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 variety of genres, styles, periods, and voices, sparking intellectual curiosity and developing 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 in which students develop the 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 thematic semester-long seminars.

In addition to courses offered by the department, there are 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. Support is offered to students who want to prepare for the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition Exam. English seminars are complemented by field trips to off-campus performances and guest lectures from literary scholars, writers, and musicians.

List of 2 items.

  • 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 followed by longer works of fiction, drama, and poetry in the spring semester.
  • English II (10th grade)

    literary genres, traditions, and writers. Building upon the composition and discussion skills introduced in ninth grade, English II provides sustained practice in personal and analytical essay writing. Students continue to work extensively with poetry, fiction, and modern essays as they deepen their critical thinking and close reading skills while developing their writing voices. 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 14 items.

  • About Suffering

    This course considers literary responses to the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” with a deep dive into the Book of Job, the tale of that tragic biblical figure who is morally “perfect” but who loses everything he has, everyone he loves, and suffers mightily. When Job dares to ask about the cause of his suffering, the answer he receives is enigmatic: the tale and its questions have engaged religious and literary scholars in interpretive arguments for centuries. Through the examination of art and literature that grapples with this biblical text, students adapt, change, and develop their own answers about human suffering, seeking and reading about creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable suffering and crises. Texts include William Blake’s watercolor illustrations of the Book of Job; Archibald Macleish’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, JB; Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice; Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower; Julia Alvarez’s Afterlife; and Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark.
  • The Art of the Personal Essay

    Like Walt Whitman in 1892, meditating on what individual identity means in America, this creative writing course invites students to be essayists of their own experience, uncovering past, present, and future versions of themselves. The young writers in this class turn time and again to essential questions: Who am I writing to and why? How do I find what is worth recording? How do I respond to history as it is happening? To inspire their writing, students read a diverse body of classic and contemporary works, focusing on emotional and conceptual arcs and techniques of voice, narrative, imagery, and style. Readings include The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate and a selection of essays and poems by Sei Shonagon, Walter Benjamin, Jorge Luis Borges, Joan Didion, E. B. White, Zadie Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ross Gay, and more.
  • Black Futures & Realities: Intro to Afrofuturism

    This course explores the vibrant history of speculative thought in African-American literature and culture. Students examine the emergence of Afrofuturism as a response to postmodernity, as resistance to the erasure and disfiguration of people of the African diaspora in science, history, and fantasy, and as a struggle for self-determination and creative expression. Through analytical and creative writing, group projects, and class discussions, students individually and collectively imagine possibilities for a more just and sustainable future. Course material includes short stories by W.E.B. Dubois and others, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars: Poems, Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, Donald Glover’s television series Atlanta, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Colson Whitehead’s Intuitionist, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ M Archive, and the graphic novel The Last Count of Monte Cristo.
  • The Body Electric

    From the printing press, radio, and film to the internet, robotics, and artificial intelligence, the inescapable comingling of humans and machines defines the current era. This course asks what it means to be human in the “Machine Age.” Students consider the ways that writers “sing the body electric,” in poems and novels that question what it means to be human and probe the ethics of artificial intelligence, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. These readings are grounded in the historical understanding of the rise of modern selfhood alongside our mechanical inventions. Students encounter the first literary cyborgs in nineteenth-century industrial texts, and screen films that reflect on their own mechanical production including Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon—described as the first “science fiction” film, Bladerunner, and other recent visions of cyborgs. More than simply thinking about how anxieties and longings shape society’s visions of humans and machines, the course considers whether literature is the essence of human creativity or itself a beautiful machine, an ingenious device.
  • Chicanx Literature’s First Wave and Beyond

    Set in the 1950s, Tomás Rivera’s …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him is a series of vignettes about a family of migrant workers and their experiences traversing the American heartland, from South Texas through the Midwest. The novel captures the inner lives of people at the margins of society, anticipating the concerns of the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and ‘70s, and inspiring generations of Chicanx writers. This course explores major themes that occupied Chincanx writers of the time including: ​​the power of self-definition and pride in a rich, bilingual, cross-cultural heritage. Course materials include books, essays, short stories, poems, comic books, and films including Lucha Corpi’s
    Cactus Blood, Manuel Muñoz’s What You See in the Dark,
    and works by Alfred Arteaga, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Jose Antonio Burciaga, and Jaime Hernandez.
  • Coming of Age

    This course investigates the change from youth to adulthood, the features that stories about this time in life share, and how this fascinating transition is imagined across time periods, literary genres, and differing points of view. The course readings investigate what it means to grow up, leave home, find adventure, encounter disappointment, return to one’s origins, and reflect on what it means to change. Focusing on coming-of-age stories in which a young person learns—not just from books and school—but from experience itself, students explore the “novel of formation” as an enduring cultural form in art and entertainment, starting with its ascent in the nineteenth century with Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and Little Women. The course then explores contemporary coming-of-age tales in literature and film, including We the Animals by Justin Torres, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. 
  • 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.
  • 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 its examination of poetic forms, the course 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.
  • Life of the Skies

    “Birds are the life of the skies,” D.H. Lawrence wrote, “and when they fly, they reveal the thoughts of the skies.” This course looks—and listens—closely to the avian presence in literature and the arts beginning with selections from the ancient and medieval classics of bird literature and continuing to the rich tradition of poetic response to birds in English and American lyric poetry and popular song. Imagery from Bird: Exploring the Winged World, develops students’ appreciation of the wealth of symbolic associations various cultures have bestowed upon birds and an understanding of their radical otherness as members of the nonhuman world. Students practice birding, learning to identify local songbirds and shorebirds and raptors and reflect on its history as an activity, scrutinizing John James Audubon’s life story alongside his masterful bird illustrations, while considering recent efforts to decolonize avian nomenclature and make birdwatching a more inclusive endeavor. Texts include Hansen’s Birds of Point Reyes, James’s Birds of Berkeley, Mary Oliver’s Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds by Billy Collins and David Sibley.
  • London Calling

    London has been depicted as the center of many things: crime, theatricality, collections, modernity, and, perhaps most significantly, empire. This course considers London as a constructed center, moving from Victorian and Edwardian literary works to postcolonial novels that counter Anglocentrism. Students delight in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, explore the “beautiful caves” of Virginia Woolf—through Mrs. Dalloway and her anti-imperialist essay collection, A Room of One’s Own—and fly between London and New York City through Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which draws inventively on Mrs. Dalloway, placing NYC as the new center of imperial decay. Finally, students contrast Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, in which characters of Caribbean, Indian, and British descent try to make sense of their place in London, with Shakespeare’s The Tempest to investigate how empire is ideologically and aesthetically created, and, if London is still calling us now, who are the compelling voices? 
  • Magical Realism: A Second Opportunity on Earth

    Taken from the final line of Gabriel García Márquez’ 1982 Nobel Prize speech, this hopeful imagining alludes to the genre he is most associated with: magical realism. This course investigates the parameters of this genre, its distinction from fantasy and the fantastic, and the historical and cultural moments that inform the literature. Core texts, international in scope, include A Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, Their Dogs Came With Them by Helena Viramontes, Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier, and short stories by Jorge Borges, Nikolai Gogol, and Haruki Murakami. Students have the opportunity to write a short story in the style of magical realism that responds to real world events. 
  • Reframing Native American Literature

    This class examines storytelling in Native American fiction, centering on N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, Linda Hogan’s Power, and Tommy Orange’s There There. Students consider how writers reimagine place, from Florida to California, drawing from oral traditions to fashion new stories as a form of resistance and dissent. As a point of contrast, students read excerpts from John Rollin Ridge’s nineteenth-century novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta and James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales.” Other readings span genres and tribal affiliations, including poetry by Simon Ortiz, Joy Harjo, Natalie Diaz, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and John Trudell and short stories by Paula Gunn Allen, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, and Anita Endrezze. In addition to examining these texts through careful reading, discussion, and writing, students listen to and learn from indigenous storytellers in the Bay Area.
  • The Rest is Silence

    Picture this scene from the Hitchcock movie Torn Curtain: two men in the same house who have never met are nearly instantaneously engaged in a wordless struggle that will end in death. One of the characters is the quintessential Hitchcock hero, a regular guy caught up in unusual circumstances. It could have been a generic scene from any number of movies, but it is not. What makes this scene stand out is its audio track. The scene takes place in silence. Why is silence so powerful? What can it convey? Is silence more than the absence of words or sound? This class explores silence through readings that include Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, as well as some poetry by Dickinson, Szymborska, Rumi, Borges, and short stories by Ishiguro, Gallant, Mishima, Welty, and Munro. The class culminates in a viewing of a few key scenes that take place in silence. 
  • 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. The course starts with her first novel, The Bluest Eye—a powerful and traumatic work situated in the middle of the Black power era and second- wave feminism—and works toward her fifth and most acclaimed novel, Beloved, in which she puts forward ideas about how to move past America’s racialized and gendered trauma and into a more joyful, transcendent future. 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.

List of 7 members.

  • Photo of Susee Witt

    Susee Witt 

    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
    510-652-0111 x224
  • 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
  • Photo of Robert Reyes

    Robert Reyes 

    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