How the Hand Turkey Saved AP Literature

Image result for hand turkeys

As an experienced AP Literature Reader, I have seen my share of hand turkeys. Some students are not prepared to write essays on the day of the exam, so instead of sleeping, some turn to art. The beloved hand turkey stands tall against some of weaker artistic efforts illustrating certain male body parts, but by and by, these Rembrandts in training receive a score resembling the bottom of a parakeet cage.

The other day I was struggling to help my students understand how to develop lines of reasoning that support a defensible thesis statement.  We were analyzing Clint Smith poems, and most students successfully crafted defensible thesis statements.  So, in our new 6-point rubric world, they earned the Row A point.  We had spent weeks practicing thesis statement writing.

But, the evidence and commentary that followed failed in its effort to establish lines of reasoning leading back to their defensible thesis statements.

This problem of unconnected support and reasoning is nothing new.  Everyone travelling the analytical writing journey has stumbled and bumbled before reaching the clarity of connected support, so like every year, I search for new ways to expedite their learning.

There I stood before a small group of questioning faces.  They were frustrated and they were waiting for me, the expert, to cast a few pearls of writing wisdom their way. They want to write well.  They want to think well.  They want me to share the secrets to both writing well and thinking well. I I guess the real problem is that they don’t understand that I am on the same journey they are travelling.  I try to improve my skills every day.  Writing is a road filled with potholes, oil slicks, and crazed squirrels.

But then, in a moment of inspiration, the hand turkey, like a light from above, flashed across my mind.

Of course!  The hand turkey!

I suppose a little more explanation is needed for those who don’t share my satori.

Step 1 

Draw a hand turkey

Step 2

Write a defensible thesis statement in the turkey’s body, but write it upside down. Yes, upside down.

Step 3

Label each finger/feather/line – reason 1, reason 2, reason 3, reason 4. Of course the number of fingers/feathers/ lines will depend on your goals for the paper. (Word of caution: one fingered/feathered/ lined hand turkeys are problematic).

Step 4

This is the step that changes everything.   Invert the turkey. Now the defensible thesis statement is right-side-up!  I love high tech assignments.

Step 5

At the end of each finger/feather/line write an insightful topic sentence that directly supports the defensible thesis statement. After each insightful topic sentence is in place, students pause and reflect on if the insightful topic sentence follows the finger/feather/line back to the defensible thesis statement. If it does, then a line of reasoning has been started.

Step 6

On a separate sheet of paper, write out the rest of the paragraph thereby establishing a line of reasoning.  Blending in poetic or literary evidence combined with personal commentary in a unified paragraph completes each finger/feather/line of reasoning. But before students break out the scissors, they need to reread their defensible thesis statement, their insightful topic sentence, and their evidence and commentary to confirm the cartilage between each finger/feather/line. If literary devices have been used effectively in combination with personal commentary, then it’s time to break out the scissors. Cut out each paragraph and glue each paragraph below the insightful topic sentence.

Step 6.5

Read the essay as a whole. Are the fingers/feathers/lines in the right order? Might a rearranging bring stronger clarity or rhetorical power? How might students work effective transitions between the arguments? Conversations about revision and positioning are easier seen and developed when in the context of an inverted hand turkey.

Step 7

Admire the inverted hand turkey (that may look like a weird squid) at this point.  Coloring may be appropriate to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the hand turkey. I suspect the better turkeys will be displayed in the classroom or on the student’s family refrigerator.

Well there you have it.  You’re welcome. The hand turkey has gone from the grackle of the AP Literature world to an eagle sailing high over the land of 5s. I can guarantee you one thing, students will remember their hand turkeys turned eagle on AP exam day.


3 thoughts on “How the Hand Turkey Saved AP Literature

  1. This. Is. Fantastic. I was just Googling “literary hand turkeys” to figure out whether this is something that I could jump into with my sophomores tomorrow, and you’ve given me a ton of ideas! Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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