Students engage in lively dialogue with texts in English classes at Germantown Friends School. Close critical reading of novels, poems, plays, and essays invites students to develop an appreciation for literature, and the classroom provides a forum for exploration and expression of ideas. Through thoughtful analysis, creative response and reflective writing, students grapple with the perspectives and ideas of a diverse and ever-expanding repertoire of authors. Students contemplate a range of issues introduced within texts and consider the larger social implications of their reading. We also ask them to consider historical context. Writing is at the center of everything we do, from personal and analytical essays, short stories and poems to chapbooks, graphic novels, manifestos, scenes, podcasts, and newspapers. Along the way, students gain increased syntactic flexibility and precision through the study of grammar, vocabulary, and rhetoric.
From September to mid-March, English is devoted to the required courses at each grade level. A hallmark of the department is the Essentially English program in the spring of tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades, which allows students to elect innovative day or nighttime classes. Those courses are published in a separate catalog in January.
ENG310 Exploration of Identity
required major | grade: 9
Ninth grade students study works of literature that explore issues of identity. Included in the curriculum: a short story unit, Another Brooklyn, The Laramie Project, Persepolis, a Shakespeare play, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Vocabulary study is based on words drawn from the texts. Teachers emphasize expository and creative writing with three substantial written projects 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.
ENG650 Style Fundamentals
required minor (one semester) | grade: 9
In addition to their regular English classes, students in ninth grade will study key elements of style and grammar during one half of the year. Topics include, but are by no means limited to, clear reference, phrases and clauses, subordination, syntax, and clarity. Coursework will be supplemented by written assignments and practice using IXL, an online learning tool.
ENG410 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 work by authors such as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Madeline Miller’s Circe along with poetry by diverse authors. Dramatic and oral presentations are particularly important; students memorize and perform choral odes, soliloquies, blues songs, and dramatic scenes. Formal and informal writing provide frequent opportunities for students to work on usage and coherence in their own creations. An emphasis on drafting writing, peer-editing, and thoughtful revision develops student voice and precision of expression. Vocabulary lists are drawn from the reading.
ENG510 Literary Analysis, Poetics, and Composition – Part I: Advanced
required major | grade: 11
Junior English classes focus 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, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Jean Toomer’s Cane, and Yuri Herrara’s Signs Preceding the End of the World. Shorter texts include Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, Romantic poetry (focusing on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience), Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and stories in Yiyun Li’s collection, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. 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, Gloria Anzaldúa, 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.
ENG610 Literary Analysis, Poetics, and Composition – Part 2: Advanced
required major | grade: 12
Advanced Literary Analysis, Poetics, and Composition (Part 2) is an intensive course in the analysis of literary texts and writing. The literature frames issues of aesthetics and politics in a global historical context, emphasizing major movements such as realism, modernism and postmodernism, as well as major historical events such as the transatlantic slave trade, and eras including colonial and postcolonial. The course covers a range of genres from 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 Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi; Dubliners, James Joyce; Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison; a play by William Shakespeare; and essays by an array of writers that may include Claudia Rankine, Jamaica Kincaid, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and David Foster Wallace.
As part of the course of study, students will attend the performance of a locally produced play. Writing assignments designed to build skills and explore important concepts 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. Other requirements include vocabulary tests on words drawn from each book and substantial memorization.
ENG700 Poetry Workshop
minor elective | grades: 10, 11, 12
In Poetry Workshop, we will work together to create a writing practice for ourselves and each other, placing composition and the development of literary voice at the center of our work as we explore the aesthetic, political, and transformational possibilities of language.
Students will produce new work for each class session: experimentation with poetic form will be integral to our studies. As we read contemporary poetry and the poetry of previous centuries aloud, we will together observe successful elements of composition. Students will master a vocabulary for discussing and analyzing poetry. As we learn about ourselves and each other as readers and writers of poetry, we will construct a portfolio of a year’s worth of work, organize several readings/events, and seek out opportunities for growth and exposure to poetry in the Philadelphia area. We will also hold ourselves accountable to GFS as a poetic community, highlighting poetry and fostering poetic connections between disciplines and divisions.
ENG430 Narrative Journalism
minor elective | grades: 10, 11, 12
Also referred to as literary, creative, or longform journalism, narrative journalism can be defined as “employing storytelling techniques to convey news.” Using the classic tools of fiction writers—character, plot, conflict, and theme—to tell factual, nonfiction stories, this style of journalism is most commonly found in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine (among others), where average article lengths are upwards of 2,500 words. This course will focus on story concept, character development, and reporting and research practices as students exercise their narrative voices by writing in-depth stories on topics of their choosing. They will learn to cultivate ideas, hone descriptive-writing skills, and play with tone as they craft compelling pieces to deeply engage readers. Students will read and discuss many examples of longform journalism, as well as share their own writing with their peers in a workshop setting.
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 email@example.com.
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.