One of the things I dislike about teaching AP English Literature is that I really need to offer students opportunities to practice for the exam, which means timed writing and multiple choice practice. I don’t think timed writing is pedagogically sound because we are not replicating the kind of writing students will have to do most often in college and career. Sure, students have deadlines, but it will be uncommon for them to have to produce something like a timed essay in the real world. I also tend to ask more open-ended questions rather than multiple-choice questions. I have moved away from giving tests and even quizzes as learning assessments.Â But I also don’t want to shortchange my students who plan to take the exam.
I don’t like giving students prompts that are disconnected from our studies. If, for example, we are engaged in a unit on Home and Family and are readingÂ Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, I would prefer to have students practice timed writing or multiple choice connected to that text or at least to the themes we are exploring in the unit. Unfortunately, the College Board seems to think the best way to organize the class is by genre rather than by theme. Finding timed writing prompts is not too hard, but finding multiple-choice practice based on the texts I teach can be a challenge.
This week, I decided to try ChatGPT to write some multiple-choice questions just to see what would happen. This is the prompt I put into ChatGPT:
Create five multiple choice questions with options A through E about Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Whereas”
Here is a link to the poem. I really didn’t think it would generate much of anything because Layli Long Soldier’s work is not as well known as, say, Robert Frost’s or Emily Dickinson’s. However, in about 15 seconds, ChatGPT generated the following questions:
- In Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Whereas,” what is the significance of the title?
A. It refers to a particular location where an event takes place.
B. It’s a reference to a legal term used in U.S. government documents.
C. It’s a metaphor for a state of mind or emotion.
D. It’s a nod to the Native American oral storytelling tradition.
E. It’s a reference to a specific historical document.
- What is the central theme of Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Whereas”?
A. The importance of personal identity in the face of cultural erasure.
B. The complexity and contradictions of language and communication.
C. The impact of historical trauma on present-day Indigenous people.
D. The beauty and power of nature as a source of healing and renewal.
E. The struggle for justice and equality in contemporary America
- Which of the following literary devices does Layli Long Soldier use in “Whereas” to convey her message?
A. Imagery and metaphor
B. Rhyme and alliteration
C. Foreshadowing and irony
D. Flashback and symbolism
E. Simile and hyperbole
- How does Layli Long Soldier use repetition in “Whereas”?
A. To emphasize the importance of certain ideas or concepts.
B. To create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem.
C. To convey the speaker’s frustration and anger.
D. To establish a connection with the reader.
E. To evoke a particular mood or emotion.
- Which of the following best describes the tone of Layli Long Soldier’s “Whereas”?
A. Angry and accusatory
B. Reflective and contemplative
C. Humorous and satirical
D. Hopeful and optimistic
E. Sarcastic and ironic
Now, the first question is tricky, but it’s the kind of question with a good distractor. Two answers are pretty good, but one is best. The other four are a bit more straightforward. I think they’re pretty good questions. If I had tried to write them, it would have taken over an hour, I’m sure. I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to find questions like this online or in any AP prep books.
I told my students where they came from, and one student who had missed a couple commented, “THAT’S why they suck.” Kidding aside, the students generally agreed they were AP-style questions. They also reflected that when I had asked them to write multiple choice questions as a thinking activity in class, it had taken them a good chunk of our 70-minute period to write just one good question.
I tried again with Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Obligations 2,” and ChatGPT didn’t do as well. I believe the AI confused the poem with another text based on the questions it generated, but I’m not sure which one. Still, I think this is a game-changer for including more quick multiple-choice practice questions on the texts I actually teach.
I decided to try again to see what would happen if I asked ChatGPT to create some discussion questions. Here is the prompt I used:
make up discussion questions based on ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s poem “The Red Man’s America”
It generated the following:
- What message is ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡ conveying in “The Red Man’s America,” and how does she use language and imagery to convey that message?
- How does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s personal experience as a Native American influence her perspective on the United States and its treatment of indigenous peoples?
- In what ways does “The Red Man’s America” challenge traditional American narratives of manifest destiny and the conquest of the West?
- How does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s poem reflect the broader struggle of Native Americans to maintain their cultural identity and resist assimilation into mainstream American society?
- What role does nature play in “The Red Man’s America,” and how does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡ use descriptions of the natural world to convey her ideas about the relationship between Native Americans and the land?
- How does “The Red Man’s America” compare to other works of Native American literature in terms of its themes and style?
- In what ways does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s poem challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Native Americans that are still prevalent in American culture today?
- How does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s poem speak to contemporary debates about issues such as land rights, cultural appropriation, and representation of indigenous peoples in popular culture?
- What does ZitkÃ¡la-Å Ã¡’s poem suggest about the potential for Native American cultures to survive and thrive in the face of colonization and assimilation?
- How does “The Red Man’s America” speak to broader themes of identity, belonging, and resistance in American literature and culture?
I don’t love all of these questions, but I admit most of them are pretty good, and I would use them in a class discussion. I really thought, again, that I might stump the AI with a lesser-known writer, but I didn’t.
Next, I asked ChatGPT to write me a lesson plan based on three Emily Dickinson poems I want to teach. The lesson plan was okay. It wasn’t great, but it was not terrible, either. I decided I wouldn’t use any of it because I had some other ideas about how I wanted to approach teaching Dickinson’s poems.
I think ChatGPT has the potential to save some time for tasks, but it’s not yet as creative as a human. Still, given how much time teachers spend doing some of these tasks, I think it could be a very interesting tool.