Essentially English

Essentially English 2016 Catalog and Registration Form

Essentially English 2016.jpg


Essentially English 2016 Updated.pdf



Polyphony is the upper school literary magazine of GFS, featuring student poetry, prose, and visual arts. The publication, released yearly in April, is led by students in grades 9-12, who collect submissions, fund raise in the first half of the year, edit and design the final product in the second half.

Anno is the GFS upper school yearbook produced by students and featuring student designed senior pages. The Earthquake is our upper school student newspaper featuring hard news coverage and items of national and local interest.



The English curriculum aims to encourage active readers, effective writers, articulate speakers, thoughtful listeners and compassionate thinkers able to act responsibly in a changing world. We believe in the importance of sharing ideas in a community of diverse students; we cultivate an attitude of reflection in our classrooms; and we encourage inquiry and cooperation in discussions, performance, and writing. We challenge students to read widely, using a variety of materials, classic and contemporary, as we teach strategies of critical reading. Each text also provides a model for the art of writing, just as formal and informal student writing provides a forum for exploration and expression of ideas and experience. We help students resolve questions of grammar, punctuation, logic, and style in context as well as in a grammar sequence at each grade level.

From September to mid-March, English is devoted to the required courses at each grade level. In the spring, the department offers elective courses in its Essentially English program to students in grades 10, 11, and 12 (and in special cases to students in 9th grade). Those courses are published separately in January.


The English program in sixth grade is geared towards deepening students’ writing and reading experience and to begin to establish the skills they will require to analyze literature during their middle school years. Students read novels, short stories and poems. Each trimester, students focus on a different theme and the texts they read are used to explore these themes. Topics include but are not limited to survival, exploration, injustice, and intolerance. The novels are typically integrated with the social studies curriculum. In addition, students begin to learn how to annotate texts as a means of collecting information for discussion and written analysis. Writing is also an important component of the English program. Students develop their skills in the various areas of the writing process such as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and proofreading. Students also learn the basic elements of poetry, which they apply when reading and writing poems. 


The seventh grade English curriculum is designed to expose students to a variety of writing styles, themes and characters. Much of the historical fiction that we read corresponds closely with what work is going on in the history department, requiring close collaboration (e.g., When we read Fever 1793 which is a story about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, we research places in the story and then report on those places in full costume). We will be reading stories in which characters are discovering, developing or challenging their sense of identity. We will also be looking at the changes a character goes through in the course of a novel, not unlike changes seventh graders go through. Seventh graders will also be asked to look the existence of common themes and the use of symbolism during our discussion and follow-up activities.

Throughout the year, students are expected to produce a variety of written work—short stories, poetry, essays and journal writing. While the seventh-grade curriculum works to foster creative writing through short story writing and journaling, a main goal for this year is to develop each student’s “objective voice.” Often, after a piece of literature they will write a critical piece about a theme or character. An emphasis will be placed on improving a student’s paragraph and essay structure.


This is a literature-based course designed to introduce students to a variety of genres (play, epic poem, historical novel, vignettes). There is a focus on close reading, where students are asked to consider a literary work in context and to examine its language. Several units of study are supported by the eighth grade history course (1930s and 1960s race relations and To Kill a Mockingbird; WWII Japanese internment camps and When the Emperor is Divine; 1950s Chicano immigrant communities and House on Mango Street). Students are also introduced to classic texts (e.g., Homer and Shakespeare) to build their knowledge base. While we touch on numerous themes, there is an emphasis on students making connections to their reading through various lenses, personal, historical, cultural, and psychological. Vocabulary is culled from each of the texts that we are reading to build fluency and comprehension. In addition to advancing reading comprehension, students are asked to practice different forms of analytical and creative writing to build their skills and critical thinking. Students are always encouraged to revise their work and frequently do multiple drafts of both creative and critical writing pieces. To support their writing, students also study grammar structures, reviewing parts of speech and introducing phrases and clauses.