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Upper School English

In our Upper School, students become grammatical experts, literary geniuses, and passionate writers.

Expanding Perspectives

In Upper School, we continue to foster our students’ ability to read sensitively, think critically, and express themselves clearly and persuasively. As they work to discern patterns in their reading, they become independent critics, ready to discover and articulate important insights from the experiences they read about. We select texts carefully, both classic and contemporary, striving to represent a variety of genres, periods, authors, and perspectives that illustrate and resonate with our students. As they write and think about what they’ve read, students encounter new and unfamiliar words to add to their vocabulary. Looking across ages, continents, and cultural boundaries, they ultimately come to better understand what it means to be human.


In the freshman year, Introduction to Writing and Genre consolidates and expands foundations in grammar, vocabulary, writing, and critical reading to prepare students for subsequent Upper School coursework. Compositions include topics on personal experience, contemporary issues, literary analysis, and creative writing, with attention to sentence structure, methods of paragraph development, and unified, coherent papers.

In this course, students may:

  • Explore various literary genres, write literary analysis, and improve their vocabulary and grammar skills
  • Enter the world of professional literary criticism by deepening their understanding of core literary terms
  • Read anchor texts that include Homer’s “The Odyssey,” a Shakespeare play, and a contemporary novel such as Erdrich’s “The Round House” or Anaya’s “Bless Me Ultima”

Students explore works selected to represent the major writers, periods, movements, and genres of British literature. This course may include works from such authors as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Swift, Johnson, the Romantic and Victorian poets, as well as postcolonial authors such as Ramanujan, Kincaid, Soyinka, and Z. Smith. Instruction in rhetoric, grammar, and composition is integrated throughout both semesters.

In this course, students may:

  • Analyze major works to learn the skills of close reading and formal analysis
  • Write in a variety of forms and styles to help prepare them for the writing tasks they will encounter in their future here, at college and after. In the third quarter of the sophomore year, students write a major English research paper, adhering to standard scholarly guidelines for correct documentation and presentation


British Literature Honors augments the material included in the college preparatory section with additional works like Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf,” Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” This course is a chronological British Literature survey course that focuses on giving students a strong foundation in literary movements from the Anglo-Saxon period through 21st century postcolonial literature.

American Literature helps students continue their work in analytical writing, concentrating on organizational writing skills and accuracy. This year shifts the focus to American literature, as well as comparing and contrasting the literary movements from both eras.

In this course, students may:

  • Discover how American authors craft their writing
  • Design a creative project using dance, videography, rap, calculus, sculpture, and even Legos
  • Explore major themes of American literature such as the American Dream and social justice

This senior English course offers students the opportunity to study in the first semester a range of personal narratives and memoirs, including “The Liars’ Club,” “Between the World and Me,” “Maus,” and shorter works from anthologies and collections. In the second semester, students read both fiction and nonfiction works exploring themes and topics related to the self, society, and social justice. These works have included Othello, Cat’s Cradle, and a variety of short stories and poems. Whenever possible, students read a selection by the Books for Lunch author.

Advanced Placement English is the equivalent of an introductory English course at a selective college. This course builds on the critical reading and literary analysis emphasized during junior year, coaching students to read with active minds, lead meaningful discussions, and write with sophistication. In addition to honing these skills, students in this class have the opportunity to pursue their own interests in the literature they study.

In this course, students may:

  • Read closely and deliberately and employ a variety of critical approaches
  • Lead and direct class discussions of texts
  • Compose essays that follow a path of analysis they choose
  • Use rhetorical critical method to discern and understand the ideas, language, characters, action, tone, and imagery of literature
  • Develop their own writing and analytical skills
  • Write an extensive independent research paper on a subject of their choice

Students in this course study many of the same texts as the college preparatory section but read several additional works, such as Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and Rankine’s “Citizen.” Students develop their understanding of historical, philosophical, literary, and cultural contexts in America and its literature. In addition, students will prepare to take the AP Language and Composition Exam.   

To receive credit for completing the AP Language and Composition course, students must take the AP exam in May. 

As every student is considered a staff member of the Upper School online newspaper Canvass, this course is all about learning “on the job” and “on assignment.”

In this course, students may:

  • Address issues such as censorship and First Amendment rights and responsibilities
  • Gain skills in news writing, interviewing, and digital presentation
  • Use social media in new ways
  • Explore many forms of journalistic writing as they pitch, produce, and polish articles in newspaper sections like Features, News, Sports, Arts and Entertainment, Metro Desk, Opinion, Humor, and Multimedia
  • Practice sound journalistic ethics
  • Pay close attention to media topics and substantive issues within the school community and the larger world
  • Face many challenges of being a journalist, increase confidence and competence in writing about topics of interest, and form strong bonds with a group that has worked together under the pressures of deadlines

Here students are given the opportunity to build skill, confidence, and fluency in public speaking through a range of activities.

In this course, students may:

  • Learn the fundamentals of public speaking, including appropriate topic selection and development of content
  • Organize a clear, concise, and compelling speech
  • Practice good listening skills, peer evaluation, and critique
  • Present several formal speeches on a variety of topics

This course is designed to help students develop a strong personal voice. In addition to covering the basics of plot structure, form and free verse poetry, writing strategies, and literary terms, students also have the opportunity to explore non-academic writing through daily writing exercises, journaling, and both peer and student-teacher workshops.

In this course, students may:

  • Read and write creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry
  • Build a community of writers with their peers
  • Write and compose a variety of poems, short stories, and personal narratives
  • Work on a culminating project portfolio that includes revisions and final drafts