Interior Masthead

students in English class

The English department's mission is to promote facility with the English language and students' appreciation of the rich traditions of English literature.


Lower School

Reading and Writing

Within our comprehensive literacy program, we draw upon research-based practices based in current research on how best to teach young readers and writers. Children develop the foundational skills as well as the more sophisticated skills, strategies, attitudes, and behaviors that are the underpinnings for their development into highly proficient and passionate readers and writers. Our students are immersed in rich and diverse reading and writing experiences so that literacy learning is integrated into the curriculum throughout their day, allowing them to learn key literacy skills within a meaningful context of the social studies and science topics they are studying. Reading and writing are also taught explicitly within structures such as Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, phonics instruction, read aloud and word study.

We regard children as writers from the time they step into the prekindergarten classrooms of our lower school. They are writers who tell stories that are both imaginative and true, composing wordless stories told across multiple pages through their own drawings. From Kindergarten through fourth grade, teachers utilize the practice of Writing Workshop to explicitly teach children the strategies, skills, and behaviors that are necessary in becoming proficient writers. Lower school children write in multiple genres and for a variety of audiences, with a focus on writing personal narratives, informational pieces, poems, persuasive speeches, opinion pieces, and fairy tales.

Middle School

English and History - Comprehensive overview of language and culture

In Middle School, students begin to master writing and literature comprehension skills alongside the study of world cultures. With teachers’ guidance, students analyze texts, begin learning about the literature essay, and do related projects. Early Middle School is a time to begin learning the conventions of formal English.

In seventh and eighth grades, students continue to strengthen grammar, notetaking, and writing skills through their own writing and through reading literature. By studying the basic elements of the novel, drama, and poetry, they practice deciphering and using figurative language and using proper essay structure. They also learn to refine and organize paragraphs while building vocabulary. Using correct grammatical, punctuation, and sentence structures, students learn to edit for clarity, accuracy, and purpose in writing.

Upper School

Literary analysis, composition and choice electives

The English Department’s goal is to foster analytic reading and writing. Students read many varied and rigorous texts, ranging from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century and from all continents. Students learn the skill of writing a critical essay, and recent papers have included topics such as a discussion of whether Polonius in Hamlet is a good or a bad father or an analysis of who the main character is in Toni Morrison’s Sula. Creative writing assignments might involve imitating Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness style or creating a Facebook page for Holden Caulfield.

Students work both collaboratively and independently to derive meaning from assigned texts and to understand historical and literary context. Poetry, drama, essays, and novels are all assigned texts. Classes are based on the seminar model, and students practice discussing literature in large and small groups.

Assignments include formal essays, creative writing, and projects that often have a visual component. Students may have a choice of topics.

Senior English consists of semester electives, which are also open to underclass students who wish to double up in English. Some seniors choose to take two English electives at the same time. Topics include such themes as World Literature, Shakespeare, The Art of Memoir, and Women’s Literature.

English Courses

English 9: Explorations of Genre

This course consists of an introduction to literature by means of an examination of genres: students study literature through an introduction to the formal features of fiction, drama, poetry, and memoir. Texts in the first semester are selected to provide clear examples of fiction and autobiography. Readings include such works as The Catcher in the Rye and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Texts in the second semester complement ninth grade history. Texts include Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet, and excerpts from The Canterbury Tales. The ninth-grade skills sequence extends the eighth-grade emphasis on grammar, mechanics, and paragraphing to include more ambitious compositions such as analytical, narrative, and comparison/contrast essays as well as various creative writings. Students will work to develop original thesis statements, which they learn to support with textual evidence and critical analysis. A series of museum visits and a "museum night" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, when each student gives a public presentation, complement the curriculum.

English 10: Romanticism and Modernism

This course begins with a look back at the Renaissance studied in ninth grade and then a look forward to intellectual movements that challenged that traditional world. The study of Macbeth, a warrior who challenged the order of his world, serves as a starting point for exploration of movements that include Romanticism, Modernism and Existentialism. Readings cover a wide range of literature, and may include such texts as Frankenstein, Great Expectations, Waiting for Godot, Master Harold and the Boys, Mrs. Dalloway, short fiction by authors such as Conrad and Woolf, and Romantic and Modernist poetry. Yearlong reading goals consist of honing students' close reading skills and their ability to perform literary analysis through examination of plot elements, character development, and theme. Writing goals focus on mastery of the fundamental elements of the basic essay in its expository forms, with special emphasis on introductions, conclusions, and use of textual evidence for support.

English 11: American Literature

English 11 is a year-long course in which students approach American literature thematically through a study of various genres, time periods, and perspectives. To gain a greater understanding of American identity, students explore such works as The Great Gatsby, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Things They Carried, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Supplementary reading will include a range of short stories, poems, and essays by such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Frederick Douglass, and Sandra Cisneros. Students make in-depth connections between the different works, characters, modes and themes of American literature. In addition, students continue to refine their grammar and compositional skills; to that end, they write and revise personal, comparative, creative, and analytical essays of varying lengths.

ELL I/II/III English as a Second Language

ELL I/II/III are full-credit courses for all non-native English-speaking students who have not yet achieved communicative competence in reading, writing, listening and speaking in English. Placement into ELL sections is based on a student’s proficiency with English and the discretion of the ELL and English department faculty. ELL classes are small, usually between five and ten students, so students get the individual attention they need in order to build solid foundations in English. ELL classes are structured with two important aims in mind: to give explicit instruction in ELL content and to teach academic reading and writing intensively in order to support ELL students in their core classes. Teaching materials will include representative literature, short stories, poetry and essays, some of which will come from the English curriculum, as well as other appropriate materials selected by the ELL and English faculties. In addition, students will use materials specifically targeted to English as a second language learners. The ELL course uses a content-based language instruction approach.

All new upper school students must take ELL I. After ELL I, most students will continue on to ELL II and III; however, students can take a placement test to determine if English 9, 10, or 11 is appropriate in place of or in addition to ELL. The English department chair, the ELL teacher, and the upper school director determine placements based on classroom observations and the placement test.

English 12

Twelfth-grade English consists of two semesters of required elective courses that students select in the spring of the junior year. Depending on enrollment and scheduling, these electives may also be open to interested juniors.

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade English Electives:

First Semester

American Road Trip

The country is big, lots of people have cars, and until recently, gas was cheap. There is a literary (as well as an actual) tradition of hitting the road (especially in an East to West direction), absorbing the landscape, having adventures and in the process coming to a more developed understanding of oneself. In this elective, students read several Road Trip novels, starting with Mark Twain and including writers such as Jack Kerouac, Barbara Kingsolver, and they view selected filmsuch as Thelma and Louise and Bonnie and Clyde. All these works help define the lure of the road trip as a metaphor for life and its yearnings. Students write analytic papers, reviews, and are responsible for presentations.

Monstrous Imaginings: The Unmaking of Humanity

This is the stuff of nightmares, myths, and other legendary tales of horror: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Grendel, vampires, the Titans, androids and humanoids. The exploration of monsters and monstrosity leads inevitably to investigations of ourselves and our own humanity - our deepest fears, aggressions, and anxieties. In addition to reading short stories and longer novels, students view and critique movies. The texts may include: Grendel (Gardner); Blade Runner (Scott); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson); I am Legend (Matheson); The Elephant Man; and Pan's Labyrinth.

The Power of Memory: The Art of Memoir Reading and Writing

How do memories shape our lives? Memoir is the literary representation of the interior life; it is a form at times reflective and at times self-indulgent. Students read several twentieth century memoirs, such as Angela’s Ashes, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Just Kids, as well as selected essays and poetry. Students write and revise short memoirs connected to the texts and focusing on the development of a personal voice and on the ways in which reality is siphoned through memory.

Second Semester

This course serves as an introduction to the major works of the greatest writer in the English tradition. Students read five plays (a history, two tragedies, a comedy, and a romance) as well as examining some of the sonnets. Special attention is paid to Shakespeare’s dramatic sense, his use of figurative language, and to the poetry of his blank verse. Students are introduced to some of the vast body of Shakespearean criticism written over the past 500 years.

Women’s Literature

Women’s Literature is a class designed to explore both the writings of women and the depiction of female images written by men. We begin by discussing the validity of making this distinction in literary study. Attempting to investigate writing from a variety of time periods, we read such works as Medea, A Room of One’s Own, and Sula, as well as essays and poetry by authors such as Sojourner Truth, Alice Walker, Christina Rossetti, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Anne Bradstreet, and Joy Harjo. Student responsibilities include writing critical essays, presentations, and the teaching of individual works.

Global Voices

In this class, we work with literature of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. At least one text connects with the Intersession theme. In reading poetry, drama, fiction and film of the non-Western world, we look for common themes and seek to enlarge our knowledge of connections between literature and place. Specifically, we investigate and explore notions of Home. What is home? A state of mind or being? A place and space? How do our notions and theories of home change to reflect the global world in which we live and move?