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.

2018-19 English Course Descriptions

Language & Literature (9th grade)

This course strengthens the skills of analytical reading and writing. Its key elements (literature, written expression, oral discussion, language, and listening) are integrated with the history curriculum giving the students opportunities to be involved in meaningful activities that help to develop an understanding of systems of knowledge, concepts, and issues that frame the external world. This enables the students to gain a better understanding of how to apply the skills and make greater connections in their learning. Language & Literature explores a variety of genres, which connect and expand the curriculum generated from science, history, or personal interest. Critical-thinking skills such as classification, sequencing, analyzing, and predicting outcomes are reinforced as character development, point of view, plot, and theme are analyzed. A variety of assessments are used to evaluate student application of material, such as vocabulary tests, literature logs, journal responses, essays, creative writing, true/false, multiple choice, sequencing, and predictions. Speech presentations and peer discussion groups are also used. Finally, students must become analysts of their own strengths and weaknesses in order to develop strategies for improvement in reading, writing, and thinking.

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: The Family in Literature

Famously, Tolstoy once said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy might also have noted that unhappy families not only make for riveting literature, but also offer unique windows into specific cultural moments. That is, relational dynamics between spouses, siblings, and between parents and their children reveal a great deal about the specific cultural and historical context in which they appear. Therefore, in this course, we will study some of the more dysfunctional families in literature in order to explore how such dysfunction translates across cultures, time periods, and genres, and, ultimately, to feel a lot better about our own families. Students should expect a number of smaller assignments including weekly blog posts in addition to major essays and a final exam.

Advanced English: Dystopian Literature

As the title implies, this course will revolve around works of fiction set in dystopian societies. These works will range from classics, like 1984, to more contemporary works. Throughout the course we will examine the nature of the societies detailed in the books and the relationships between their structures and ideas of individuality, freedom, and control. Through essays, creative writing projects, and discussions, students will think deeply about the extreme situations depicted in the assigned novels, and, hopefully, extract practical lessons to be learned about our own society and the ways we operate within it. At the very least, this course should provide us an opportunity to explore the possibility of finding hope within hopelessness.

Advanced English: Adaptations

This course is about movies and the literature on which they are based. We will focus on the results of converting a book or story to the silver screen. We will discuss what aspects of literature and storytelling translate best and worst to film and why. We will explore the updating or modernization of a classic work of literature, as well as the stylistic and artistic choices of direction, adaptation, reimagining, and casting. Why do comic books and graphic novels so easily lend themselves to film? Why does Hollywood insist on the clichéd “Hollywood ending” when the book doesn’t? What makes a good adaptation? Students will be expected to write about both the literature we read and the movies we watch. There will be papers and creative projects.

Advanced English: Contemporary American Novels

Contemporary American Novels will focus on American novels that explore the idea of the Bildungsroman, or the coming of age in American society. Novels such as Catcher in The Rye and John Green’s Looking for Alaska, among others, will be used to deepen a student’s recognition and understanding of the myriad issues that are relevant in adolescents’ lives.

Advanced English: Tales & Legends

This class will focus on the study of folktales, fairy tales, and legends. From the Grimm brothers’ stories to Icelandic sagas to modern fairy tale adaptations, this class will cover a wide range of texts spanning the world and ages. We will look into the history of the literature and authors, as well as read and analyze the texts themselves through various lenses, such as gender, class, and culture. Through a critical lens, the course will also look at film adaptations and pop culture interpretations of the tales and legends we will study. The goal of this course is to provide students with a historically broad range of texts covering an international perspective. The course also provides students with the groundwork to analyze more modern texts within a historical literary perspective.

Advanced English: Race in America

This corequisite course (with U.S. History: Race in America) examines the history and literature of the United States through the lens of the African-American experience from World War II to the present. It seeks to provide students a deeper understanding of this experience as it relates to our course themes of identity, consciousness, and social justice. This depth will be achieved through analytical reading, writing, and discussion of texts, films, and music. While we will begin our study with a brief background on the African-American experience prior to World War II, the majority of the course will dive into the ways African Americans shaped and were shaped by events from the 1940s to the present day. Topics covered will include the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders, the Nation of Islam and Black Nationalism, the Black Panther Party, the Black Lives Matter movement, housing and segregation, systemic racism and mass incarceration, intersection of race and gender/sexuality, the development of hip-hop and other forms of expression, and sports and society, among others.

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 and British 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: Poetry

Advanced Creative Writing: Poetry is an elective course centered on the workshop environment. It is expected that students in this class already harbor a genuine interest in writing poetry. While we will cover concepts of poetic mechanics (language, sound, form, image, etc.) and major authors in the genre, students will spend the majority of the class establishing personal writing practices and developing their unique sense of poetics. In short, there will be reading, writing, and much discussing of students’ own poetry.