Upper School


The English Department faculty recognize the importance of teaching reading and writing as related, meaning-making processes. Consequently, language skills are taught in the contexts of literature and writing, with the additional support of vocabulary, reading, and grammar texts as needed. Teachers understand and address the learning needs of girls and young women as they become able and independent readers and writers.

As they move through the grades, students read literature that challenges them intellectually and inspires them to reflect on their lives and the world. In daily small group and class discussions of the literature, students are encouraged to develop confidence in their own ideas, articulate reasoned arguments, and respect the opinions of others. Developmentally appropriate literature is taught at all levels, and books are selected for their literary merit. The Department values diversity within the curriculum so that, in addition to important works from Europe and America, students read literature by writers from various cultures outside the Western tradition.

Writing is taught as a dynamic and creative process of discovering and constructing meaning, and students write in a variety of modes, frequently in response to reading. Students draft and revise their writing, and teachers engaging dialogically with each student through the writing process, both in conferences and in detailed written comments on drafts and finished papers. Teachers grant students agency by presenting them with options as writers within the contexts of purpose and audience. Students are encouraged to publish their writing in newspapers, literary magazines, and national student anthologies.

English Curriculum

List of 7 items.

  • Western Literature

    Required Course | Grade 9

    This course will focus on the Ancient World through the Renaissance.
    This course examines the literary traditions and intellectual history of Western civilization from Hebrew culture through the Renaissance. Students explore themes of identity, promises and covenants, leadership, and good vs. evil in canonical works and in correlating modern texts. Students in this course sharpen their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers through reading assignments and detailed study guides, directed class discussions, journal entries, group activities, and several essays each term. Projects include oral presentations and artistic responses to texts.
  • World Literature

    Required Course | Grade 10

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe anticipated the emergence of World Literature in the early nineteenth century as both a product of globalization and evidence of a shared human experience. Certain texts, he argued, would resonate beyond their origins and “expand without limit.” In this course, students examine four pairs of thematically-linked texts, representing diverse regions, time periods, and literary traditions, and decide for themselves whether or not they continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. Encouraged to pursue their own lines of inquiry, students sharpen their critical thinking and rhetorical skills through a series of creative and analytical writing exercises.

    Prerequisites: Western Literature
  • American Literature

    Required Course | Grade 11

    This course introduces students to more sophisticated literary study as they learn and explore various critical approaches to the text through a concentrated study of American literature from the 19th century to the present. Students are encouraged to think independently about literature and understand it in the context of the self and society.  Throughout the course, students write critical essays on each work and one extensive research paper. Students may elect to take the Advanced Placement exam in Language and Composition.

    Prerequisites: World Literature
  • English Studies

    Required Course | Grade 12

    Students in this course explore how British literature has reflected upon questions of both personal and cultural identity over a period of time beginning with the Renaissance and ending with modernism. Students write frequent compositions, with an emphasis upon close reading, textual analysis, and revision. The course emphasizes the development of research skills through various collaborative research projects surrounding our primary texts. Students conduct research using traditional methods (literary-critical articles and books), while also crafting digital projects that highlight interdisciplinary connections to the text. Students apply these research skills to the completion of an interdisciplinary senior thesis. After the completion of the thesis, students select a topic for an abbreviated “elective.”

    Prerequisites: American Literature
  • The Woman Warrior in Literature and Film

    Elective Course | Grades 11-12

    Taking its name from Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir,
    The Woman Warrior, this course explores how representations of strong female figures in literature, comics, and film––from roughly the mid-twentieth century to the current day––coincide with evolving notions of femininity and gender. In recent years, the popularity of such fictional heroines as Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games may suggest that the woman warrior has become a fixture of our culture. The presentation of these female warriors, however, relies upon a complex configuration of gender norms, signaling our society’s still often-ambivalent reaction to women who are powerful. Can one be a physical, athletic, or violent woman without being described as “manly”? Are the short skirts and big eyes of female action heroes intended to offset their prowess? Is a binary representation of gender still a relevant way to assess such characters? To answer these questions, students explore depictions of pop culture and literary icons such as Wonder Woman, Mulan, and Katniss alongside a few select Second and Third Wave feminist texts and/or articles on gender theory. Assessment will be based primarily upon class participation and several short writing assignments.
  • Modern Family: Domestic Structure in Short Fiction

    Elective Course | Grades 10 - 12

    The family unit is a structure that exists, in one form or another, in nearly all cultures and societies.  However, as we evolve, so too does our understanding of what that structure looks like.  In this elective, we will explore short stories from a variety of genres whose focus is on the family unit.  In doing so, we will compare traditional domestic structures across multiple cultures and trace the evolution of the "modern family."  We will consider the different roles individuals play within their families and look at how external forces affect the strength of the family unit. This course will ask that students complete regular reading and writing assignments; assessment will be primarily based on class participation and both formal and informal written work.
  • Media Journalism

    Elective Course | Grades 9-12

    This course introduces students to the core principles of journalism, while exposing them to the practical experience of operating the School's online newspaper. This yearlong elective includes a study of journalism throughout history, regular critiques of contemporary pieces and practices, and numerous opportunities to interact with local professionals in the media industry. Work on the
    Ellisian Times will count towards course credit, and will require students to contribute both writing and visual media throughout the year. Students who have taken this course in prior years may be selected for management duties for the publication.

Upper School English News

Co-curricular Highlights

List of 3 items.

  • Ellis Literary Magazine

    The Ellis Literary Magazine is a collection of short stories, essays, poems, and artworks. The Ellis Literary Magazine is a student-produced literary and arts magazine that is published in the spring of each year. The magazine features poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art created by Ellis students.  
  • Ellisian Fields Yearbook

    Every year, Upper School students devote their time during the school day and on Saturdays to put together Ellisian Fields, the Ellis yearbook. Students work on designing, gathering photos of events, and selling ads. Every May, students pick a theme for the next year’s book and work together throughout the remainder of the school year and the next year to design the yearbook before it is printed and sold.
  • Ellisian Times Newspaper

    Student participants devote free periods and some out-of-school time to the completion of this publications.

    The Ellisian Times