English Department

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.

Top Five Things You Need to Know About English at University


The English department places great importance on the value of writing instruction. Teachers provide writers’ workshop experiences. Students choose self-directed topics for writing and research and have the opportunity to express originality and uniqueness in writing.


The English department places importance on the value of literature as art and human communication.


English classes emphasize small group investigation of literature and a hands-on, interactive learning environment.


Teachers often integrate literature selections with fine arts and social studies curricula.


The English teachers have a clear view of the curriculum and they share common expectations.

2019-20 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 some of the greatest writers and thinkers, from antiquity to modern times, in the Western tradition. 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 several exams covering specified units of study. Students will also be expected to submit less formally written pieces focusing on other aspects of class. These pieces will take the form of blogs and written journal responses. Regular vocabulary and grammar lessons will augment the class.

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. Our readings will include Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and short works by Edgar Allen Poe and others.

Advanced English: The Hero

What is a hero?  What traits do many hero stories share?  Why does our culture continue to create new versions of old myths?  Why do all those Avengers movies seem the same? In this course, students will learn how the idea of a hero has evolved over time.  Studies of archetypal heroes, tragic heroes and anti-heroes over a range of genres and time periods will lead to discussions about the relevance of these stories to our lives.  Materials for this course will included 3-4 novels, 3-4 movies and a number of short pieces. Students will have regular reading assignments, write two multi-drafted papers, and complete a final project. Overall, the hero theme and subsequent studies will become the lens with which students will continue to develop their analytic and critical reading and writing.

Advanced English: Literature & Science of Conservation (Co-Requisite)

“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

“Many people have commented with surprise on the fact that a work of science should have a large popular sale. But this notion that “science” is something apart from everyday life is one that I should like to challenge. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment.”—Rachel Carson

This co-requisite course will explore the literature and science of conservation. Students will investigate the complexity of environmental issues of our world by reading and discussing the works of American environmental writing from the 19th century to contemporary times and through frequent experiments and field exercises. Students will learn that the natural world and the human-built world are not stand-alone entities, but rather one interconnected system.  Students will also develop an appreciation for the role environmental literature and science have 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. Outdoor field work on campus and at off-site locations will be occur weekly and be major components of the course. Students do not need to have prior outdoor knowledge or skills; however, they should be ready to participate under a variety of different weather conditions. Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear!

Advanced English: Journalistic Literature

Advanced English: Journalistic Literature delves into the role that media has played throughout history, and how it impacts day-to-day society. Through readings, viewings, discussions, and writings, this course will cover the psychology, business, and ethics behind how current events and social issues are portrayed in print, film, and social media. There will be a short test and cumulative project at the end of each unit. These assessments will build into a portfolio that informs a final project and critique that will fill the role of a final exam. Building upon a historical foundation of the media studies, students will have the opportunity to explore specific areas of interest to which they are drawn. The goal of this course is to help us think about the ways in which media informs societal beliefs.

Advanced English: Short Works

500-page novels aren’t your thing? Me neither. This course will instead survey great short works. From heavy hitters like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce to a less traditional assortment of comic writing, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction, our reading selection will remain broad in an attempt to represent a multiplicity of perspectives and sub-genres. Our goals will be to get a better sense of how short works are crafted, to pursue meaning where we can, and to understand how a collection of short works functions as a whole. Major assignments will include two papers, a project, and a final exam.

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.

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 Descriptionguide 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.