english

Perceptive reading, thinking, and writing are at the heart of every College Prep English course.
At all grade levels, work includes informal class discussions, close reading of literature, and frequent writing assignments such as reading quizzes, analytical essays, and creative fiction and verse. Classes are small and provide ample opportunity for individual time with instructors as well as group work. The literature studied throughout the four-year program represents a wide variety of genres, styles, periods, and voices, which develops students’ intellectual curiosity and cultural awareness.

Students at College Prep enroll in an English course every semester. English I (ninth grade) and English II (tenth grade) are yearlong courses. Students develop their writing and analytical skills that they will use throughout their College Prep education and beyond. Through writing, revision, and exercises, students deepen their understanding of grammar and principles of style. In the eleventh and twelfth grades, students choose from a variety of semester-long seminars.

In addition to courses offered by the department, there are numerous opportunities for students to develop their interest in literature and proficiency in writing. Students at all grade levels are encouraged to submit material to the school newspaper, arts magazine, and literary journal. Advanced Placement workshops are offered to students who want to prepare for an English AP exam. English seminars are complemented by field trips to off-campus performances and guest lectures from literary scholars, writers, and musicians.

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  • English I (9th grade)

    In English I, students develop skills in close reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing. Classes feature lively group discussions of assigned readings, practice in devising interpretations grounded in concrete textual evidence, instruction in the art of writing coupled with frequent writing exercises, and regular lessons in grammar, style, and vocabulary. Students begin the year by reading short stories and essays by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Ocean Vuong, and Claudia Rankine. In the spring, students engage their developing skills of analysis with longer works of fiction, drama, and poetry.
  • English II (10th grade)

    English II broadens students’ experience with major literary genres, traditions, and writers. Building upon the composition and discussion skills introduced in ninth grade, English II provides sustained practice in essay writing, both personal and analytical. Students continue to work extensively with poetry, fiction, and modern essaysas they deepen their critical thinking and close reading skills. Tenth graders develop their voice as writers and clarity as thinkers. Course readings include Nella Larsen’s Passing, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus, personal essays by James Baldwin, Julia Alvarez, and Chang-rae Lee, poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and by contemporary Black poets, and a variety of short stories.

on teaching poetry

English Seminars (11th and 12th grades)

List of 12 items.

  • American Transcendentalism

    The Transcendentalists, a collection of nineteenth century thinkers, writers, abolitionists, and nature-lovers, sought to detect the divine light within the self, to transcend the everyday, and to discover universal truth. In their quest, they developed a philosophy that has had long tendrils in American thought. This course examines the writing of those authors who were working to define American identity separate from the dominant narratives of capitalism, nation-building, and slavery. Texts include Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom, Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Bartleby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God as well as contemporary poets who ask how Transcendentalism occupied such a central position in the American imagination despite the persistence of cultural values so antithetical to its tenets.
  • The Art of the Personal Essay

    This creative writing course invites students to be an essayist of their own experience. Students uncover past, present, and future versions of themselves and seek the other self located in the reader. This course helps students find who they might be writing to and why. To inspire their writing, the class reads a diverse body of classic and contemporary essays, using a writer’s lens, layered on top of a literary critical one, that focuses on emotional and conceptual arcs and techniques of voice, narrative, imagery, and style. Books include a course reader and The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate. Inspiration is taken from a selection of essays and poems by Zadie Smith, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Naomi Shihab Nye, Angela Davis, Pablo Neruda, Lyla June, N. Scott Momaday, and more.
  • Family in Fiction

    Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with an idea that perhaps had never been so well expressed: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This seminar explores fictional families, sometimes made happy, but more often made unhappy, for reasons psychological, social, or even supernatural. Texts include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Coming of Age

    Did Aristotle and Dante actually discover the secrets of the universe? We don’t know, but in their transitions out of childhood into some state nearing adulthood, they certainly wondered about that huge, constellation-filled sky above them, their family histories, and the mystery of the feelings within themselves. This course focuses on the “coming of age” novel, also called the bildungsroman, or novel of education, in which a young person learns­—not just from books and school—but from experience itself. Readings include the novels Old School by Tobias Wolff and Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena María Viramontes among others.
  • Deadliest Catches

    Like the sea itself, the literature of seafaring brims with adventure, salt, sublimity, and peril. The journey begins with a work of autobiographical nonfiction that sets the terms for the course, The Life of John Thompson, a Fugitive Slave and continues to survey its history, from such classics as Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to Spielberg’s iconic summer blockbuster Jaws. Readings include selected sea songs and chanteys, as well as essays, stories, and poems. The centerpiece for the course is that greatest of all fish stories and literature’s deadliest catch, Melville’s epic, Moby-Dick. A probing investigation of whiteness, masculinity, and the leviathan of American slavery, Moby-Dick distills America’s foundational contradictions in a sprawling adventure story that is equal parts buddy novel, political satire, philosophical treatise, and whale encyclopedia. An excerpt from Toni Morrison’s landmark essay, “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,” helps situate Moby-Dick in mid-nineteenth-century debates over slavery.
  • Gumshoe Gothic

    The gothic has traditionally reflected a society’s reluctance to face its own past, its own horrors, whether personal or national. The foundation of the gothic is ancestral estates, haunted woods, “madwomen in the attics,” and the oppressed — anyone outside of white masculinity. This course begins with “The Purloined Letter” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, creator of detective fiction. Texts include the first Black detective novel, Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, and Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, along with short stories by Karen Russell, Mariana Enriquez, and Carlos Fuentes. The class considers theories of detective and gothic fiction, paying particular attention to the national scene and to the role readers of such genres assume.
  • Farthest Horizons: The Craft of Poetic Forms

    “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” –Audre Lorde

    Through a close examination of syntax, line, literal and non-literal speech, and sonic devices, students approach and practice the poetic form with increased acuity and appreciation. The sonnet, sestina, tanka, ghazal, free verse, prose poetry, and spoken word are among the various forms considered in works by poets of a range of literary ages, geographical regions, emotional lenses, and theoretical perspectives. In the examination of poetic forms, the class pays particular attention to the influences and intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender. Students work towards reading poetry with both an intuitive eye and a mastery of technical terminology, offering their own poetic perspectives in a set of revised poems.
  • Harlem Renaissance

    “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” –Zora Neale Hurston

    In the aftermath of World War I and the great migration of African-Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Harlem Renaissance began. Part of the Jazz Age and a flowering of all art forms, the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to many pivotal African-American cultural figures who still loom large today, such as Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, and more. This seminar surveys many of the pivotal writers and thinkers who shaped this illustrious moment through works including Jean Toomer’s Cane, Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth, and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun; poetry by Langston Hughes, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Countee Cullen; short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Charles Johnson; and sections from influential sociologists, such as Marcus Garvey, Charles S. Johnson, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness

    In its declaration of independence from colonial rule, the emergent U.S. government identified “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as inherent rights of the people, sacralizing the concept of human freedom and its more cunning twin, the concept of individual self-interest. In contrast to John Locke’s original coinage “life, liberty, and property”, Jefferson’s expansive replacement—’happiness”—evokes not just economic success but something more elusive. Writers have variously imagined this happiness as fame, spectacular wealth, spiritual transcendence, romantic love, artistic achievement, or legacy. Texts include Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Louise Erdrich’s The Bingo Palace, and John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation.
  • The Second Self

    Aristotle says that a good friend is a second self and that to be happy, a person needs virtuous friends. Friendship is capable of building community, upending hierarchies, and producing change. But friends can also be rivals, competitors, and sources of envy. In this course, students explore the complex, rewarding, occasionally bewildering nature of friendship, focusing especially on friendships between women. Readings include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Toni Morrison’s Sula, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Jaquira Diaz’s Ordinary Girls, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, as well as brief philosophical essays by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. The course involves informal writing assignments, analytical essays, and a personal essay.
  • The Weight of History

    Through postmodern American literature, this course examines the lasting effects of the past and the weight of historical family narratives on how individuals construct their identities in the present. Students consider the pressures of “big” histories (social, racial, political, gendered, religious) upon individual lives and explore individuals’ varied attempts to transcend these histories through stories that run counter to norms and conventions of storytelling. Texts include David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Luis Alberto Urrea’s House of Broken Angels, Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, and John Sayles’s film, Lone Star.
  • What the River Knew

    Why are rivers so deeply bound with storytelling, and why is flowing water such an enduring metaphor for human experience? What did Heraclitus mean when he said: “you cannot step into the same river twice”? Or William James when he coined the phrase “stream of consciousness”? This course seeks to know rivers in their physical immediacy and cultural complexity, focusing on writings in which rivers are not merely background setting for human drama but essential characters and contested spaces in the drama itself. In the texts, the river is more than a medium of recreation and meditative self-reflection. It is also, and more importantly, the site of agonizing conflict between indigenous peoples and their colonizers; between the enslaved and their enslavers; between the natural and the technological; between what poet Robert Hass calls “an elder imagination of the earth” and an impoverished vision of the planet as mere material for human exploitation. The readings include Solar Storms by Chickasaw poet, novelist, and activist Linda Hogan, Crossing the River by British novelist Caryl Phillips, and River Notes by nature writer Barry Lopez—river works that raise probing questions about the development of Euro-American empire, the history of the African diaspora, and the relationship between human beings, nature, and the more-than-human world.

List of 7 members.

  • Photo of Susee Witt

    Susee Witt 

    English Teacher
    510-652-0111 x224
  • Photo of Anne Harris

    Anne Harris 

    English Teacher
    510.652.0111 x224
  • Photo of Jhoanna Infante

    Jhoanna Infante 

    English Teacher
    510-652-0111 x224
  • Photo of Alicia Mosley

    Alicia Mosley 

    English Teacher
  • Photo of Jeffrey Peterson

    Jeffrey Peterson 

    English Teacher
    510-652-0111 x224
  • Photo of Rebecca  Rainof

    Rebecca  Rainof 

    English Teacher
    510.652.0111 x224
  • Photo of Andrea Tinnemeyer

    Andrea Tinnemeyer 

    English teacher
    510-652-0111 x224

ENGLISH Seminars that have been offered and may be again:

Environmental Literature
This course investigates the historical relationship between humans and the natural world, examines environmental racism and injustice, and considers the human experience of the global climate crisis. Students explore their own place in nature through writing and discussion, ask big questions about their cultural, moral, and practical relationships to the natural world, and find ways to connect the course’s learning to action. Students are challenged to understand humans’ current relationship to nature—and the urgent climate crisis—by reading today’s environmental writers.

Hyphen: Asian-American Literature
Hyphenated identities—those of Chinese-, Japanese-, Korean-, Filipina/o-, Vietnamese-, and Indian- Americans—come together in this seminar, which explores the diverse voices of Asian-American literature. From classic to contemporary, the rich works in Asian-American literature help answer a few overarching questions: What makes Asian-American writing distinctive in terms of style, form, and theme? How do authors capture their heritage, with its ancient and modern histories, religious traditions, and family/social norms?

Marvelous Futures
This seminar explores the signature aspects of Afrofuturism and magical realism (lo real maravilloso). Are they distinctive? What, if anything, do they share? Is the Caribbean the geographical and cultural center of these two genres? Are they exclusively born out of oppressive regimes? Do they seek to liberate or placate? With these questions in mind, readings include W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Comet” (arguably the first Afrofuturist work), Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber.

Toni Morrison
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has written some of the most deeply human, complex, and inspiring storytelling in American literature. This course considers her whole career, covering at least three of her novels and some of her shorter fiction and non-fiction work. Students track Morrison’s criticism of what she called “the master narrative” and the development of her philosophy of “rememory” to describe the Black American experience (and consequently the American experience) and map a path forward. Through a deep dive into her inspiring oeuvre, Morrison teaches not only how to read her books but a new way of reading literature itself. 

mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right