English Language & Literature

Our Upper School English curriculum inspires students to understand the power of literature—to instruct, challenge, delight, and transform us. Through the daily practice of reading, writing, reflecting, and discussing, students connect with literature, each other, and the world.

We believe that thoughtful study of writing and literature aids the development and articulation of a student’s distinct self as well as a deeper understanding of others. In our classrooms, students question, explore, and build their knowledge of themselves and beyond.

English 9 and English 10 provide a common foundation for students through the study of a variety of modes of writing and the primary genres of literature—poetry, prose, and drama. In 11th grade, students pursue one of three paths: English 11/12, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate. Qualifying students in AP 11 or English 11 may continue on to AP 12, or choose from the English 12 elective program. Students commencing IB courses in their junior year are expected to fulfill a two-year commitment. 

Course Descriptions

English 9

English 9 introduces students to the expectations of a rigorous high school English curriculum, as they hone their critical reading strategies and analytical writing skills. Students explore a variety of genres, such as novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction essays, memoir, and drama. Authors include Shakespeare, Bradbury, Amy Tan, and Mark Haddon. While literary analysis is the central focus of writing assignments, with opportunities to revise and rewrite essays, students also engage in their own creative writing process, producing polished short stories and poems. All 9th grade English students participate in the annual Poem-Off competition, where they memorize and recite celebrated poems. Supporting lessons in vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics aid student confidence with writing and test-taking. The year ends with a final portfolio of their written work.

English 10

English 10, a World Literature course, builds on the reading and writing concepts introduced in English 9 through the presentation of distinct voices and ideas in literature from around the globe. Discussions focus on the specific choices that authors make—how and why authors write for a variety of purposes and audiences. Texts may include plays, stories, poems, and novels by authors such as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Achebe, Mar García Márquez, Neruda, Ferraris, and Satrapi. These readings develop student awareness of the specific historical, political, and cultural contexts influencing literary voices around the globe and over time. Students are encouraged to question the motivations behind literary works and to apply ideas about authorship to their own writing, paying special attention to achieving greater precision and sophistication in their work. Writing conventions and vocabulary study in the context of reading and writing are taught throughout the year. The course culminates in a multi‐genre portfolio of student writing.

English 11

English 11, a selected survey of American Literature, enables juniors to apply knowledge of genre and authorship gleaned in English 9 and English 10 to specifically American themes, questions, and voices. Through close reading, careful textual analysis, writing in various rhetorical modes, and small group discussions, students in their junior year develop specific understandings of American culture and expression. Readings may include essays, fiction, drama, and poetry by authors such as Franklin, Douglass, Dickinson, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hurston, Plath, and O’Brien. As a culminating assignment, students write, revise, and edit an autobiographical portfolio of considerable length and variety in the spring.

AP English 11: Language & Composition

Prerequisites: English 10 qualifying grades and satisfactory completion of a timed AP-style writing sample
AP English 11 is an accelerated version of English 11 (American Literature), emphasizing the same skills noted in the English 11 description, but adding to them the specific exercise of academic research. In the first semester, students independently explore the work of an American author and write a 10-15 page “causal” argument with MLA citations. In addition, AP students actively prepare for the Language and Composition exam by engaging in the study of rhetorical and literary strategies in non-fiction, poetry, and fiction. Timed essays and practice multiple-choice assessments are frequently administered throughout the year. Students are expected to take the AP exam in May. Like their peers in other 11th grade English courses, spring semester AP 11 students write, revise, and edit an autobiographical portfolio in the spring.

AP English 12: Literature & Composition

Prerequisites: English 11 qualifying grades and satisfactory completion of a timed writing sample, or AP English 11 and qualifying grades
This intensive class explores expository, analytical, and argumentative writing with an aim towards an advanced understanding of themes, stylistic elements, and literary features in literature. Qualified students continue their critical reading of canonical texts and actively prepare for the Literature and Composition test in May. In addition, students study a survey of poetry from the 1600’s to the present. Authors include Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Bronte, Woolf, and Forster. Students are expected to take the AP exam in May.

English 12: Senior Electives

English 12 courses are semester-long electives varying in theme, genre, period, or critical approach. Each elective requires students to read 4–5 texts, write analytically and personally about literature, and collaborate to create and to problem solve in group settings. Most courses incorporate film study, media, and other interdisciplinary subject matter. Each spring, rising seniors are briefed on the English 12 elective offerings slated for the upcoming academic year.

African American Writers

In this course, students explore the concepts of identity and perspective as they read works from authors of color such as Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Discussions revolve around the expectations that readers bring to such works and the complicated places in American society that these authors inhabit.

Dystopian Fiction

A dystopia is an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. In this course, students investigate the socio-political environments in which dystopian novels were written, including Thomas More’s Utopia, George Orwell’s 1984, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Beyond

This multi-disciplinary course highlights the role of fairy tales in culture, history, and everyday life. Beginning with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and moving through their later iterations by Walt Disney, students consider a variety of contemporary tales, films, and television shows.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, an artistic and cultural movement of the 1920s and early 30s, redefined how America and the world viewed African Americans. During that time, tremendous talent emerged in the fields of poetry, narrative fiction, arts, music, and more. In this course, students explore the literature, arts, and history from this important historical time period.

Literature and Gender

This course investigates the ways that men and women in the Western World represent gender and corollary issues such as marriage, domesticity, power relationships, and protest. Although informed by feminism, the course does not espouse a specific political agenda or purpose; rather, it approaches assigned texts as an opportunity to become more purposeful and perceptive readers.

Literature & The Journey

This course follows the physical and psychological journeys of the characters in several literary classics by authors such as Joseph Conrad, Hermann Hesse,Jack Kerouacand Cormac McCarthy. Students engage with these texts by considering quintessential ideas of how journeying and travel defines individuality and community.

21st Century Book Club

Based on the idea that students should encounter more contemporary writings as well as have more choice over what they read, this course puts students at the center of their learning. Students vote on the four books they will read as a class, and each member chooses a fifth book to read on their own. Some movies, such as Inception and Zero Dark Thirty, also accompany discussions of the novels as they relate thematically to events or issues of the last 15 years.

The Uncanny

An exploration of the genre of gothic horror, this course allows students to read a variety of horror stories by famous authors of the nineteenth century. In addition, the course introduces and explores the early development of psychology by Jung and Freud. Typical authors studied may include Stoker, Shelley, Stevenson, and Poe.

Writers Who Paint

Writers Who Paint investigates the work of famous writers and painters, including such artists as William Blake, e.e. cummings, Aldous Huxley, Susan Minot, and Kurt Vonnegut. Through a close look at how artists express themselves through images, both written and visual, students gain an understanding of how artists communicate in a variety of genres and modes.

International Baccalaureate English