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Curriculum: English

Short Fiction: The Form and Impact of the Short Story

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

This course will take as its subject the short story form from its beginnings in folk and fairy tales to its more recent flash fiction incarnations online. How do writers bring us quickly into, and out of, a world entirely of their own creation, and leave us quite changed for our brief visit there? Students will read short stories from all over the world, including America, and students will write their own works as well.

Authors will likely include: Ann Beattie, Lucia Berlin, Angela Carter, Anton Chekhov, Lydia Davis, Louise Erdrich, Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Jamaica Kinkaid, Guy de Maupassant, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, and Dorothy Parker.

Looking Back: The Art of Memoir from 1900 to Present

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

This course will offer students a chance to read memoirs and autobiographies written by some of the best authors of the last century. Some in translation, but most in English, texts will include personal narratives by people who have lived exceptional or extraordinary lives, and by others whose experiences may be more familiar to us.

Students will practice the art of the personal essay, try their hand at memoir, and examine their experiences using the many forms they will encounter in the readings. The final product will be a collection of personal writings in a variety of genres.

Texts may include: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel, Know My Name by Chanel Miller, Speak, Memory by Nabokov, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost by R. Solnit.

English 12: Poetry in Our Moment

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

Over the last decade, poetry has resurged into daily life across the country. We turn to poetry in times of celebration and consolation, to give voice to community and identity, to post some bit of inspiration on social media, and as a rallying cry. Poetry right now is more diverse than it has ever been, both in terms of who gets to write it and the styles in which it is written. This class is a deep dive into that diversity. We’ll study five books by poets representing diverging and coalescing trends and movements across the poetry landscape, plus a collection chosen by students. We’ll seek to answer one guiding question: What are the ways that poetry speaks to our particular moment? Coursework will include both creative and analytical projects.

Because poetry right now is wide open, the possibilities for texts are wide open, too. Possible poets include Carmen Giménez Smith, Ross Gay, William Brewer, Tracy K. Smith, Philip Metres, Victoria Chang, Natalie Diaz, Terrance Hayes, and many, many more.

English 12: Literature and the Environment

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

Questions about the relationship between humans and the environment have been some of the most essential throughout all of literature, from Tang Dynasty poetry to Greek pastoral to contemporary climate fiction. In our current, pivotal moment, those questions have become increasingly urgent, and in this class students will study those questions, as well as how different writers ask and answer them. Students will read a range of genres, including personal essay, poetry, science fiction, and science writing. Though the course will look back on the tradition of environmental writing, students will spend most of their time with current works.

Possible Texts: World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil; The Essential W.S. Merwin; current issues of Orion Magazine, and Black Nature, ed. Camille Dungy; All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, ed. Johnson and Wilkinson; Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich; and American War by Omar El Akkad.

Advanced English 12: Literature and Law

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Open to Grade 12 with department approval

Credits: 1

How does literature show us justice and the law? How is justice achieved? In this course, students will read fiction, drama, poetry, and memoir that reveal through art the ways in which the law shapes the human experience. In addition to examining the way laws are written and upheld, students will discuss the ways in which authors (and other artists) depict the real effects of those words in practice. Students will have a chance to consider what we understand to be criminal behavior and its causes, policing, protesting, courtroom culture, defense, prosecution, sentencing, the prison system, and inequalities in each of these domains. Works of imagination will be of primary interest, but students will also conduct individualized research to discern the current reality of the many facets of law in actual practice.

Possible texts: Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky; My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Felon by Dwayne Reginald Betts; The Round House by L. Erdrich; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; The Remarkable Susan by Tim Kelly; Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman; The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Dead Man, Walking by Sister Helen Prejean; Just Mercy by B. Stevenson; Legal Fictions by Jay Wishengrad, editor; excerpts from The Firm, The Trial, The Scarlet Letter, Bleak House, Alias Grace, The Handmaid’s Tale, Twelve Angry Men, the U.S. Constitution, le Code Penal de France, The Name of the Rose, and Just Mercy.

American Literature and Culture: LINGo

Upper School

Grade 9, Grade 10

English

Credits: 1

This course is designed for new international students for whom English is a newly-acquired language or who have not attended an American school before. Students explore American culture and literature through challenging and accessible choices of short fiction, drama, novels, and poetry. Each student becomes familiar with the terms and methods for literary analysis; creative writing is also an essential part of this course. Every student is coached to fluency in written and spoken English during class discussions. Students will also learn the conventions of MLA style and the writing process. Upon the teacher’s recommendation, entry into the next level of the English program is facilitated when the student is ready.

English 12: From Pages to Pixels

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

Many of cinema’s greatest movies are derived from books. This course explores the relationship between the written word and the movies; they both tell stories, but authors and directors make different choices to engage us in their art. Is it fair to critique a movie in the same way as we analyze a work of literature? Will we be forever disappointed in the movie version of a book we’ve loved? Can a moving picture really paint a thousand words?

This course refines students’ analytical skills to appreciate the techniques and talents of authors and directors alike; each student compiles her own list of criteria for a successful depiction of each work of literature so that she may assess the respective movie version. Formal written assessments therefore comprise a balanced review of the relative strengths, weaknesses, and worth of both the book and the movie.

English 12: The Ethel Walker School Visiting Writer Seminar

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5 per semester

What does it mean to be a writer? How does an author find her style? The Visiting Writer Seminar is a semester-long course in which students have the special opportunity to immerse themselves in a study of one writer’s works. Throughout the semester, students read a critical mass of texts by that writer before the course culminates with the author’s visit to Walker’s. During this visit, the writer will teach master classes, conduct writing workshops, and participate in class discussion. The writer will also deliver a schoolwide assembly and a public reading to our community. 

The magic of this course is created in the collaborative and symbiotic exchange between the writer and the student. Learning and inspiration move from the writer to the student but also, we hope, from the student back to the writer.

English 12: Fiction and Drama

Upper School

Grade 11, Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

This course is a deeper dive into the craft of two essential literary genres: fiction and drama. The best way to study craft is to write and to read daily. Students can expect to do both as they compose in response to a variety of prompts, as they play with techniques demonstrated by professionals, as they revise toward publication, and as they analyze, reflect, and write about craft. Students will learn concepts like character development, world-building, plot structure, and dialogue to create compelling narratives from perspectives that matter to them. As they learn to think like writers, what students learn will be transferable to other kinds of writing. The class will include workshopping original work and will culminate in a writing portfolio.

English 12: Poetry and Personal Essays

Upper School

Grade 11, Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

This course is a deeper dive into the craft of two essential literary genres: poetry and the personal essay. The best way to study craft is to write and read daily. Students can expect to do both as they compose in response to a variety of prompts, play with techniques demonstrated by professionals, revise toward publication, and analyze, reflect, and write about craft. Students will learn to wield concepts like scene, form, structure, reflection, images, rhythm, and metaphor to create experiences that deeply affect readers. And as they learn to think like writers, what students learn will be transferable to other kinds of writing. The class will include workshopping original work and will culminate in a writing portfolio.

English 12: I Can Hear Jimmy: James Baldwin Now

Upper School

Grade 11, Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

James Baldwin is often remembered as one of the most searing and eloquent voices of the civil rights and Black Power movements. Yet the richness and complexity of his writing is also an intricate exploration of the tensions between black and white, spiritual and political, gay and straight, isolated and communal. Perhaps because of this, his words remain as timely as ever. His words are woven into the projects of contemporary authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jesmyn Ward, and his work has been adapted into two award-winning films in the last three years. Baldwin wrote essays, novels, short stories and plays. Students in this course will read and respond to samples of his work from each genre. Texts for this course include: If Beale Street Could Talk, I Am Not Your Negro, “Sonny’s Blues,” Blues for Mister Charlie, Giovanni’s Room, Going to Meet the Man, Nobody Knows My Name, Notes of a Native Son, and The Fire Next Time.

English 12: Writing Portfolio and Publication

Upper School

Grade 11, Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

In this course, students will write in different genres to produce a polished, professional writing portfolio (digital and print) to send off to colleges or for publication. Every student will send her works out to competitions, magazines, and other venues in order to be published and read by a global audience. Students can expect to write in class and at home for every class session. Readings will complement and support the writing goals.

English 12: Friendship: Tried and True

Upper School

Grade 11, Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

This class will investigate the nature of friendship between women — and why it is so important to us. Students will read works from a variety of cultures and moments in time to examine what it is that tests the bonds of friendship and why some remain resilient. Texts may include: Emma, Sula, Never Let Me Go, My Brilliant Friend, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Ghost World, Cat’s Eye, The Women of Brewster Place, Swing Time, and Another Brooklyn.

English 12: Shakespeare

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Credits: .5

Students will dive deeply into the work of William Shakespeare and investigate his influence on the literature that follows him. The primary concern will be to read, understand, and appreciate why he is the most famous of all writers. The class will also determine why Shakespeare’s works still resonate today and will study the sonnets, the tragedies (Hamlet, King Lear), the comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest) and the histories (Henry V, Part I, Richard III). Students will write creatively and critically in response to the readings. Some memorization of poems and soliloquies is expected, but mostly a willingness to read challenging and immensely satisfying texts is required.

Advanced English 12: Literature and Medicine

Upper School

Grade 12

English

Open to Grade 12 with department approval

Credits: 1

“Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.”
– Hippocrates

This course will examine the role and image of the doctor, illness, and healing in literature. Students will read works by and about doctors, but will also look at poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction, television, and film in an effort to reveal what it means to be ill. The course will examine how the world responds, or fails to respond, to disease, plagues and outbreaks, and what our stories tell us about these dynamics. The very notion of the patient will be explored. Authors may include Susan Sontag, Abraham Verghese, Tony Kushner, Margaret Edson, Albert Camus, Shakespeare, Nawal el Sadaawi, Sylvia Plath, Daniel Defoe, Franz Kafka, Richard Seltzer, Jane Kenyon, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Atul Gawande, Eve Ensler, and Siddartha Mukherjee. Students can expect to conduct interviews, do research, compose their own original works, and write analytically about each work. They will also investigate a related topic of their interest for presentation to the class. Students will have the opportunity to take the AP Literature exam in the spring.

Advanced English: Literature Of Place

Upper School

Grade 11

English

Open to Grade 11 with department approval

Credits: 1

In Advanced English: Literature of Place, students strive to advance the twin skills of reading and writing well, and to expand their understanding of how place can shape literature. Students will develop their public speaking skills throughout the year. Though the course focuses heavily on American literature and identity, it is not confined by it. Texts may include The Underground Railroad, The Great Gatsby, My Antonia, The Death of a Salesman, Fences, Beloved, Oryx and Crake, and The Tempest, as well as a variety of poetry and essays. A variety of writing assignments including analytical essays, personal response essays, and creative writing are supplemented by shorter, more frequent responses, often on discussion boards. Students who take Advanced English 11 will begin preparation for the AP Literature exam and will continue preparations in Advanced English 12. Students are encouraged to wait until 12th grade to take the AP Literature exam.

English 11: Literature of Place

Upper School

Grade 11

English

Credits: 1

Advanced level also available

How does the place shape a person? In this course, students will study primarily the literature of America and Americans, both of these broadly defined to include indigenous, undocumented, newly arrived, long-settled, powerful, and powerless people. Students will read and examine what it means to be a citizen, to have a voice, or to be without one, here in this country. They will write amply about who tells the story of our country and what each narrative reveals about our hopes, dreams, and values. Students will write critically and creatively on every text, and they will learn to use their own voices to speak truth to power in the form of letters to the editor, one-act plays, short fiction, poetry, speeches, and editorial or persuasive essays. Texts may include: Beloved, The Great Gatsby, The Wolves, The Roundhouse, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and Americanah; stories by Melville, Twain, Lahiri, Jackson, Munro, Parker, O’Connor, and Davis; poems by Dickinson, Stevens, Millay, Vuong, Diaz, and Plath; and essays by Rankine, Coates, Dillard, King, and others.

Honors English 10: Literature of Identity

Upper School

Grade 10

English

Open to Grade 10 with department approval

Credits: 1

In all cultures on earth, people discover their own individual identities in the contexts familial, cultural, linguistic, religious, political, and historical. The job of the individual in many of the greatest works of literature is to construct and often to protect a self an identity that can withstand the slings and arrows of the world outside of itself. We present the students with works by authors from various continents in which cultures reflect and are reflected by compelling individual selves. A major poetry project prompts students to discover the poems from a place of their own interest, and we work through the challenges of poetic and cultural translation. Works may include: Shakespeare’s Othello, Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Tagore’s A Wife’s Letter, Chopin’s The Awakening, Wharton’s Sanctuary, Woolf’s The Death of the Moth, Allende’s House of the Spirits, Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles’ film Central do Brasil, Roy’s The God of Small Things, Morrison’s Sula, and poetry by Giovanni, Mistral, Du Fu, Szymborska, Amichai, Neruda, Lorca, and Akhmatova.

The Honors 10th grade English course will require lengthier and more challenging readings, essay topics, oral presentations, and original research. Students in honors are expected to read with interest and intellectual curiosity.

English 10: Literature of Identity

Upper School

Grade 10

English

Credits: 1

Honors level also available

In all cultures on earth, people discover their own individual identities in the contexts familial, cultural, linguistic, religious, political, and historical. The job of the individual, in many of the greatest works of literature, is to construct, and often, to protect a self, the identity that can withstand the slings and arrows of the world outside of itself. With an eye toward introducing works from each of the continents and in a wide variety of genres, we present the students with works in which cultures reflect and are reflected by compelling individual selves. A major poetry project prompts students to discover the poems from a place of their own interest, and we work through the challenges of poetic and cultural translation. Works may include: Shakespeare’s Othello or Macbeth, Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Sagan’s Bonjour, Tristesse, Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, Roy’s The God of Small Things, and poetry by Du Fu, Szymborska, Amichai, Neruda, Lorca, and Akhmatova.

English 9: Literature of Growing Up

Upper School

Grade 9

English

Credits: 1

Coming-of-age is perhaps the most compelling theme in literature. A young person’s trajectory from childhood to adulthood is at the heart of many of the most exciting texts, but it is also the place in which students find themselves in the ninth grade. It is the beginning of high school, the beginning of taking on challenges and responsibilities that might be inconceivable prior to this moment. In addition to reading ancient and contemporary texts about this state of change, students examine the patterns and rituals that show the nuances of how race, class, gender, culture, family, and politics shape the experience. Students will read and write fiction, drama, poetry, and creative non-fiction. They can expect to be able to write a compelling literary essay, but also to be able to work in the genres they have studied. Reading, writing, and speaking are at the heart of every English class at Walker’s; each of these skills will be honed throughout the year. Works may include: Homer’s Odyssey, Ward’s Salvage the Bones, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Wiesel’s Night, Twelfth Night, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, poems by Rita Dove, and Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

English 8

Middle School

Grade 8

English

Required course for Grade 8

In English at the eighth grade level, independent thinking and writing play major roles, as every student is encouraged to further develop her creative and critical skills in response to literature and in preparation for secondary school. Through discussion and writing, which include analytical and personal essays designed to promote mastery of essay writing, each student is supported as she learns to express herself clearly, accurately, and fluently. In this way, student voice is at the heart of English 8. We read short fiction, novels, narrative nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Texts may include Macbeth, The Poet X, The House on Mango Street, and One Last Word, among others.

English 7

Middle School

Grade 7

English

Required course for Grade 7

At the seventh-grade level, students maintain their momentum by continuing to explore the various genres of literature. We read a challenging collection of texts that may include: The List; Genesis Begins Again; Howl’s Moving Castle; Poetry Speaks Who I Am; Romeo and Juliet; Good Master, Sweet Ladies; and The Outsiders. Other texts, including individual poems, myths, fairy tales, and essays, are carefully selected to be appropriate to the age and developmental level of seventh grade girls. Teachers strive to help girls truly love to read. Students will learn to present their work to an audience — aloud and in writing. Students continue to enhance their composition skills through a study of analytical writing, with an emphasis on the process of writing, not just the final product. In grammar, the girls explore sentence structure and mechanics to improve clarity in their own writing. Students will read beyond the curriculum in this course. They will also have many opportunities for creative writing in a wide variety of genres.

English 6

Middle School

Grade 6

English

Required course for Grade 6

At the sixth-grade level, students learn to read deeply, to love reading, and to begin learning how to analyze a literary work. The study of literature at our school draws upon many genres to focus largely on works about growing up and emerging into society. Texts may include: Raymie Nightingale, Beyond the Bright Sea, Counting by 7s, Joyful Noise, a dramatic production of The Diary of Anne Frank, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other texts, including individual poems, myths, fairy tales and essays are carefully selected to be appropriate to the age and developmental level of sixth grade girls. Teachers will challenge students to think in increasingly complex ways. Students will learn oral presentation and discussion skills in class. Each girl will begin to develop her authentic voice through a wide variety of writing assignments, including analysis, persuasive essay, fiction, poetry and personal writing. The Languages Department at The Ethel Walker School provides a sixth-grade grammar course that focuses on parts of speech at the sentence level; therefore, language mechanics in English 6 concentrates on logic, clarity, and flow. Art, music and creative work of all kinds will be at the heart of the course.