Departments & Course Descriptions


The overarching goal of the English department is to foster in our students the development of critical reading and writing skills. To this end, we expose our students to the four principal genres: the poem, the play, the novel, and the short story. We also offer courses that focus on non-fiction and the personal narrative. The writing component of the curriculum focuses on the academic essay but includes formal research assignments and opportunities to experiment with literary form. “Writing is re-writing” is the mantra of the department.

English 6 

The sixth grade English curriculum provides a transition from the elementary experience to the more specialized study of literature and writing. Reading is an essential aspect of the experience: students engage with works of fiction and nonfiction. Independent reading is both required and encouraged. A focus on the process of writing provides opportunities for students to experiment with different genres and research. They also develop grammar, vocabulary, and public speaking skills. Moreover, students are encouraged throughout the course to make cross-curricular connections as well as connections to their own lives. As a result, they should become better readers, writers, speakers and critical thinkers.

English 7

The seventh grade curriculum builds on the reading and writing skills developed in the sixth grade. The assigned reading treats the four principal genres and is generally more ambitious in its breadth and depth than in the previous year. The most challenging text in the curriculum, Romeo and Juliet, introduces the students to the study of Shakespeare. Students pursue more rigorously the formal academic essay and continue to experiment creatively with form and genre.

English 8

The eighth grade curriculum serves as a bridge between the middle and upper schools. Again, reading and writing skills continue to be a focus but with a decided emphasis on the formal academic essay. The process of writing treats more critically the business of revision. However, Lord of the Flies affords the students the opportunity to pursue analysis in a more creative setting: a courtroom, wherein they put certain of the text’s characters on trial. Julius Caesar continues the students’ treatment of Shakespeare and Renaissance tragedy.

English I (Grade 9)

The first semester of English I introduces students to classical genre study. The students explore the epic, tragedy, and comedy, and pursue more ambitiously than in the previous year the business of the academic essay. Indeed, much of the third quarter is devoted to developing an essay in response to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, an exercise completed in steps and taken through several drafts. The students also treat contemporary drama and narrative as the year draws to a close.

English II (Grade 10)

English II is a fairly traditional survey of British literature. The students treat the development of the English canon from Beowulf to Soyinka’s post-colonial tragedy, Death and the King’s Horseman. Chaucer and Huxley provide an introduction to satire, and Shakespeare’s Macb eth furthers the students’ exploration of Renaissance tragedy. The process of writing remains a focus: students complete two formal academic essays as well as several shorter exercises that involve the close reading of passages.

English III (Grade 11)

The first quarter of English III focuses on the personal narrative. Using O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as a model, students develop a series of short narratives. Thereafter, the course becomes a fairly traditional survey of American literature. The students treat the American canon beginning with the seminal works of Franklin, Emerson and Thoreau and ending with Morrison’s magical Song of Solomon. Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn furthers the students’ exploration of satire and Miller’s Death of a Salesman introduces them to social realism. Writing, both creative and analytical, continues to be a focus.

Strange Plays (Advanced - Grade 12)

The experimental plays of the modern period and their contemporary descendants will serve as the focus of this course. In particular, we will examine the formal innovations of modernism and apply them to a study of works by contemporary European and American playwrights. In each case, a play from the earlier period will be set against a work from the present era in order to highlight the formal similarities. The various “—isms”: realism, aestheticism, absurdism, expressionism, as well as epic theatre, will of necessity be explored in detail. The works of Shakespeare, Strindberg, Shepard, Wilde, Ionesco, Brecht, Wolfe, and Parks will serve as the foundation of the course. A willingness to act and stage short scenes will be a requirement. Writing exercises will include analysis and imitation of various styles.

Other Gods and Other Monsters (Advanced -  Grade 12)

Beginning with The Tempest by William Shakespeare, this course will explore the experience of “otherness” and the challenges to identity it produces. The confrontation of the “One” with the “Other,” through colonization, immigration, revolution, or creation provokes questions about values and fulfillment, especially with respect to conflicting ideals. The works read will be taken from a range of times and traditions: Swift, Mary Shelley, Bulgakov, and Suzan-Lori Parks.

Writing as Readers (Advanced - Grade 12)

By examining the intricacies of the reading process, students will practice the art of writing in a number of different genres, including short fiction, poetry, review, stream of consciousness, and creative nonfiction. Frequently utilizing the workshop setting, we will analyze and critique the work of published authors as well as the work of students in the class. Students will develop their understanding of writing and control over language, ultimately using computer software to write, produce, and broadcast radio essays modeled after NPR’s This American Life. We will read McCarthy, Woolf, Pollan, Heaney, Carver, Bishop, and others. Enrollment in this course requires permission from the Department Head.

Psychology and Literature (Advanced - Grade 12)

In this class we will use psychology as a lens through which we can more accurately view and understand the portraits of humanity offered by literature. The essential question of the course will be “Why do people do what they do?” Thus, we will examine characters and their motivations, borrowing terminology from the fields of social and behavioral psychology to address issues of greed, violence, immorality, asceticism, monomania, and cruelty. Students will read novels, plays, and nonfiction, specifically writing by Kesey, Albee, McCarthy, Stevenson, Fitzgerald, Krakauer, Sartre and others, all the while completing analytical and personal essays and several creative projects.