or quote to identify argument or point of view or to evaluate credibility of the source.
Practice answering test questions from review chapters in this book.
Complete a short quiz (three to five questions) as a homework reading check.
Note-Taking: Lectures and Readings
Efficient and effective note-taking is probably one of the most beneficial skills for students, especially those who are college-bound. Be aware, though, that not all students instinctively understand how to take notes and that there are different note-taking systems that work for different types of students. Schools and districts vary widely in their instruction of these skills; therefore, you may need to take some time to make the implicit explicit. For example, we might project different examples of excellent note-taking systems from different students and ask students to identify specific strategies (shorthand, underlining/highlighting, indenting subordinate details, color-coding, webs, etc.). This might also be done as a bell ringer. Much of this work needs to be done outside of class.
With the flipped classroom movement, many teachers record lectures for students to watch at home. If your students are highly motivated and self-directed, this approach might work for you. Our experience is that students either do not watch the lectures at all or play them in the background while they “multitask.” We have had more success with in-class lectures, as they provide more opportunity for discussion and questioning. Early in the course, we have a high degree of overlap between lectures and readings. As students become more proficient in reading, lectures can be more focused on fleshing out specific thematic foci or key concepts identified in the College Board’s CED. We upload presentations (PowerPoint or Google slides) to the learning management system for student reference. Students can print slide handouts to annotate. We have also had some success with interactive platforms like Pear Deck and Nearpod. If your school has a 1:1 student/Chromebook ratio, this is an option. In either case, incorporate opportunities for students to process the information throughout (questions, reflections, predictions, connections to past content) to keep students engaged.
Between skills and content, this course is too extensive to be constrained to class time only. Some homework is inevitable. We develop chapter questions or allow students to take notes. At the beginning we alternate so students can determine which method is better for them; then it becomes their choice. Holding them accountable while maintaining a manageable grading load is a balancing act. One of us has a giant die in the classroom. Students roll it, and chance decides: notes graded/no quiz, open-note quiz, closed-note quiz, quiz in pairs with no notes. Other years we have done a completion check of notes during the bell ringer. With 100% on-time completion, students were eligible for some incentive, like extra credit or test corrections. You might also assign chapter sections to specific students and have them “jigsaw” (share and teach their section to a group) during class.
Some class periods should be devoted to activities for processing information or developing skills. Below we mention just a few of our favorites. Further discussion on how to use these strategies can be easily found online.
Bracket activity (like Sweet 16—type basketball tournament brackets where students defend an assigned person/topic in a series of paired matches)
Primary source analysis using tools like SOAPS (written), OPTIC (visual sources), etc.
Twitter “war” from different perspectives
Charts to classify information using tools like PERSIA, SPRITES, etc.
Soundtracks (students find songs whose lyrics remind them of elements of a historical period and write explanations)
Political cartoons (creating or analyzing)
Maps (creating or analyzing)
Here is a list of sample activities by unit:
Teaching students how to write for the AP European History exam is crucial. Scaffold the skills beginning with the thesis. Give students a prompt and have them write a thesis responding to it. Provide a thesis and ask students what evidence in the unit supports or rebuts it. Students must also become familiar with the question formats and the relevant rubrics. One of the best ways to do this is to use the released free-response questions (FRQs) from the College Board. Have students write a response to the prompt. Then provide copies of the College Board’s sample responses and rubrics, and have students score their responses based on the rubrics. Once students have finished, give the actual scores and commentary. Eventually you can start assigning full practice essays. The more students write, the better, but find ways to make the workload manageable for both them and you, especially once they become familiar with the rubrics. Take advantage of the prepared FRQs in this book and in your textbook, as well as those released by the College Board.
Examples of other activities that you can use to prepare students for the FRQs are:
Give students three to five prompts to prepare in advance, and then select one to assign on a test.
Have students work in pairs to write an FRQ.
Have students peer-grade each other’s work using the rubrics.
Assign three FRQs; roll the die to see which will be a completion grade, which will be peer-graded, and which you will grade according to the rubric.
Evaluate Your Students’ Progress
One of the most contentious topics in education today is the appropriate role and form of assessment in the classroom. Consequently, many districts and schools have imposed specific guidelines such as grading based on standards, eliminating zeroes, grading for mastery, and allowing retakes and resubmission of all work. Below we discuss what things have worked for us; you might have to adapt them to your particular situation.
Assignments and Grading
College-level intelligence does not always equate to college-level discipline. Part of our job is to help students develop study habits that will serve them well in future AP courses and in college. To encourage this, we give small grades linked to the reading/notes assigned as homework. This might be in the form of a completion grade or reading quiz, but students must be held accountable early to deter bad habits. That said, grades for reading quizzes, bell ringers, and the like should not be a large proportion of their overall grades (15%).
Every unit should also include analysis of written and visual sources since the document-based questions and multiple-choice questions are both based on this skill. Source analysis essay writing (discussed earlier) and other activities are approximately 35% of their grade.
Time constraints limit how many projects can be assigned, but for students who struggle with tests, projects can provide an alternative way of demonstrating mastery. We aim for two projects a semester for 10% of their grade.
The remaining 40% of their grade comes from tests. Unit tests should mimic the conditions of an actual AP test as closely as possible. This means using stimulus-based multiple-choice questions as much as possible. Writing original test questions is very time-consuming. We recommend using questions from this book, the test bank for your textbook, and the question bank provided by the College Board in the AP Classroom. During the actual exam, students have 55 minutes to complete 55 multiple-choice questions, which means 1 minute per question. Adjust the number of questions as you need, but follow the timing of the AP exam. It is essential that students have practice writing under time pressure; therefore, every unit exam should incorporate at least one FRQ. We often give students a choice, especially at first. You can also give students a list of potential essay questions in a study guide and tell them that one FRQ on the test will be taken from that list. The best students will prepare them all and get a more comprehensive review.
The College Board has scoring guidelines for its released exams, and there are AP exam score calculators available online (e.g., at albert.io and marcolearning.com). The cut score (the minimum percentage to earn an AP score of 3) varies from year to year, but usually falls around the 50% mark. While test scores of 60—70% might be enough to earn college credit on the AP exam, it can wreak havoc on a student’s GPA and result in concerned students and parents. Every AP teacher I know has to decide how to handle test scores. We differ in our approach. One of us keeps the raw percentages but weights the readings and daily activities higher to compensate. The other curves the test scores. But many other teachers convert percentages to the 5-point AP scale and into a letter grade from there. Below is a sample scoring guide.
Class time is precious, but it is worth investing some time in going over the correct answers to multiple-choice questions in class at least for the first test. The more familiar students are with the types of questions on the exam and the reasoning processes needed to find the correct answer, the better. To save time in class, we have offered extra credit for test corrections completed over one or two lunch periods. Usually we have enough students show up that they can help each other figure out where they went wrong with minimal assistance from us.
Get Students Ready to Take the AP Exam
As discussed earlier, it is always our goal to leave about a month for review, though there are years we have left less than that. Depending on the needs of your students—and on district policies—some study sessions outside the school day may be advisable. Some years we hold optional review sessions on Saturday mornings in April. We begin with a full-length practice exam (found in this book), because a key element for success on the exam is endurance, and it is the one thing that cannot be replicated in the classroom. It also serves a diagnostic purpose, allowing students to see their weaknesses and allowing for some individualization of review. If you can have only one such session, we urge you to prioritize a practice test.
During class time, to refresh students’ memories, we focus on content during the first 2 review weeks (depending on how much time we have for review). Here we list some of the activities we use to help students review the content of the course for the AP exam:
Create annotated timelines and/or maps.
Create graphic organizers for each unit (using PERSIA, PIRATES, or other acronyms).
Use index cards.
Use hexagonal thinking.
Do peer/reciprocal teaching. Students teach themes, eras, or specific events.
Create one-pagers. Students create a single-page review for each era, with quotes, images, key ideas, etc.
Trace themes throughout the eras (gender, labor, trade, etc.).
Review games (Kahoot!, Gimkit, Quizlet Live, etc.).
This would be an ideal place to incorporate the review chapters of this book, especially if you have a class set or online access. The practice questions from the online edition can be assigned as homework or used during class if your classroom has a 1:1 student/Chromebook ratio. (For instructions on accessing the online Cross-Platform Prep Course, see the back cover of this book.)
The last week or so, we shift our focus to individual components of the exam: the short-answer questions (SAQs), the long essay questions (LEQs), and the document-based questions (DBQs). This is where this book can be especially useful with its many practice essay questions. Whether done in groups or individually, there is no substitute for practice.
Remember to have fun as well. You absolutely do not want your students to be burned out and exhausted on exam day!
Become a Better Teacher Every Year
Good AP teachers try to do better each year, regardless of how they measure success. If there is anything that didn’t work as well as you had hoped this year, there is always next year to try a different approach. The message is the same for both novices and veterans: Try to become a better teacher every year.
A qualifying score is considered a 3 or better, which means that, at most universities, a student with that score would earn college credit and not have to take the course again. This is quite a feat for a high school sophomore, fully two years away from entering college. What, then, is the value of a 2? According to the College Board, a 2 means “possibly qualified,” meaning that with a little more time, practice, and maturity, a student with a 2 is on track to succeed in a college-level history course. Bear this in mind when the score reports are released in July; be proud of those students who earned a 3 or higher, but don’t forget to celebrate those students who earned a 2 and who have taken the first steps toward success in college.
For all AP teachers, both new and experienced, the Instructional Planning Report provided by the College Board in the summer is an invaluable resource. Accessed through AP Classroom, it provides a breakdown of your students’ scores by unit and by question type. Using this you can begin to make adjustments in your planning for the upcoming year. If your students struggled with a particular unit, you can allot extra time or change the activities in class. If students did better on the multiple-choice section than the FRQs, perhaps increase the amount of time dedicated to writing practice or look for professional development that will show you new strategies.
To this end, attending an AP Summer Institute is incredibly beneficial, both for beginning teachers and as a refresher for veteran teachers. These institutes are taught by experienced, successful AP teachers who are an invaluable source of activities, strategies, and insider tips. Additionally, after 3 years teaching an AP course, you can apply to become a reader for the AP exam during the summer. As a reader you will gain valuable insight about the scoring of the FRQs, have opportunities for professional networking, and earn a stipend to cover expenses. You can apply through the College Board’s website.
Finally, there are online communities of AP European History teachers, which can provide information on strategies, resources, professional development, or just support. The College Board hosts AP Community sites for each AP subject, and there are many Facebook groups for AP teachers.
What does it mean to be a successful AP teacher? Does it mean having as many students as possible sign up for your course? Does it mean all students take the exam? Does it mean every student passes? The answer will depend on the culture of your school, the student body you serve, and your own values as a teacher. For us, it means looking at students’ progress from August to May, whether it be their work ethic, their skills, their thinking, or their attitude. If most of them are better scholars than when they started, we call that success.
Additional Resources for Teachers
Be sure to keep the College Board’s CED on hand. It can be found online at https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-european-history-course-and-exam-description-0.pdf?course=ap-european-history. The CED covers the scope of the course, skills, key concepts, and suggested illustrative examples. Any topic in the CED is fair game for the exam. Any topic not in the CED is outside the scope of the course and will not be tested. Also available at the European History course site are the AP Classroom and released FRQs.
BACKGROUND READING FOR AP TEACHERS
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present
Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History
National Geographic’s Visual History of the World
David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
Khan Academy (Khanacademy.org)
PBS LearningMedia (Pbslearningmedia.org)
Anti-Social Studies (Antisocialstudies.org)
Internet History Sourcebooks Project (sourcebooks.fordham.edu)
Stanford History Education Group (sheg.stanford.edu)
activehistory.co.uk (activehistory.co.uk/), requires subscription
Center for History and New Media (chnm.gmu.edu/worldhistorysources)
FiveAble (Fiveable.com), may require subscription
Albert (albert.io), may require subscription
Marco Learning (Marcolearning.com), may require subscription
Three useful sites that specialize in historical novels:
50 Essential Historical Fiction Books, AbeBooks (http://www.abebooks.com/books/features/50-essential-historical-fiction-books.shtml). This site contains brief annotations of novels (primarily); the comments that follow have suggestions of other possibilities.
Historical Novels.info (http://www.historicalnovels.info). This site is enormous and a tad overwhelming, citing more than 5,000 works. It is broken down by era.
The 10 Best . . . Historical Novels (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2012/may/13/ten-best-historical-novels). This site focuses on 10 novels. It is annotated.
Machiavelli, La Mandragola (The Mandrake Root). This play is the source of the line “The end justifies the means.”
Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy, which is also a stunning film.
Poems by any of the Romantic poets, but especially Shelley’s “To a Skylark,” Byron’s “Childe Harold” and “Don Juan,” and Wordsworth’s “The Prelude.”
For satire, look at the works of William Hogarth (1697—1764) and James Gillray (1792—1810), caricaturists who specialized in political and social satire. Later, but perhaps better known, is Honoré Daumier (1808—1879). All gave rise to political and editorial cartooning.
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
J. G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur
J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country
Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun
Pat Barker, Regeneration
Ken Follett, The Fall of Giants
John Hersey, Hiroshima
Louis de Bernières, Corelli’s Mandolin (the book, not the movie)
A. J. Liebling, World War II Writings: The Road Back to Paris (journalism at its best)
Videos on music: There are two sites that start with the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” They flash names and events across the screen. They are useful for finding out what you need to know.
Billy Joel: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swt1Vc0Lc00). This covers the years 1949—1989. Some things are out of chronological order, but this is useful nonetheless.
Decade in Review 00—09: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c24kzS-UX3k). For the years 2000—2009. It’s a little heavy on US history but is still useful.
Did You Know? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL9Wu2kWwSY). Video on information technology.
A Season of Giants, a made-for-television movie about the life of Michelangelo.
Lawrence of Arabia (the film, 1962).
For general information about art, see the book by John Berger, Ways of Seeing. This is an art history “text,” but it is very short. It will help you with how to analyze and interpret art and how to put it into historical context.
To understand art as propaganda, check out war recruiting and general patriotic posters. See the book by J. Darracott and B. Loftus, First World War Posters. An alternative would be to search the web for “propaganda WWI posters” and “propaganda WWII posters.”
Art History Resources (http://arthistoryresources.net/ARTHLinks.html). The most complete site available, produced by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe.
Smarthistory Commons (https://smarthistoryblog.org). This amazing site offers evaluations of artworks. It has a YouTube channel as well. It is best used to search for specific works, artists, and eras.