The Upper School English Department's ultimate goals are to foster the students' love of language and literature and to develop their ability to think and communicate effectively. The program emphasizes the basic communication skills: reading, thinking, speaking, listening and observing, and writing. The objectives are to develop each student's ability to read with comprehension, discrimination, sensitivity, and pleasure; express her ideas with clarity, coherence, and fluency in writing and speaking; and understand the structure, complexity, and power of the English language. These skills are continually taught and reinforced at all grade levels with the degree of development becoming more complex with each consecutive course. Literary and media works selected for excellence in content, style, and cultural diversity broaden the students' experiences vicariously and expand their insights about human nature. Teachers design their courses to fulfill departmental objectives and to meet students' individual needs.

World Literature

This skills-building course focuses on world literature and the development of good reading skills and effective formal and informal writing styles. Students read a variety of diverse foundational works, including Greek and Roman mythology, Arthurian legend, the Bible, and fairy tales from around the world. In order to help students recognize allusions to these foundational works, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre will serve as the touchstone text at year’s end. Students write often, both in and out of class, and have opportunities to engage in creative writing, personal writing, and literary analysis. They are also taught to read closely and carefully, build their vocabularies through formal vocabulary study, as well as reading and dictionary use, apply their knowledge of grammar, and broaden their perspectives through reflection on universal themes and interrelationships among literary works.

Survey of American Literature

This course focuses on American literature with an interdisciplinary approach that complements the U.S. history course. Students read literature from early America up to the late 20th century, including poetry, autobiography, essays, short stories, novels, and plays. Students learn to read carefully, think critically, and demonstrate their reading and thinking skills in a variety of writing assignments with particular emphasis on essays of literary analysis. The course also stresses grammar and vocabulary development.

Survey of British Literature

In this course, students will read major works of British literature from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf. The course refines and develops students’ skills in reading literature, thinking critically, writing analytically and imaginatively, and working with and documenting both primary and secondary sources such as scholarly literary criticism. In addition to shorter analytical and creative writing assignments, students write two research papers, in which they find and effectively use literary and historical resource materials and document their sources according to MLA guidelines. They also continue to develop their skills in vocabulary and grammar.

Advanced Placement Literature and Composition

Students in this Advanced Placement (AP) course develop the reading, writing, and analysis skills necessary for success on the AP English Literature and Composition examination. AP students not only read the works featured in the Survey of British Literature course, but they also complete additional readings and tackle writing assignments that push them to produce high-level, rigorous work. Students continue to develop their skills in vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation, analytical and creative writing, listening and speaking, and research writing and documentation.


The Playwriting class introduces the student to the creative craft of writing for the theater. Through weekly assignments, in-class writing exercises, in-class process exercises, and work on an original piece, students explore plot and scene structure, action, character, voice, and dialogue. The students examine contemporary play scripts in addition to their own work. They also read each other’s work aloud for revision and process discussion. The emphasis is on the process of playwriting, risk-taking, and finding each student's own creative voice.

Advanced Placement Language and Composition

This AP English course introduces students to the principles and practice of rhetoric and composition. It also gives them increased exposure to the genre of literary non-fiction and prepares them to be sophisticated academic writers, as well as careful and critical thinkers in analyzing the rhetorical and stylistic elements in works of fiction, non-fiction, and visual media. The course prepares students for college-level classes in rhetoric and composition, English literature, and media literacy in addition to the AP Language and Composition examination.

The Monster among us: (Anti-) Heroes of Science Fiction and Fantasy

The genres of science fiction and fantasy present readers with more than imaginative world-building. They challenge us to take a deep look at ourselves, the individual paths we take, and the societies that we live in. They invite us to grapple with central philosophical questions: What makes us human? What makes us less than human? What makes life worth living? This course looks at groundbreaking works of speculative fiction from the 19th century to today: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters. Writing assignments include close-reading analyses, a comparative essay, a research paper, and a creative short story. In addition to reading and discussing the assigned texts, students continue to develop their skills in vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, analytical and creative writing, listening and speaking, and research writing and documentation.

All the World's a Stage: Shakespeare and Contemporary Interpretation

This course focuses on a close reading of various Shakespeare plays, such as Hamlet, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Macbeth, and their film and/or stage adaptations. The course objective is to consider through reading, writing, and discussion, the major themes presented in the Shakespearean texts and the way those themes translate to film. Because Shakespeare intended his works to be performed, this type of close reading paired with a detailed study of the film/stage productions contributes to a deeper appreciation of each work and helps students feel confident reading and understanding Shakespeare’s language. In addition to discussing the assigned texts, students also continue to develop their skills in vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, analytical and creative writing, listening and speaking, and research writing and documentation.

Creative Writing

This course is for students who want to take the leap from reading, interpreting, and analyzing fiction to crafting it. The focus is primarily on prose fiction—short stories, essays, and chapters of longer works—but there are also forays into poetry. Readings include stories by John Cheever, Yasunari Kawabata, Vladimir Nabokov, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brian, Flannery O’Connor, and John Updike; essays by Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Robert Frost, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Vonnegut; and a sampling of poetry from the Renaissance to the present day: Shakespeare, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Billy Collins, Li-Young Lee, and Lisel Mueller. By studying select works, tackling creative-writing exercises, participating thoughtfully in peer workshops, and revising carefully, students produce portfolios of their best original work. In addition to reading and discussing the assigned texts, students continue to develop their skills in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, listening, and speaking.

The End of the World as You Know It: Contemporary Texts and Cultural Criticism

How much of your life is spent negotiating the media? How effectively do you manage the media? How effectively do the media manage you? And in what ways? Who controls the media? How aware are you of the media's influence on your life? And even if you are aware of that influence, what, if anything, can you do about it? Or do you even want to do anything about it? What are the relationships between the media and institutions that we value, like democracy, freedom, and individuality? What have we gained through our hyper-connected state? What have we lost?

Students begin by analyzing the dominant media in our lives and identifying commonalities and distinctions between them. Students also investigate the uses and misuses of the media and specifically examine the media's influences in five areas of our lives: commercialism and consumption, gender, health, politics, and race. The course will draw heavily on readings and multi-media materials from a number of internationally recognized media literacy organizations, such as the Center for Media Literacy, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, the Media Literacy Project, and the Media Education Foundation. We will also watch and discuss a number of documentaries, such as Miss Representation, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The Purity Myth, Killing Us Softly 4, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, Advertising & The End of the World, Constructing Public Opinion, and The Merchants of Cool. Scholarly reading on the media and media literacy are also regularly assigned, including materials from textbooks such as Media Literacy by James Potter and Media & Culture by Campbell, Martin, and Fabos as well as essays and blogs by critics including Susan Sontag and Caroline Heldman. In addition to reading and discussing the assigned texts, students also continue to develop their skills in vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, analytical and creative writing, listening and speaking, and research writing and documentation.