English

Upper School students fine-tune their abilities by practicing the elements of effective interpersonal communication, close reading of literary and visual texts, audience-centered composition, public speaking and oral interpretation. The English department encourages students to develop both self-awareness and style through the writing process, from prewriting through revision. Students take four years of English, consisting of required courses in ninth and tenth grades and semester elective courses in eleventh and twelfth grades.

Courses in this department:

Foundations in Composition (ninth grade)

This course focuses on composition skills, beginning with the foundations of writing – ideas, organization, voice, sentence structure, word choice, and conventions. Students examine different rhetorical contexts and practice both recognizing and using rhetorical and literary devices as they work through the entire writing process: generating ideas, gathering evidence, drafting, and revision. Students are exposed to the modes of definition, description, exposition, cause and effect, comparison, argument, and persuasion. Through the practice of writing, we continue to work on the skills all English classes address each year: close reading, critical thinking, analytical interpretation, creative expression, effective writing, and skillful public speaking.

Foundations in Literature (tenth grade)

This course focuses on reading and comprehension skills through a range of genres including prose (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, and drama. Students practice analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing the literary themes and content they encounter, from the classic to the modern, in literature from around the globe – including America. Through the practice of reading, we continue to work on the skills English classes address each year: close reading, critical thinking, analytical interpretation, creative expression, effective writing, and skillful public speaking.

The Big Novel: Moby Dick

Elective, 11th and 12 grades
Second semester

This course centers around one large or difficult novel, which varies over time. In addition to closely reading the novel itself, students explore the biographical background of its author, consider responses to the novel at the time of its publication and in subsequent years (and decades), and reexamine the novel through a variety of critical and cultural lenses.

2017-2018 novel: Moby Dick. Themes include obsession, madness, Romanticism, language, and American identity.

Contemporary American Literature: Hyphenated Identities

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
First semester

In his poem, “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel,” Sherman Alexie ironically explains that “the hero must be a half-breed” -- alongside several other confusing and often contradictory characteristics. But what actually makes a novel uniquely “Indian” or Native American and why does the hero need to be a “half-breed?” This course examines works of literature that represent the experiences of these “half-breeds,” or Americans with a multiplicity of identities, and how they negotiate a world that often tries to force them to choose a single identity. We explore literature that highlights several groups of Americans -- Native Americans, Southeast Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and European-Americans -- as they, and we, navigate the hybrid identity of being “American.” Through connections with such issues as immigration, ethnicity, gender, religion, and mythology, we commit to answering the question: What does it mean to construct a cultural identity in contemporary America? Authors may include Momaday, Olen Butler, Cisneros, Alexie, and others.

Creative Writing

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
Second semester

How do writers find subjects to write about? How do they get better at the craft of writing? How do they develop their own style? And what does it mean to read with a writer’s eye? In this class we engage in a variety of reading and writing exercises, including experiments in a range of voices, styles, modes, and genres. Emphasis is placed on student choice and the development of skills in self-direction. The goal is for students to find what it is they would like to say, identify platforms for sharing their voice, and develop the skills to become disciplined life-long learners of the craft.

Critical Reading and Effective Writing

Elective, 11th and 12 grades
Second semester

In traditional English classes, teachers are charged with imparting a wide range of concepts and skills. However, Malcolm Gladwell says that 10,000 hours of practice are required in order to become an “expert” or “elite performer” at a skill. So, in this class, rather than reading long novels, we concentrate on shorter pieces that allow us to focus on the skills of active reading and incisive written interpretation and analysis. We write immediate, in-class responses, so come prepared to write often. Be ready, too, for lively discussions about a wide variety of texts – both fiction and nonfiction – from all over the world.

The End: Literature of the Apocalypse

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
First semester

This course examines literature of the apocalypse and dystopian world views. Students write, discuss, and research the ways in which apocalyptic literature functions as a critique of current and historical social and cultural trends, how these descriptions of the apocalypse are connected to existential crisis and the modern experience, and identify the consistent metaphors and symbols that accompany the stories of the apocalypse. In reading these narratives, students are asked to determine what they reveal about human nature and values. Emphasis is placed on writing to discover theme and metaphor as it exists in single and multiple texts in the course.

Environmental Ethics, Civics, and Advocacy

Elective, 11th and 12 grades
Second semester
Blocked, double course

We are beginning to understand that we are reaching the outer limit of human population and activity that the natural environment can sustain. In seeking how best to respond to these challenges, we must consider our moral relationship to all aspects of our environment in addition to our responsibility as citizens to act as stewards of our world. Understanding environmental issues requires a systems-thinking perspective, and understanding how to best address these issues as a citizen requires knowledge of the structures and functions of government.

This team-taught, interdisciplinary, blended course combines the previously offered English Environmental Ethics elective with Civics – one English credit, one Civics credit, two class periods, and an integrated curriculum. This allows students to learn deeply about environmental issues and identify ways to be an agent of change, including choosing both an independent research project and a hands-on experience of involvement in the greater Seattle community.

An Intentional Media Diet

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
First semester

It’s not just that we are what we eat, it's that we are what we consume. In the same way that the food we eat becomes our bodies, the media we pay attention to and the conversations we choose to engage in become ourselves. The variety, quantity, and speed of media available to us has grown exponentially; our ability to intentionally choose how we participate in it, arguably has not. In this course, we examine how communications technologies have changed over time through the response of each era’s cultural critics, including critical commentary on the possibilities and pitfalls of digital technologies. Students assess their current diet of media — including news, information, and content — to better understand what they are “consuming” and how. Then using the lenses of “possibilities” and “pitfalls,” the course explores what it means to be a socially responsible media consumer and content creator in a digital, globalized world.

Masculine and Feminine: Ways of Seeing in the West

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
Second semester

The ways in which women and men make meaning of the world are profound in how they incorporate and exclude one another. In a literary landscape dominated by the stories and testimonies of men, a woman’s story or testimony may need to look and sound a particular way to be heard and understood. Likewise, a man who writes the story of a woman must treat his subject in a particular way to be heard and understood by an audience of women. Through the study of literature and through the practice of critical writing, students in this course examine ways in which female and male views of the world may influence, feed, undermine one another, and make room for gender identities outside of the male/female dichotomy.

The Past is Present: Specters, Spooks, and the Haunted Terrain of Gothic Literature

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
First semester

The notion of “haunted” locales like houses or battlefields or underground mine-shafts speak to our sense of space, enclosed or expansive, where past hidden horrors have occurred. This is the terrain of Gothic Literature, where nothing remains buried for long. The past always returns to haunt the comfortable present. Students read a number of scholarly essays to acquaint themselves with critical approaches that they may choose to challenge or adopt for themselves. The class touches briefly upon the novel versus other forms of the Gothic and concludes with a review of the genre’s hallmark devices, figures, and tropes.

States United? Nonfiction Texts and American Identity

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
First semester

What is the American Dream? Who is a “real” American? The rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion is everywhere, from political speeches to Disney movies. This class examines the messages we see (and don’t see) every day about who matters. We read Coates’s Between the World and Me, Rankine’s Citizen, and a variety of non-fiction pieces that tackle identity and privilege. Students write arguments and create rhetorical analyses on subjects as diverse as the subtext of our national anthem, the rhetoric of terrorism, and aspects of racism, sexism, and heteronormativity in pop culture. Students finish by identifying and addressing a problem at UPrep, putting their skills in subtext, argument, and analysis to work on something within our own community.

Tell Me a Story: The Narrator and the Nature of Story Telling

Elective, 11th and 12th grades
Second semester

A story can be told from a variety of viewpoints, from a “private” internal stream-of-consciousness, to a wholly external third-person description providing no access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters – and everything in between. It boils down to this: What a story is about is partly a question of how it is told. You cannot separate the tale from the telling. The goal for this class is to better understand the different ways a story can be told, and as such, to better understand stories themselves.

Courses not offered 2017-2018

Science Fiction: More Than a Genre