Upper School English

Menlo School’s library features “This I Believe” student writings. Photo by Pete Zivkov.

Reading. Writing. Thinking.

The English Department offers a curriculum rich in reading, writing, and discussion, from world literature to senior seminars. Our top goals include:

  • Emphasizing the link between close reading and interpretive/analytical writing
  • Enhancing students’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of literature of diverse cultures
  • Helping students communicate complicated ideas both orally and in writing
  • Helping students contextualize literature based on historical and political influences and realize the connections to contemporary issues
  • Encouraging students’ lifelong pleasure in reading and writing

Meet our Upper School English faculty.

CourseS

  • English 1

    English 1 students will work to establish their authorial voices while focusing on both reading and writing as active processes. In the fall, students will write a variety of expository pieces in order to deepen their awareness of their own opinions and values. Students then position themselves within larger cultural dialogues as we work on academic and literary arguments based on short stories, novellas, novels, and dramatic works. This practice will deepen their ability to recognize literary devices and will refine their ability to write logically and to support claims with evidence. Finally, students end the year with a focused study of rhetoric using op-ed pieces, speeches, plays, and fiction as inspiration. Students will become familiar with the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation, which they will practice throughout the year; they will also build their vocabularies through structured weekly practice.

  • English 2

    English 2 builds upon the foundation of English 1 in writing, reading, and grammatical instruction. Students will experience enhanced independence in crafting the structure of their writing, as well as develop greater complexity, specificity, and personal voice. Developing timed writing strategies further challenges students’ reading literacy and writing fluency. English 2’s curricular focus on American Literature produces many interdisciplinary opportunities with the History Department. Students gain an appreciation of how texts relate to the world around them and to their own lives. By spring, students will more precisely analyze how meaning is cultivated in a text, develop facility with inter-textual analysis, both within and outside of the text, and identify “cultural conversations” that emerge from our readings.

  • English 3: Rebels

    We’re all, to some degree, drawn to idea of a rebel. Rebels are memorable. Rosa Parks became one of America’s most important rebels by refusing to give up her seat. Mark Zuckerberg committed an act of social rebellion when he dropped out of Harvard sophomore year to focus his career aspirations on the creation of what is now Facebook. The most memorable characters we know strayed from the norm in some courageous, even noble, way: Atticus Finch’s defense of Tom Robinson, Romeo’s and Juliet’s pursuit of forbidden love, Katniss Everdeen’s refusal to play the Hunger Games the way the Game-makers envisioned.


    In this course, we will explore the role of the “rebel” in society, largely through the core textual and film selections including Ken Kesey’s counter-culture classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the film The Shawshank Redemption. We will examine how the social forces at play in these works provide us with insight into the society we live in now: here at Menlo, in Silicon Valley, in the United States.

  • English Language (AP)

    The purpose of AP Language is to prepare students to “write effectively and confidently in their college courses across the curriculum and in their professional and personal lives” (AP College Board Course Description). This rigorous course focuses on nonfiction writing, and students will become more proficient and comfortable both reading and producing complex pieces from a variety of fields (science, philosophy, popular culture, gender studies, etc.) and genres (e.g. essays, research, journalism, political writing, speeches, biography and autobiography, history, criticism). Students should expect to write frequently and in a variety of modes, since the course intends to develop their own awareness of audience, purpose and composing strategies. The course avoids a thematic or chronological approach in order to focus on essential reading, writing, and thinking skills involved in the study of rhetoric and composition.

    Prerequisites:
    To be 
    eligible, a student has to have earned a B+ or above in the first semester of English 2.

  • English Literature (AP)

    AP Literature is a yearlong exploration of the human psyche and consciousness on the written page and its impact on modern culture. Students will delve into a range of evocative novels, plays, poems, and short stories so as to deepen their reading and analytical skills and to gain a greater appreciation of literature. Interpretation will be honed through longer take home analytical essays, class facilitations, and sustained class discussion in which student grapple with multiple perspectives. In addition, students will work towards perfecting the craft of timed expository writing as part of their preparation for the AP and SAT exams. This course is aimed at students interested in exploring great books and taking on greater independence as thinkers, readers, and writers.

    Prerequisites:
    To be 
    eligible, a student has to have earned a B+ or above in the first semester of English 2.

  • Contemporary Global Literature (H)/1S

    Instructor: Mr. King

    How does someone other than yourself view an object, interpret a text, see the world, and understand their place in it? In addressing these questions, this course uses contemporary global literature to examine concepts of personal and national identity formation. We will interrogate poetry, short stories, plays, memoirs, film, and novels by non-Western writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah) and Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer), among numerous others. This course will use an interdisciplinary approach to the study of literature (including critical race theory, anthropology, socio-historical studies, postcolonialism, and gender studies). It will challenge students to understand how global literary forms not only reflect social values and norms, but also challenge and reconstitute them with crucial implications for gender, ethnicity, national identity, and our complex positioning in this global contemporary.

    Prerequisites:
     To be eligible, a student has to have earned a B+ or above in first semester AP English or permission of the instructor.

  • Dangerous Ideas/1S

    Instructor: Ms. Adler

    Societies are built on the assumption that their citizens will work to stay within the confines of what is considered “acceptable.” From a young age, we are taught to control our impulses–to share, follow the rules, and generally seek to better ourselves at minimal cost to others. But what if the danger lies not solely in what we do, but also in what we think or see? To what extent should society challenge, restrict, or outright preclude its citizens from access to “dangerous” or “insane” ideas? This course will take up these questions and more as we engage with ideas that ask us to lean into the delicate balance between the truly mad and the divinely inspired as we seek to understand what these texts have to tell us about civil society as we know it. We’ll read and watch a wide range of challenging and controversial texts—which may be drawn from The Stranger, Fun Home, Dracula, Lolita, Fight Club, Ex Machina, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Get Out–all of which provide rich, psychological portrayals of various aspects of madness. In addition, we will try to understand what these fictional works can teach us about society’s effect on the individual psyche (and vice versa) by bringing in supplemental texts, such as Freud’s work on the unconscious, Jon Ronson’s investigations of psychopaths and CEOs, Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, LGBTQ+ studies, Sylvia Plath’s poetry, and Fanon’s “racialized anxiety.”

  • Freak Character in American Culture(H)/1S

    Instructor: Ms. Ramsey

     

    This course explores the ways in which American artists have used the freak character as a means of exploring the tension between our country’s diverse society and collective fear of “the other”. We begin by establishing the historical and sociological context of the freak show in America, specifically how the freak body is depicted and promoted through the sideshow. We will then apply the freak paradigm to a series of increasingly nuanced texts, films, and contemporary sources. By honing in on the freak construct in these pieces, we will confront challenging narratives of race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and disease.

    Prerequisites: To be e ligible, a student has to have earned a B+ or above in first semester AP English or permission of the instructor.

  • Investigations/1S

    Instructor: Cara Plamondon

    By building a course devoted to non-fiction, I hope to both broaden and challenge your understanding of what’s happening in the world around us by exploring: Who’s writing about it, what they’re saying about it, why it’s important, and to enter into the conversations that emerge out of it. First, we will explore non-fiction writing through the lens of investigative journalism, reading works on various “whistle-blower” topics and viewing two “whistle-blower” films, The Insider and Spotlight, winner of the Academy Award for best film in 2016.Additionally, we willread a variety of longer social/political commentaries on relevant topics from publications including The Atlantic, Scientific American, Vanity Fair, and The Economist. As a capstone experience, you will each conduct your own in-depth investigation into a topic of your choosing. Bring your opinions!

  • Seafaring Literature/1S

    Instructor: Mr. Morris

    Tales of the sea are as old as human civilization, and have never ceased to capture the imagination of the world’s best authors and audiences, explorers and wanderers. In addition to traveling territories rich with adventure, sea stories enable writers to explore the boundaries of imagination, the psyche, and the human spirit.  This course will explore famous examples of oceanic tales from western poetry, short stories, novels, movies, ballads, and even tales in our own news. We will interrogate the myriad open-ended questions that legends at sea uniquely ask about human identity and human enterprise, and puzzle over how these change amid those elusive higher powers always met most directly out on the open sea. Primary texts include Moby Dick (Melville), Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), Life of Pi (Martel), All is Lost (Redford, film), and various short stories, sea shanties, ballads, and poems.

  • Gothic South 1S

    Instructor: Ms. Newton

    One-hundred fifty-six years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slavery–its landscape, its traditions, its hierarchies, its sounds and flavors–continues to haunt the American South like an uneasy ghost that can’t find rest. Southern literature, in turn, is a canon haunted by ghosts (literal and metaphorical), grotesque with hypocrisy, and twisted by the compulsive need to look backward and somehow make sense of this monstrous sin that we (Americans)–Or is it they (Southerners)?–committed. This course will explore the region itself and our national relationship to it through the extraordinary fiction that continues to emerge from the former plantations, cotton fields, swamps, towns, and cities of the American South. Novels and short stories will comprise the bulk of our reading, accompanied by critical theory to help us unravel them. Note that this course is not for the faint of heart. Authors will include Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Jesmyn Ward, and probably some Cormac McCarthy, among others. You’ve been warned.

  • Adolescence (Re)imagined/2S

    Instructor: Ms. Adler


    High school is a pivotal time, containing the messy, personal, and (yes, sometimes) euphoric stage of life known simply as “adolescence.” Given the extremity of this developmental period, it’s no surprise that artists, cultural theorists, and psychologists all continue to return to the teenage experience in their work. This course, therefore, will seek to give seniors the chance to ask the question, “How is adolescence portrayed in literature, culture, and popular media and why?” We will begin by considering Sweet Sixteen parties, gang initiation, and other contemporary “rites of passage” before placing them in context with the historical forces that led to the creation of “teenagers” in the mid-twentieth century. Students will also consider how communities, schools, families, and even digital spaces shape our modern conception of adolescence by reading both short fiction and nonfiction, viewing films, and analyzing social media. Throughout, they will be expected to write a variety of personal and investigative pieces, to engage in design- and project-based learning, and to take risks with assignments that explicitly ask them to engage with and reflect on their own lived experiences as adolescents. The course will culminate in the creation of a time capsule and final project in which they’ll delve further into an open-ended capstone project that offers them the chance to commemorate this liminal time before graduation.

  • The Art of the Essay 2S

    Instructor: Ms. Newton

    If the thought of writing another closed-form analytical essay causes you to convulse in fear, you should probably take this class. We will spend all semester experimenting with alternative essay structures, reading, analyzing, and mimicking work by some of the great essayists of the 20th and 21st centuries. We will steal the best storytelling tricks from the fiction writer’s toolkit, and we will borrow strategies of persuasion from classical and contemporary rhetoricians. The course will be built on the workshop model, meaning that you will have to be both brave and nice: over the course of the semester, each student will courageously share his/her original work and will respectfully respond to the work of peers. Expect to be reading, writing, and critiquing constantly, but also expect to kind of sickly enjoy it.

  • Dystopian Fiction and Film/2S

    Instructor: Ms. Plamondon

    With the re-emergence of dystopian fiction as the most popular genre for young readers, students will be exposed to dystopian classics that paved the way for more contemporary works. Students will explore the political and social climate that prompted the authors to generate their narratives as well as the current, cultural conversations that emerge from these texts. Literature selections include: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell’s 1984. In addition, students will view and analyze mise-en-scene techniques of notable dystopian films and shows, both classic and contemporary, including Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, and selected episodes of the acclaimed British television series Black Mirror.Students will generate personal and social commentaries, a presentation of a dystopian film, and a research-based, capstone paper with the working title “1984 and Today’s Society.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Wise Silence/1S

    Instructor: Ms. Ramsey

    How does one convey the experience and wisdom of the soul? How does one even tap into the experience and wisdom of their soul? In this course, we will conduct an intimate study of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a key author in American history and the founding father of the Transcendentalism movement. Transcendentalism was both an intellectual and a cultural movement that continues to influence our American philosophy and sense of self. Deeply tied to nature and the inherent genius of being, the transcendental ethos is invested in the individuality, worth, and truth of each being. We will primarily study Emerson’s major pieces (“The American Scholar,” “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” “The Over-Soul,” Circles” ), but we will do so in concert with a selection of more contemporary art (songs, poems, essays, films, etc.). Emerson’s essays will inspire both deep personal reflection and thoughtful, philosophical analysis of the nature of the human spirit.

  • Lyric and Lifeline 2S

    Instructor: Ms. Ramsey

    Hip hop is a powerful, global, energetic, and evolving culture. This course begins by exploring hip hop’s origin story from a historical, political, and economic perspective. Then, we study the evolution of hip hop by examining major early artists, tracks, and stylistic elements. Finally, we close out the course with a deep-dive into Kendrick Lamar’s seminal albums: “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and “To Pimp a Butterfly”. As there is “no text without context,” students will also engage a variety of supplemental materials. In particular, students will read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, a spectacular book that came out in 2015, the same year as “TPAB” and that facilitates many thematic connections. This course does not require any prior understanding of hip hop or rap. The writing for this class allows students to approach hip hop culture from several angles as a means of exploring their connection to, and understanding of, the artists’ themes and implications.

  • Creative Writing/ 2S

    Instructor: Mr. Morris

    Interested in reading and exploring forms of writing designed expressly around you? If so, this class is for you! Throughout the semester, you’ll have the chance to survey all kinds of masterful works of fiction, such as short stories, flash fiction, vignettes, and poems, all through the lens of the aspiring writer rather than critic. You’ll develop a toolkit for not only identifying but also employing techniques such as point of view, voice, imagery, and plot development in your own short literary works. Not only that, but you’ll also have the chance to experience what it feels like to be in a workshop group, sharing as well as receiving personalized feedback in a format that mirrors that of creative writing classes at the university level. Students in this class should therefore expect to be experimental with their writing, to meet deadlines reliably, and to take inventive risk, both in genre and in form, throughout this dynamic semester.

  • Cafe Society: Paris ’20s & ’30s/ 1S

    Instructor: Ms. Longust

    Paris enjoyed a thriving arts and literary scene in the interwar years, attracting many American intellectuals to live and work in the famed City of Light. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein, as well as jazz musicians and stage performers converged in Parisian cafes, bookstores, and nightclubs. In this course, we’ll read a selection of American expatriate writers associated with the “Lost Generation” and the Harlem Renaissance. We’ll explore the vibrant intellectual and cultural scene of Paris, including visual artists, musicians and performers. As a culminating project, we will host a cultural salon, in which each student will assume the persona of a literary figure of the time period. At the end of the semester, we’ll watch Woody Allen’s nostalgic comedy, Midnight in Paris, a film full of references to the writers, artists and thinkers who left their indelible mark on this beautiful city.

  • Fairy Tales: Reinventing the Spinning Wheel 2S

    Instructor: Mr. King

    This course is simultaneously a critical and a creative exploration of the great fairy tale tradition. We will read various tales and folklore, critically examine them, and then reimagine them in creative writing workshops. As scholars, we will interrogate western fairy canon in conjunction with non-western folklore and fairy tale tropes, “Disneyfication,” and the increasing ubiquity of fairy tales in contemporary pop culture. As creative writers, we will emphasize becoming “chefs” rather than “cooks,” intentionally using elements of narrative style and nuance to create specific effects in our creative retellings.

  • Multicultural London in Fiction & Film 2S

    Instructor: Ms. Longust

    This course will be a literary and cinematic exploration of modern British identity as it relates to ethnic diversity. We’ll see London through the eyes of writers and film makers who tell stories of identity, belonging, and culture clashes; whose characters struggle with love, family dynamics, and the complexity of human relationships. Our navigation of London may include books such as Exit West, Brick Lane, and Small Island, and the films My Beautiful Laundrette and Secrets and Lies.