Browse Curriculum

Upper School English

In the Nichols English Department we balance tradition and innovation through our approaches to curriculum and skills. We continue to embrace a comprehensive chronological survey of ancient, British and American texts because we believe students need a solid foundation from which to make leaps of understanding. We encourage students to approach these foundational texts with the contemporary critical perspectives of race, gender, power and class. We also love poetry for what it can teach us about language and ambiguity. Through student-centered discussion we look to develop a sense of community and shared responsibility for the knowledge in the classroom. Oh, and our students write a lot. Just ask them!

The Nichols English program seeks to develop in our students the related skills of reading, thinking, speaking, and writing. Students achieve these goals through the study of high quality literature at all grade levels in the Upper School. The English faculty expects and encourages students to read with close attention; to participate in Socratic-style class discussions; to become aware of the linguistic nuances of the texts they read; and to incorporate the fruits of their reading, thinking, and speaking into well-crafted essays. The English program serves the purposes and objectives of Nichols School in several ways:
  • The close, careful reading of literary texts is a skill transferable to texts in other academic disciplines.
  • The ability to write clear and concise prose is equally valuable in other disciplines and in later life.
  • Articulating ideas in the give-and-take of class discussion helps to build the student's confidence in his or her own ideas and values.
  • Exposure to the ethical and moral issues found in great literature intensifies a student's awareness of these issues in his or her own life and in the wider world.
  • An aesthetic appreciation of the beauties of the English language -especially in poetry -makes our various Arts offerings more attractive to students.
  • The pleasures of close and attentive reading require patience and a willingness to reflect and contemplate. We all require a "broad margin" to our lives and occasional havens of peace.
  • Advanced British and Postcolonial Literature


    For Grade 10

    This course focuses on the development of the literary tradition in the English language from the late medieval period to the 21st century. Extensive emphasis is placed on lyric poetry and drama; the second semester covers the emergence of prose fiction in both the novel and short forms. Students receive further instruction and practice in critical writing and continue to develop verbal and analytical skills. Works studied include Hamlet, the poetry of Donne, Milton, and Wordsworth, the 19th century novel, and 20th century writers of Britain and the Commonwealth.

    The Advanced section signifies additional coursework.
  • Advanced English VI: Topics in Literature and Criticism 1


    English Elective for Grade 12

    This course is the culmination of a student's progress in critical reading and in the development of a mature writing style. Students choose two single-semester electives designed to delve deeply into a particular theme, author, or genre. All of the courses demand extensive reading, discussion, and writing.

    The Advanced section signifies additional coursework.

    Irish Literature
    This course is one of discovery and exploration of the rich and multi-textured literature of Ireland. Because the culture and history of Ireland is inextricable from the literature, the course necessarily introduces various facets of Irish life, past and present. The course cannot be an exhaustive study of Irish literature and history; it is an introduction. Most of the course is centered on contemporary Irish literature. As with all "introductions" to a national literature, we attempt to diminish the myths and stereotypes of the Irish and Ireland to reveal its complex troubled history and dynamic culture.

    Criticism I
    Seniors in Criticism I will read many great essays by critics from Tolstoy onward, will learn to define different genres of film, and will learn the basic terms of film grammar in order to write their own critical essays. Students will submit 17-20 pages of critical writing in MLA style, including a midterm essay, a term paper, and five short response papers. This is a writing-intensive course!

    Jane Austen
    Though society has morphed in huge ways, people continue to find Jane Austen's works relevant. Harold Bloom, a great literary critic, calls Austen a "profound ironist." Students of this course will have the opportunity to experience Austen's brilliant wit alongside her stylistic prose and narrative techniques as they read Emma and Pride and Prejudice. They'll also have the opportunity to examine 20th and 21st century writings that stem from this literary giant. Contemporary short stories from the collection Jane Austen Made Me Do It and excerpts from the memoir Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict will provide fodder for discussions. Of course, we'll have to examine both the period fils as well as the contemporary ones. By the end of the course, students will have to decide why Austen still keeps pace with our society and where she fits in this era of Me Too; they'll also decide if they want to read further. Students taking this course for Advanced credit will read an additional novel.

    African-American Literature
    This course will explore African-American literature with an emphasis on the past 40-50 years. We will read writers such as Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Octavia Butler, and Audre Lorde, as well as Yaa Gyasi and Nnedi Okorafor.

    Salinger and Kerouac
    The autobiographical fiction of Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger helped define a certain attitude of modern literature. The noted literary historian Daniel S. Burt suggests that "no other American novel written during the second half of the 20th century, with the possible exception of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, is so heavily freighted with a cult or cultural significance as Kerouac's revered, reviled, and all too often misunderstood On the Road." We examine these two writers from the perspective of their lesser known but equally impressive works. Texts include Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, An Introduction, and Kerouac's The Dharma Burns and Big Sur. 

    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare I
    This course is not just an introduction to Shakespeare. It's an introduction to the state of Shakespeare studies in the early 21st century. We'll look at the way actors, directors, and scholars work with Shakespeare's text today. There are several trends in Shakespeare study that are exciting and new. We'll try to take them into account as we do scholarly and theatrical work with Shakespeare's plays. During the course, we'll read original texts of four plays closely, and we'll use them to talk about different approaches to Shakespeare. We'll study and use the late-16th and early-17th century rehearsal and performance techniques that would have been used by Shakespeare's own company, the King's Men. We'll do a teaching project in which you will develop and teach a lesson for younger students. You'll learn how to do academic Shakespeare scholarship by researching and writing a paper. Throughout the course, you'll develop and use skills of reading, writing, rehearsing, and acting. Students will be graded on their participation and for the various papers and projects in the course. Different grading rubrics will be used for each project.
  • Advanced English VI: Topics in Literature and Criticism 2


    English Elective for Grade 12

    This course is the culmination of a student's progress in critical reading and in the development of a mature writing style. Students choose two single-semester electives designed to delve deeply into a particular theme, author, or genre. All of the courses demand extensive reading, discussion, and writing. 

    The Advanced section signifies additional coursework.

    Creative Writing: Contemporary Short Fiction
    This is a course aimed at promoting the enjoyment and appreciation of contemporary short fiction. Students are expected to make informed literary responses to the readings - a skill central to every course in the English department - and to try their hands at the craft of writing the short story. This is not going to be a survey course, but instead concentrates on the works of some of the best known, and some lesser-known, writers working in the English language today. Though most of the artists are not those recognized as part of the more traditional academic canon, they invite rich academic study. The student understands how individual stories work, and how authors use the formal resources of narrative. The second aim of the course is to incite and nourish literary enthusiasms beyond the course's scope. The student also develops the ability to analyze texts within their social, political and cultural context. We also look at a few writers who are quite dead physically, but very much alive artistically. 

    Creative Nonfiction
    Creative nonfiction is synonymous with memoir or autobiography. The conversation, however, has become one not necessarily about who a person is and what his or her experiences are, but how he or she tells the story. Inevitably, it often ends with a reader wondering, "How true is this?" We begin with Stephen King's On Writing before moving into Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, Tara Westover's Educated and David Small's Stitches. Students will both read and write a great deal of creative nonfiction essays and must be open to whole class essay workshops. Each student will write a short memoir.

    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare II
    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare II is a continuation of Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare I. It may be taken independently or as the second half of a yearlong course. Shakespeare II will look at the ways in which Shakespeare study and performance continues to evolve in the 21st century. We'll read plays in class and act out scenes according to the original rehearsal and staging practices of Shakespeare's day. This course will pay special attention to Shakespeare education. To that end, we'll read Ralph Alan Cohen's text Shakesfear and How to Cure It. This book is a contemporary guide to Shakespeare education by the director of the American Shakespeare Center. We'll also use the ASC method of reading and interpreting plays for staged performance. Throughout the course, you'll devleop and use skills of reading, writing, rehearsing, and acting. Students will be graded on their participation and for the various papers and projects in the course. Different grading rubrics will be used for each project. 

    Literary Monsters
    In this course, we will address our obsession with horror. We will consider some of the monsters of poetry, short fiction, novels, illustration, and film, addressing the various uses of the literary monster, as well as some of the most popular of our contemporary monsters: vampires and werewolves. We will pay attention to the romance-monster hybrid. We may read Beowulf, Shelley's Frankenstein, Rosetti's Goblin Market, Bram Stoker's Dracula, as wel as work by Anne Sexton and Angela Carter. Our study should bring us to consideration of Stephanie Meyers, Jonathan Stroud, and that now-cult-classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We could even consider Beowulf with the new reconception, The Mere Wife, a modern retelling from the perspective of Grendel's mother, a veteran of the Iraq War.

    Edward P. Jones and Thomas Pynchon
    Edward P. Jones and Thomas Pynchon represent two of the most distinguished, and enigmatic, writers in modern American culture. The literary critic Jonathan Yardley writes that Jones is "in the first rank of American letters" and "one of the most important writers of his own generation." Yardley describes Pynchon "as a giant, sui generis, of modernist fiction," representing the "new fiction of the new world." The class will explore the short story collections of these two MacArthur Fellows.

    Hey, Big Brother, Watcha Watching? A Course in George Orwell
    This course will give students the opportunity to read deeply in the work of a single, major author: George Orwell. He has had a global impact in the way we think about surveillance, political oppression, and free speech. Although his most famous work is set in 1984, he has never seemed more relevant. From the common adjective "Orwellian" to the terms "thought police" and "wrongthink" to the worldwide hit reality show Big Brother, this author continues to define the terms and frame the manner in which we think about oppression in modern society. Students in the course not only will read Orwell's major novels and essays but also apply them thoughtfully to the debates and conditions of our contemporary world.
  • Advanced Foundations of Literature


    For Grade 9

    Foundations is an introductory course in composition and world literature. The program in writing provides a review of paragraph structure and introduces short expository or analytical essays. In literature, readings in poetry and short fiction build critical attitudes and develop awareness of narrative points of view, tone, imagery, symbolism, and irony. Works studied include The Odyssey, The Old Testament, and Julius Caesar.

    The Advanced section signifies additional coursework.
  • American Literature


    For Grade 11

    Although the course reviews usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and organization, the most significant composition work takes place individually, as students revise and edit their own work through teacher's comments on papers or after individual conferences. This course traces American literature from colonial times to the present day. Works studied include selected text by Hawthorne and Twain, The Great Gatsby, the poetry of Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, and Beloved.

    The Junior Poetry Paper must be completed in order to pass this course.
  • AP English Literature and Comp


    For Grade 11


    For Grade 11

    Although the course reviews usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and organization, the most significant composition work takes place individually, as students revise and edit their own work through teacher's comments on papers or after individual conferences. This course observes works similar to those covered in the American Literature course, tracing American literature from colonial times to the present day.

    The Junior Poetry Paper must be completed in order to pass this course, and the AP exam is a requirement of the course.
  • British and Postcolonial Literature


    For Grade 10

    This course focuses on the development of the literary tradition in the English language from the late medieval period to the 21st century. Extensive emphasis is placed on lyric poetry and drama; the second semester covers the emergence of prose fiction in both the novel and short forms. Students receive further instruction and practice in critical writing and continue to develop verbal and analytical skills. Works studied include Hamlet, the poetry of Donne, Milton, and Wordsworth, the 19th century novel, and 20th century writers of Britain and the Commonwealth.
  • English VI: Topics in Literature and Criticism 1


    English Elective for Grade 12

    This course is the culmination of a student's progress in critical reading and in the development of a mature writing style. Students choose two single-semester electives designed to delve deeply into a particular theme, author, or genre. All of the courses demand extensive reading, discussion, and writing.

    Irish Literature
    This course is one of discovery and exploration of the rich and multi-textured literature of Ireland. Because the culture and history of Ireland is inextricable from the literature, the course necessarily introduces various facets of Irish life, past and present. The course cannot be an exhaustive study of Irish literature and history; it is an introduction. Most of the course is centered on contemporary Irish literature. As with all "introductions" to a national literature, we attempt to diminish the myths and stereotypes of the Irish and Ireland to reveal its complex troubled history and dynamic culture.

    Criticism I
    Seniors in Criticism I will read many great essays by critics from Tolstoy onward, will learn to define different genres of film, and will learn the basic terms of film grammar in order to write their own critical essays. Students will submit 17-20 pages of critical writing in MLA style, including a midterm essay, a term paper, and five short response papers. This is a writing-intensive course!

    Jane Austen
    Though society has morphed in huge ways, people continue to find Jane Austen's works relevant. Harold Bloom, a great literary critic, calls Austen a "profound ironist." Students of this course will have the opportunity to experience Austen's brilliant wit alongside her stylistic prose and narrative techniques as they read Emma and Pride and Prejudice. They'll also have the opportunity to examine 20th and 21st century writings that stem from this literary giant. Contemporary short stories from the collection Jane Austen Made Me Do It and excerpts from the memoir Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict will provide fodder for discussions. Of course, we'll have to examine both the period fils as well as the contemporary ones. By the end of the course, students will have to decide why Austen still keeps pace with our society and where she fits in this era of Me Too; they'll also decide if they want to read further. Students taking this course for Advanced credit will read an additional novel.

    African-American Literature
    This course will explore African-American literature with an emphasis on the past 40-50 years. We will read writers such as Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Octavia Butler, and Audre Lorde, as well as Yaa Gyasi and Nnedi Okorafor.

    Salinger and Kerouac
    The autobiographical fiction of Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger helped define a certain attitude of modern literature. The noted literary historian Daniel S. Burt suggests that "no other American novel written during the second half of the 20th century, with the possible exception of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, is so heavily freighted with a cult or cultural significance as Kerouac's revered, reviled, and all too often misunderstood On the Road." We examine these two writers from the perspective of their lesser known but equally impressive works. Texts include Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, An Introduction, and Kerouac's The Dharma Burns and Big Sur. 

    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare I
    This course is not just an introduction to Shakespeare. It's an introduction to the state of Shakespeare studies in the early 21st century. We'll look at the way actors, directors, and scholars work with Shakespeare's text today. There are several trends in Shakespeare study that are exciting and new. We'll try to take them into account as we do scholarly and theatrical work with Shakespeare's plays. During the course, we'll read original texts of four plays closely, and we'll use them to talk about different approaches to Shakespeare. We'll study and use the late-16th and early-17th century rehearsal and performance techniques that would have been used by Shakespeare's own company, the King's Men. We'll do a teaching project in which you will develop and teach a lesson for younger students. You'll learn how to do academic Shakespeare scholarship by researching and writing a paper. Throughout the course, you'll develop and use skills of reading, writing, rehearsing, and acting. Students will be graded on their participation and for the various papers and projects in the course. Different grading rubrics will be used for each project.
  • English VI: Topics in Literature and Criticism 2


    English Elective for Grade 12

    This course is the culmination of a student's progress in critical reading and in the development of a mature writing style. Students choose two single-semester electives designed to delve deeply into a particular theme, author, or genre. All of the courses demand extensive reading, discussion, and writing.

    Creative Writing: Contemporary Short Fiction
    This is a course aimed at promoting the enjoyment and appreciation of contemporary short fiction. Students are expected to make informed literary responses to the readings - a skill central to every course in the English department - and to try their hands at the craft of writing the short story. This is not going to be a survey course, but instead concentrates on the works of some of the best known, and some lesser-known, writers working in the English language today. Though most of the artists are not those recognized as part of the more traditional academic canon, they invite rich academic study. The student understands how individual stories work, and how authors use the formal resources of narrative. The second aim of the course is to incite and nourish literary enthusiasms beyond the course's scope. The student also develops the ability to analyze texts within their social, political and cultural context. We also look at a few writers who are quite dead physically, but very much alive artistically. 

    Creative Nonfiction
    Creative nonfiction is synonymous with memoir or autobiography. The conversation, however, has become one not necessarily about who a person is and what his or her experiences are, but how he or she tells the story. Inevitably, it often ends with a reader wondering, "How true is this?" We begin with Stephen King's On Writing before moving into Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, Tara Westover's Educated and David Small's Stitches. Students will both read and write a great deal of creative nonfiction essays and must be open to whole class essay workshops. Each student will write a short memoir.

    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare II
    Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare II is a continuation of Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare I. It may be taken independently or as the second half of a yearlong course. Shakespeare II will look at the ways in which Shakespeare study and performance continues to evolve in the 21st century. We'll read plays in class and act out scenes according to the original rehearsal and staging practices of Shakespeare's day. This course will pay special attention to Shakespeare education. To that end, we'll read Ralph Alan Cohen's text Shakesfear and How to Cure It. This book is a contemporary guide to Shakespeare education by the director of the American Shakespeare Center. We'll also use the ASC method of reading and interpreting plays for staged performance. Throughout the course, you'll devleop and use skills of reading, writing, rehearsing, and acting. Students will be graded on their participation and for the various papers and projects in the course. Different grading rubrics will be used for each project. 

    Literary Monsters
    In this course, we will address our obsession with horror. We will consider some of the monsters of poetry, short fiction, novels, illustration, and film, addressing the various uses of the literary monster, as well as some of the most popular of our contemporary monsters: vampires and werewolves. We will pay attention to the romance-monster hybrid. We may read Beowulf, Shelley's Frankenstein, Rosetti's Goblin Market, Bram Stoker's Dracula, as wel as work by Anne Sexton and Angela Carter. Our study should bring us to consideration of Stephanie Meyers, Jonathan Stroud, and that now-cult-classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We could even consider Beowulf with the new reconception, The Mere Wife, a modern retelling from the perspective of Grendel's mother, a veteran of the Iraq War.

    Edward P. Jones and Thomas Pynchon
    Edward P. Jones and Thomas Pynchon represent two of the most distinguished, and enigmatic, writers in modern American culture. The literary critic Jonathan Yardley writes that Jones is "in the first rank of American letters" and "one of the most important writers of his own generation." Yardley describes Pynchon "as a giant, sui generis, of modernist fiction," representing the "new fiction of the new world." The class will explore the short story collections of these two MacArthur Fellows.

    Hey, Big Brother, Watcha Watching? A Course in George Orwell
    This course will give students the opportunity to read deeply in the work of a single, major author: George Orwell. He has had a global impact in the way we think about surveillance, political oppression, and free speech. Although his most famous work is set in 1984, he has never seemed more relevant. From the common adjective "Orwellian" to the terms "thought police" and "wrongthink" to the worldwide hit reality show Big Brother, this author continues to define the terms and frame the manner in which we think about oppression in modern society. Students in the course not only will read Orwell's major novels and essays but also apply them thoughtfully to the debates and conditions of our contemporary world.
  • Foundations of Literature


    For Grade 9

    Foundations is an introductory course in composition and world literature. The program in writing provides a review of paragraph structure and introduces short expository or analytical essays. In literature, readings in poetry and short fiction build critical attitudes and develop awareness of narrative points of view, tone, imagery, symbolism, and irony. Works studied include The Odyssey, The Old Testament, and Julius Caesar.

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Nichols School is a nationally recognized college preparatory coed independent school with a 128-year history.