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. Those courses are published in a separate catalog in January.
931 Exploration of Identity
required major | grade: 9
Ninth grade students study works of literature from various historic periods that explore issues of identity. Included in the curriculum: Our Town, The Laramie Project, Persepolis, a Shakespeare play and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Vocabulary study is based on words drawn from the texts as well as from a stand-alone vocabulary workbook, and students are quizzed on these words throughout the year. Teachers emphasize expository writing with three substantial essays each semester. Through active reading, students learn to support their arguments with carefully chosen textual examples and consolidate their knowledge of MLA format, style and correct punctuation by drafting and revising their essays. In keeping with the theme of identity development, students plan a one-day experience project in which they explore a hobby or potential career and write an essay about that experience. Concurrent with our critical and structural study of short stories and poetic forms, students write their own short stories and various poems, compiling a writing portfolio by the year’s end.
941 The Poetry of Language
required major | grade: 10
Students in sophomore English examine the ways that writers create meaning through imagery and language, as well as the ways that writers are created by their own worlds. Students read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Antigone; Hamlet, or another Shakespeare selection; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Teachers select short stories by authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Raymond Carver, and students read a sampling of poetry by Lucille Clifton and Emily Dickinson. Dramatic and oral presentations are particularly important; students memorize and perform choral odes, soliloquies, blues songs and scenes. Formal and informal writing provide frequent opportunities for students to work on usage and coherence in their own creations. Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers is the reference text for writing and editing. Vocabulary lists are drawn from the reading.
951 Literature in Context
required major | grade: 11
Junior English focuses on authors whose innovative writing challenged the status quo and continues to resonate today. Through close reading, study of form and content, and investigation into historical context, we cultivate student engagement. Class discussions invite students to delve into challenging texts and present their ideas and interpretations to their peers. Books studied include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Shorter texts include Romantic poetry (focusing on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience), short stories by Isabel Allende and Jhumpa Lahiri, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thi diem thúy. As they read, students learn about parallels in the visual arts, specifically photojournalism, Modernism, Romanticism and Expressionism. Writing is central to the course: Students compose informal reading responses, formal analytical essays, poetry, narratives and creative nonfiction. They undertake an intensive study of the definition essay, including examples by Langston Hughes, Richard Rodriguez, David Sedaris, Chang-Rae Lee, Rebecca Solnit and Margaret Atwood. Through revision, writing conferences and workshops, we encourage students to sharpen their writing skills, experiment with style and develop an academic voice of their own.
961 Identity and Aesthetics
required major | grade: 12
An intensive course in analyzing challenging literary texts and writing effectively. The literature frames issues of aesthetics and politics in a global historical context, emphasizing major literary movements such as Realism, Modernism and Postmodernism, as well as major historical trends such as the transatlantic slave trade, Colonialism and Postcolonialism. The course covers a range of genres from Shakespearean tragedy, to modern and postmodern fiction and drama, to poetry and the literary essay. Students will examine the ways in which identity is formed through language, the politics of self and other, and the tensions that exist when an author attempts to write both artfully and meaningfully. Literature may include Beloved, Toni Morrison; Dubliners, James Joyce; Collected Essays, George Orwell; Benito Cereno, Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville; In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin; Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth; Eat The Document, Dana Spiotta; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave; and a representative poet to be designated on a year-to-year basis. Writing assignments designed to build skills and explore important concepts will include in-class essays, an expository personal essay, a comparison paper, a paper using secondary sources, an essay based on a moral dilemma, a creative work of prose, a character analysis, and an original poem. Additional writing assignments are given that could serve as possible college essays. Other requirements include vocabulary tests for words drawn from each book and substantial memorization.
944 Audio Storytelling: The Art of the Podcast
minor elective | grades: 10, 11, 12
Have you ever wanted to host your own radio show? Is there a subject you’re passionate about and want to share—but don’t know how to find your audience? In this year-long course, we will explore the exploding genre of podcasts and its rise as the fastest-growing form of journalism. Although podcasting isn’t a new idea—the term dates back to 2004—its appeal has grown tremendously in recent years; Apple’s iTunes Store currently features more than 300,000 podcasts! During the fall semester, we will study and listen to a variety of podcasts in various formats (interview-based, talk show and magazinestyle, documentaries, storytelling) on a wide range of topics; basically, if you can imagine it, a podcast already exists. The second semester will be devoted to creating and launching your own podcast (either on your own or with a classmate), from incubating an idea to planning and scripting episodes to all of the technical aspects: recording, editing and laying down music. No prior podcasting experience necessary; just bring your interest, creativity and a sense of humor. Enrollment limited to 16 students per section.
890 Dreaming in Chapters: The Art of the Novel
(a Junior-Senior Seminar)
major elective | grades: 11, 12
That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.—Tim O’Brien
The novel, as a genre, has held readers spellbound since its inception more than four hundred years ago, and continues to reinvent itself in our own time. (Are television serials like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Wire a new form of the novel? And what about graphic narratives like V For Vendetta, Fun Home, Maus and Blankets?) Perhaps the novel’s resilience attests to its unlimited possibilities: It is the only genre that can contain every other genre inside its pages Furthermore, the novel seems uniquely equipped to reach the truth of human experience in ways that historical accounts cannot.
In The Art of The Novel, Milan Kundera writes, “A historian tells you about events that have taken place. A novel examines not reality but existence, and existence is not what occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he’s capable of.” We see this today in the example of Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, a book that disrupts realism, crossing into fantasy, and yet becomes all the more true and powerful by means of this very disruption. In this seminar, we will travel across the imagined landscapes of the novel over three centuries, exploring a variety of styles and movements, including realism, the gothic novel, modernism, satire, magical realism, detective fiction, and the graphic novel. This seminar will also provide opportunities for students to develop their own storytelling gifts in a workshop setting. In addition to reading great novels, students will produce an original short story cycle, or a chapter of an original novel or graphic narrative.
A love of reading is the only prerequisite, and the reading list will be kept to a manageable length. We will read four or five novels over the course of the year. Authors and novels may include great works of 19th Century Realism, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; gothic novels, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula; a great work of literary modernism, such as William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; a work of science fiction, such as Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; 21st century novels, such as Zadie Smith’s White Teeth or Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad; and an example of the graphic novel like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Tragicomic.
893 Shakespeare Studio
(a Junior-Senior Seminar)
major elective | grades: 11, 12
The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good—in spite of all the people who say he’s very good. —Robert Graves
The influence of Shakespeare’s plays on our language and culture is evident and alive in daily conversation and across artistic genres—cinema, theater, opera, and pop culture.
Shakespeare Studio is a course devoted to the premise that few things are as interesting as the works of William Shakespeare. This course welcomes actors and non-actors alike: We seek a dynamic and diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. All voices are necessary when it comes to interpreting Shakespeare.
Centered around three Shakespearean plays (a history, tragedy and comedy), the course gives students the opportunity to delve in and get to know these plays well. In Shakespeare Studio we will work around the table and get up on our feet. We will study as actors, directors and dramaturgs in the staging of various scenes from all three plays.
Students will begin the course with a Shakespeare Tool Kit to introduce them to the world of text work, rhetoric, scansion and dramaturgical study. Professional theater artists will workshop various techniques and approaches to the plays of William Shakespeare. We will attend professional productions in the region and screen cinematic interpretations, considering varying directorial viewpoints.
894 True Stories: Creative Non-Fiction
(a Junior-Senior Seminar)
major elective | grades: 11, 12
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.—Joan Didion
In this class, in search of inspiration and models for our own work, we will read a great variety of narrative nonfiction pieces, including investigative journalism, war reporting, personal essays, feature stories, sports writing, profiles, and travelogues. We will read not only as literary critics, but also as aspiring practitioners. We’ll take the pieces apart and try to figure out how to write them ourselves. We will invite journalists to come and tell us about their work and we will grow as writers ourselves. Using in-class prompts and excerpts from the pieces we read as inspiration, our class will be a generative, productive, and fun space. We will all give and receive a great deal of feedback, through workshopping and peer editing. During the course of the class, everyone will write four longer pieces of Narrative Nonfiction. And we will experiment with style, form, and length. We will investigate: How do you write about your own experiences? How do you shape your material? How do you tell a true story?
Equal parts reading and writing, our class will cover the following authors: Clarice Lispector, Joan Didion, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tracy Kidder, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Maxine Hong Kingston, Evan Osnos, Maggie Nelson, George Packer, Michael Herr, Rivka Galchen, and Katherine Boo.
Peer Writing Advisors are a team of Upper School students who work with other students to help them develop their ideas, and to encourage the notion of writing well as a process, rather than a race to the finish.
The work of the Peer Writing Advisors does not just apply to English class assignments, and it not just for Upper Schoolers. Peer Writing Advisors have visited history classes, and they’re poised to take on writing assignments in language classes and connections with Middle School classes as well. The Peer Writing Advisors aim to be an accessible, ongoing resource for grades 6 through 12.
If you’re a student interested in working with a Peer Writing Advisor, you can make, cancel, or modify Peer Writing Advisor appointments by logging into the scheduling system. (Use the username/password from your GFS account.)
If you’re a teacher who’d like to connect with the Peer Writing Advisors, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re a current tenth or eleventh student who’d like to become a Peer Writing Advisor, please stay tuned in February when the Essentially English courses are publicized.