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University High School offers a comprehensive English curriculum that features standard 9th and 10th grade courses (Language & Literature and Great Books, respectively), both advanced and AP English options, and several creative writing and journalism courses for students each year.

To graduate from University High School, students must earn eight credits (one credit is earned each semester) in English.


2021-22 English Course Descriptions

Language & Literature (9th grade)

This class is required of all freshmen so they can begin to master the skills necessary to become a more critical reader and a better writer. The ultimate goal of the class is to have students understand how these skills can enrich their lives and help them begin to make sense of a complicated world and their place in it. We will read various kinds of works. We will develop your critical thinking, your writing, and your appreciation about and of English literature. We will practice writing formally and informally, academically and non-academically, in class and out of it. We will study argument and correct grammar.

Great Books (10th Grade)

In this course, students will read excerpts of essays, novels, and articles written by a diverse array of great writers throughout the history of literature. Utilizing a seminar approach to facilitate discussion, students will explore the meaning, ethics, and motives of these authors, as well as seek to examine the connections between their own personal and cultural knowledge, popular/mass media knowledge, and mainstream academic knowledge, especially in considering the power of texts to transform society. Students will complete three to four formally drafted essays each semester, as well as sit for exams covering specified units of study. Students will also be expected to submit less formally written pieces focusing on other aspects of class.

Advanced English: The Art of Public Speaking

No matter what path life leads you on, at some juncture public speaking will be a part of your journey. In this course, students will read, listen to, and analyze speeches written by some of the greatest writers and thinkers from around the world. Exploring the historical context of the speeches studied, we will analyze the dynamic nature of language and the immense power of words. Building upon these skills, students will craft their own style of speech writing and delivery.

Advanced English: Contemporary African American Literature

In this course, we will explore the living canon of African American literature. Some of the writers we will study are novelists, poets, and playwrights, but there are also journalists, lyricists/songwriters, comedians, and essayists. These authors and their work are prevalent and instrumental in modern American society. Students will examine a variety of genres rooted in Black culture and oral tradition, including Afrofuturist literature. We will look at these works through a creative, historical, and celebratory lens focusing on a multitude of ways authors portray the vast and vibrant Black experience. Students will actively engage with the readings, not only through class discussions, but also through in-class activities and written reflections.

Advanced English: Gothic Literature

Monsters and the idea of the monstrous have been a part of human culture since the dawn of time — from vampires and ghosts to beasts and demons. It is therefore no wonder that such monsters turn up quite frequently in literature. Those works (termed “the Gothic”) that deal with such monsters and the terror and horror they inspire will form the foundation of this course. What makes monsters such a fascinating field of study is how such monsters reveal larger anxieties about a given cultural milieu. In other words, what we fear tells us a great deal about who we are. So, at the same time that we explore dark fiction across time and space, we will look within ourselves to understand our own fears and, ultimately, our own selves.

Advanced English: Literature & The Environment

From the beginning American writing has concerned itself with the story of people and the natural world. ‘Environmental writing’ takes as its subject the collision between people and the rest of the world, and asks searching questions: Is it necessary? What are its effects? Might there be a better way?” — Bill McKibben

This advanced English elective will explore the history of American environmental writing from the 19th century to contemporary times. By reading and discussing works from writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Leslie Silko, Rachel Carlson, Annie Dillard, Sigurd Olson, and Bill McKibben, students will gain an appreciation for the role environmental literature has played in shaping our nation’s environmental and ecological conscience. While we will be reading some awesome literature, we will also be getting outside often to hike, meditate, journal and reflect on the role nature and green spaces have in our lives.

Advanced English: Rhythm, Rhyme & Resistance

Poetry and music have always held a mirror to the world, reflecting the things going on around us, and, arguably, music changes society like no other art form. In this course, we will examine the unique phenomenon of literature that has transformed American culture and society. Through a daily exploration of poems, songs, and other diverse writings, students will actively engage with literary works that sing the language of resistance, social justice, and empowerment. Students will discover the revolutionary pulse and power of voices that challenge ideas and deepen collective human experience – from Billie Holiday to Billie Eilish and more. A considerable amount of class time will be devoted to exploring these socially reflective works with the goal of helping students find their own voice through creative writing expressions.

Advanced English: Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction is writing that deals with the genres known as science fiction and fantasy. Speculative fiction certainly sounds academic, but at its heart, it’s all about the impossible, the improbable, and the magical. Science fiction author Robert Sawyer argues that science fiction deals with things that might possibly happen (or, in the case of the sub-genre of science fiction known as alternate history, things that possibly could have happened); fantasy deals with things that never could happen. In either case, both of these genres allow for the human condition to be explored in powerful and wonderful ways. I’ve grown up reading both genres, and I’m really looking forward to sharing with you some of the seminal novels, films, and short stories that define them.

Advanced English: Survey of World Literature: Cultural Clashes & Conflicts

Literature is used in various world cultures to teach, to explain history, to entertain, and to unite. In this course, students will engage in the reading and study of varied texts representing diverse parts of the globe. Students will read novels, short stories, and articles related to a vast array of cultures, focusing on how past and present cultural clashes and conflicts are portrayed in these works. While gaining insight into new cultures and expanding their cultural competence, students will also refine and sharpen their writing and analytical skills and make connections between all of the works they will study. Films, guest speakers, and potential field trips will enhance the course by giving students a chance to interact with and to view members of the cultures they study. Works studied will reflect the cultures of Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Iran, Laos, Saudi Arabia, and others.

Advanced English: Versus Literary Battles: Classic vs. Contemporary

There are certain themes, plots, and even characters that resurface throughout the literary timeline. In this class, we put them into head-to-head battle to see which writer did it “better.” Beginning with poetry, progressing to short stories, plays, and ending with novels, students will read, understand thematic connections within, analyze implementation and interpretations of themes, and evaluate which piece boasts the greatest resonation. Along the way, students will try their own hand at recreating these classic themes.

AP English Language & Composition

AP English Language & Composition is designed to mirror a college-level composition class. Its primary goal is to help students “write effectively and confidently in the college course across the curriculum and in their professional and public lives” (The College Board, AP English Course Description, May 2007, May 2008, p. 6). In this course, students will strive to become critical readers, analytical writers, and successful communicators.

While the objectives and requirements listed in the AP English Course Description guide the organization of this course, multi-week thematic units center on the discussion and analysis of an American cultural myth in order to encourage students to think critically about their beliefs and their world. Selections for each unit are composed of written and visual texts including (but not limited to) essays, political writing, autobiographies, social-science writing, criticism, cartoons, posters, and advertisements. Each unit will be anchored by a multi-drafted piece of writing on which students will receive peer and teacher feedback. This writing is evaluated based on effective and appropriate use of a variety of vocabulary and sentence structure, logical organization, development and support of ideas and claims, effective use of rhetoric (including tone, voice and emphasis), and an understanding of purpose and audience (The College Board AP English Course Description, May 2007, May 2008. p. 8).

AP English Literature & Composition

In this course, we will read selected works of American, British, and Global literature. Beyond exposing ourselves to a number of excellent (and enjoyable) pieces of writing, the focus of this course is to understand how structure and style work to create and enhance meaning. Writing will be a major part of the course, as will be close reading. In-class AP-style essays, informal personal responses, and take-home essays will be practiced regularly. The primary goal will be to develop the necessary skills and knowledge in order to perform well on the AP exam at the end of the year.

Introduction to Creative Writing

Introduction to Creative Writing is an entry-level course designed to help students learn to incorporate writing in their lives and to expose them to a workshop environment. Reading and writing activities will cover the basic elements of the four main genres of creative writing: fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. Students will study the techniques of each genre through handouts, selections in the text, and the creation of their own pieces. There will be a short test and cumulative project at the end of each unit over the specific writings and practices we’ve covered. In lieu of a final exam, students will create a portfolio containing polished writing samples, a personal writing metaphor, and a self-evaluation. At the end of this semester, students will be familiar with themselves as both writers and critics.

Advanced Creative Writing: Drama

Advanced Creative Writing: Drama is an advanced elective course centered around the workshop environment. It is expected that students in this class already harbor a genuine interest in writing plays and scripts. While we will cover concepts of basic story writing (characterization, scene/act structure, stage direction, etc.) and major authors in the genre, students will spend the majority of the class establishing personal writing practices and developing their unique narrative perspective. In short, there will be reading, writing, and much discussion of students’ own work.