History · The Unraveled Teacher

AP World History Modern: Tips for Lessons that Give Students Exposure to Exam Topics

At heart and in practice I am an English teacher. However, my degree is in history. When I decided I wanted to give teaching a go, I got my license for both subject areas to increase my chances of getting hired, but I’ve always been terrified that I’d be placed in a history classroom. Why? Because my undergrad studies focused heavily on Latin American history– Cuba in particular– and high school history classes cover US History, European History, and (worst of all) World History. The history of the entire world covered in ONE course? How does this course even exist? How does anyone go about teaching it?

When faced with a section of AP World History for the upcoming school year, my stomach turned. I was just getting the hang of handling four different English preps (including AP Seminar- a really fun course to teach!) so the news made me feel like just throwing in the towel. But, luckily for me, I just so happen to have a husband who has taught AP World History for 8 years with great success at helping his students prepare for and pass the AP exam. I’ve been picking his brain on how to approach the course and thought I’d share the wisdom (and some helpful resources) for any other new AP World History teachers out there that might be feeling the way I do. Here’s my biggest questions answered!

Here’s a free PDF download of a graphic organizer I use in Unit 1 for State Building in the Americas.

How do you approach the course in general?

Just as with any large undertaking, you just have to take it one step at a time. In your first year or two, you’re going to need to be able to rely on your PLC (Professional Learning Community- or just the other teachers that teach your same subject) so don’t be afraid to just ask them to give you everything they have in terms of lectures, lessons, quizzes, projects, etc. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. You’ll probably end up modifying lessons you get from other teachers and eventually making your own, but don’t try and create everything yourself at first. There’s so much content to cover in AP World History Modern (the new rendition of the course that came into effect in 2019) that you really just need to get that content in front of your students. The overall goal with AP World is to expose your students to all of the major topics, ideas, vocabulary, and AP question types and only go deeper into certain areas of world history.

Join the AP World History Facebook group for more lesson ideas and help from a huge community of AP teachers.

How do you expose students to everything in time for the AP exam?

The key word there is “expose.” The reality of the course is that you are going to spend very little time on certain topics so you can go a little more in-depth into others. For example, I used to do all of Rome in one class period and that was before the course changed to AP World Modern. Now Rome is just a blip in my class. You don’t want to spend much more time than that because the AP exam isn’t going to test your students on any ancient civilizations. You cover them briefly in the beginning of the year so your students can understand how they are relevant to the modern history. I go much more in-depth with World War II, but I really only spend about 3-4 class periods on it before moving on. This gives you an idea of the range of time you’ll be looking to spend on various events. My students’ exam results have been very good, so I can say with certainty that you shouldn’t feel like you aren’t spending enough time on a certain area of the course.

The vocabulary and Key Concepts for AP World History Modern are a bit of a monster, but you do want to get your students familiar with all the Key Concepts and as much vocabulary as possible. Your students aren’t going to be able to answer DBQs (document-based questions), LEQs (long essay questions), and SAQs (short answer questions) without a decent command of the terms associated with the course. I used to drive myself crazy trying to find the ultimate list of vocabulary for each unit, but I compiled my own and made it into a packet for my students which requires that they connect vocabulary and terms to relevant Key Concepts. What’s great about this particular assignment is that students will work on this throughout the unit whenever they have time. So after a quiz, odd release or pep rally days with short class periods, or for homework. It’s really important that you have your students do some of the lifting. You have to resign yourself to the fact that cannot lecture your way to full exposure in AP World. Save yourself some time and use this resource for vocabulary and Key Concepts and rest assured that your students are given that crucial exposure needed for exam success.

How do you make the class engaging if there’s so much content to cover?

It’s really important to keep your students interested or it won’t matter how good you are at cramming in every world history topic. This goes for any high school subject. You should try and incorporate projects and games that students will enjoy but also get you closer to a class full of 3s, 4s, and 5s. One of my favorite parts of the year is when I do a historical figures competition in my AP World History class. Students each choose a prominent historical figure and have to write an argument for why that person is the most influential person in history. They present their arguments to the class and we have a March Madness-style bracket on the board. Two students will go head-to-head with their arguments and the class will vote on a winner to move forward in the bracket. Student arguments will evolve as they go up against different opponents. I love this activity because forming arguments is such a crucial part of the study of history but it’s often too overlooked in the high school setting.

What free resources do you recommend for AP World teachers?

There’s a lot available in the AP World History Facebook group I mentioned earlier, but it can take time to sort through and find something you’re looking for. The Crash Course series on YouTube is a great way to mix up lectures or provide additional material to your students in a very digestible way.

There’s every topic you can think of for world history. These are a great addition to the AP World History Modern classroom.

Don’t forget to rely on College Board for structure in your classroom. Your movement through topics should be based on the information they provide because they are the ones creating the exams. You should bookmark this link to the AP World History Modern Course and Exam Description.

Is it reasonable to expect a decent pass rate for my students during my first year teaching the course?

You can’t stress about pass rates in your first year. As teachers we want to see our students succeed, but don’t forget that you aren’t the one who is 100% in control of how well they’ll do on that AP exam. You AP World exam results are going to fluctuate and sometimes you’ll feel like you had a knockout year in the classroom but scores won’t be much better than your first year when you were just fighting to stay above water. My very first of teaching AP World resulted in stellar scores. I had the highest pass rate of the four teachers that taught AP World at my school. In later years when I had my teaching process refined, I didn’t always see my pass rates as high as they were that first year. Sometimes you’re going to have highly motivated students that will pass no matter what, and you’re always going to have students that have things going on that will affect their ability to perform well on the exam. Many things will be beyond your control. Focus on presenting the exam material in the most engaging way possible and know that you’ve given it your best.


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