Curriculum Detail

Explore our Curriculum


The English Department seeks to immerse students in the world of writing, the students’ own as well as that of great literature. As students study works that vary in genre, period, author, and origin, their task remains the same: to learn not only what a work means but also how it means. The achievement of great writing, be it The Odyssey or an essay from the New Yorker, lies in how that particular piece is built. While the overall aesthetic impact of writing is never overlooked, students study the structure and tropes that shape such work. We aim to teach our students how to read closely, thoughtfully, and with open minds. In their own writing, they are encouraged to be cogent, lucid, imaginative, and precise. Ultimately, we hope that the skills they develop here will engender a life-long love of reading and writing that will ensure them an active intellectual life beyond Groton.

LIsted below are numerous English electives as well as the English courses required each year.
  • "Passing" in Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers and taught above the AP level.  This course explores the concept of “passing” – when one hides his or her identity in respect to, for example, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic status. The course will ask such questions as- What does it mean when one lives a life of passing? What are the underlying factors that prevent an individual from showing up as himself or herself? Is passing about coping or about escaping? How do these narratives help us better understand ourselves? What does it take for individuals to be their true selves? Students will explore how identity is shaped, concealed, and revealed.
  • 19th Century American Literature (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course we will explore how American Literature came to life. Our study will begin by reading one of the most respected authors of his time, Washington Irving, best known today for Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. How did he make it possible for others who followed to make their marks as American authors?   We will continue onward, reading short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville; poetry by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman; and essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Our study will consider the issues and questions raised by these writers as they explored a new American consciousness.
  • Breaking Down the Binary: Queer Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. A New York Times article in 1998 posited that “Queer Theory,” a growing academic discourse championed by Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick (among others), was beginning to enter mainstream US literary culture. Since then, queer theory has expanded further into universities, the public domain, and politics, shedding its 19th-century connotation as a derogatory term along the way. Centrally, queer theory prompts us to question the ways in which societies have created and regulated categories of “normal” and “abnormal” in terms of sexuality, identity, and more.  This course will examine both its critical foundations—drawing on some of the writings of Butler, Sedgwick, Michel Foucault, Jack Halberstam, and others—and its transformative role in reading literature and other texts with which we interact regularly. Course readings might include works by Alison Bechdel, Oscar Wilde, Alice Walker, Andrew Sean Greer, Patricia Highsmith, Jeanette Winterson, Audre Lorde, and more, and students can expect 2-3 papers, reading responses, and a presentation.
  • Dictators and Demagogues (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. What is a dictator? What is a demagogue? Why do people follow them so blindly? This course explores ideas about dictators and demagogues by focusing on literature and films that portray such people, as well as by learning about actual dictators in the world today. Texts and films will include Shakespeare’s Richard III, Bertold Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (based on Hitler), a Ken Burns’ documentary on the life of Huey Long, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, among others.
  • Exposition (F)

    Open to Sixth Formers. Expository Writing is a required course that focuses on the personal essay. Students read  a range of published essays and serve as readers and editors of their classmates’ work. Students typically produce four essays, which they revise extensively with the help of their teacher and peers. The course emphasizes the role of revision in the writing process and the deep relationship between good thinking and good writing.
  • Fifth Form English (Y)

    Teachers of this course present thematic and stylistic approaches to literature and encourage the reading, thinking, and discussion appropriate to each. Critical writing is of paramount importance, but students write from personal experience and creatively as well. Writing at this level encourages more sophisticated expression in which students display a keener sense of syntax and structure than in previous years as well as a stronger sense of voice. Most Fifth Form students choose to take Advanced Placement examinations in English Language and/or Literature at the end of the year. All Fifth Form students read Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
  • Fourth Form English (Y)

    In the Fourth Form students move from the study and appreciation of literature in general to an examination of particular genres: short fiction, drama, and poetry. The goal is to provide students with an appropriate vocabulary for discussing and writing about each genre. Writing assignments are divided between the analytical and the personal or creative, with an emphasis on the former. Through opportunities such as performing scenes and reciting poetry, students will gain an appreciation for the spoken word. All Fourth Form students read a Shakespearean tragedy, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.

  • Jane Austen (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. The plan is to read three of her great novels (most likely Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion) and watch an effective film version of one of these texts. Class discussions, presentations, and writing assignments will ask students to examine why these novels continue to fascinate readers, why a film adaptation can (or cannot) do justice to the text, and why these narratives continue to speak to issues that matter to us today. We won’t, I’m afraid, be able to pull off a field trip to her birthplace in England, but we will do all that we can to immerse ourselves in Austen’s extraordinary world of brilliant writing, incisive social commentary, and timeless matters of the heart and mind.
  • Magical Realism (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Despite Isabel Allende’s prediction in 2009 that magical realism was no longer vigente [prevalent], the commercial success of Coco (2017)—with a sequel set for 2022 after the first installment earned close to a billion dollars worldwide—and the popularity of TV shows like Jane the Virgin, Mozart in the Jungle, and others suggest that contemporary audiences are still drawn to the mode’s narrative potential. This course will explore some of the literary and cultural roots of magical realism, in which the quotidian is combined with the fantastical, a narrative alchemy that prompts readers to question reality, identity, and more. We will study novels, poems, art, and movies from Central and South America in an effort to better understand the significance of its “magical” elements, examining the degree to which it reveals a deeper structure that is at once political, revolutionary, and philosophical. Course readings will include Allende’s The House of the Spirits and different stories and excerpts from a range of authors (Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriela Mistral, Mario Vargas Llosa, and diverse others). Students can expect at least 2-3 papers, regular reading responses, and a presentation.
  • Monsters and Monstrosity in Gothic Literature (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will examine the Gothic genre and its various tropes (e.g. removed castles, mental illness, ghosts, abduction, murder, the sublime, the uncanny, and more). We will start with some excerpts of Gothic literature from the 18th and 19th century, then trace its tendrils as it continues to reappear again and again in literature, art, and pop culture. The villains and settings depicted in these various texts can tell us about the fears of the cultures/people we will explore—from being buried alive to fear of the Other—which will open our discussions to topics of race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability/disability. This class will draw on novels, short stories, and poetry from a range of authors, including Horace Walpole, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Richard Wright, David Hoon Kim, H.P. Lovecraft, Florence Marryat, and Tracey Baptiste. We will also look to short comics like Junji Ito’s “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” and television/film clips from series like True Blood, Penny Dreadful, and American Horror Story. In writing assignments that will likely include two to three papers, students will consider how Gothic themes and conventions in literature reflect the people creating and reading it.
  • Native American Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. What is Native American literature? How do we distinguish "authentic" representation from stereotypes? In this course, you will read a number of works by Native American authors, including novels, short fiction, poetry, myths, and non-fiction. You'll read There There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/Arapaho) and poetry by Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), Joy Harjo (Muskogee), and Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O'odham), among others. You'll also read short fiction and non-fiction by authors such as Zitkala-Sa (Yankton Sioux), Vine Deloria (Standing Rock Sioux), and N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa). You'll be introduced to traditional trickster and origin stories, and you'll watch at least one film, Reel Injuns, a documentary that explores the portrayal of Native Americans in movies. The writing for this course will consist of a reader's response journal on a novel, a personal narrative related to one or more of your ancestors, and poems focused on place and identity.
  • Playwriting (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. As an introduction to the art of writing for the stage, this course will encourage students to create their own one act plays while developing an understanding of structure, character and motivation. Students will produce a series of written assignments, each of which will emphasize a particular aspect of the playwright's art, such as developing conflict, believable dialogue, and thematic ideas. The class participates in the Massachusetts Young Playwright's Festival. Particularly successful plays may be produced in the One Act Play Festival. Students may take the course more than once.
  • Poetry Reading and Writing (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. The class will read selections of poems from the past 4000 years from all over the world as students learn to emulate the styles of a broad range of poets and develop their own creative voices on the page. Some poets the class may focus on include Sappho , Li Po, Basho, William Shakespeare, John Keats, Rainier Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost,, Gertrude Stein, E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Okot P’Bitek, Allen Ginsburg, Audre Lorde, Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, and Tracy K. Smith. Students will learn to write ballads, odes, haikus, sonnets, villanelles, and free verse. They will also research the life and poetry of one poet in detail and present that poet and his/her work to the class.
  • Reading Film (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course, we will turn our critical lens to the moving image and “read” and write on a variety of seminal films. We will study the cultural and social impact of film on 20th century thought, learn the specific language of film, read film theory, and examine the filmmaker’s use of literary devices such as symbolism, narrative viewpoint, foreshadowing as they move from the page to the screen. In our study, we will explore the work of influential national and international, as well as classic and contemporary, directors or“auteurs,” such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Vittorio di Sica, Francois Truffaut, Francis Ford Coppola, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Jordan Peele, Alfonso Cuaron, and Bong Joon-Ho amongst others. Assessments will be in the form of papers (shot by shot analysis, critical readings of films); the final assessment will be "Anatomy of a Scene'' from a film of your choice.
  • Resistance and Passing (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers.  This course uses text and film to explore the concept of “passing” – when one hides his or her identity in respect to, for example, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic status. The course will ask such questions as- What does it mean when one lives a life of passing? What are the underlying factors that prevent an individual from showing up as himself or herself? Is passing about coping or about escaping? How do these narratives help us better understand ourselves? What does it take for individuals to be their true selves? Students will explore how identity is shaped, concealed, and revealed.
  • School in Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. School is the setting for the literature and film in this elective—some centered on students, some on teachers. Texts will include a variety of genres: novels and novellas (for example Tobias Wolff's Old School, Muriel Sparks The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), short fiction (such as Ethan Canin's "The Palace Thief," the basis for a film, The Emperor's Club), a Tony Award winning play (Alan Bennett's The History Boys), short non-fiction (Zitkala-Sa's "The School Days of an Indian Girl"), and poems (such as Billy Collins' "The History Teacher"), as well as both documentary and feature films. Although there will be one short essay of analysis, most of the writing will be creative: possibilities include poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, essays, scenes, and short film scripts.
  • Second Form English (Y)

    Second Form English is designed to develop students' reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking skills. Students learn to work collaboratively through class discussions and a variety of group activities. Studying a range of genres, students concentrate on improving their ability to understand plot, character, and main ideas as well as on extending their ability to make inferences and to understand figurative language. All Second Form students read a Shakespearean comedy and To Kill a Mockingbird. Writing assignments range from the imaginative to the analytical, from journal entries to formal papers. Students study grammar formally to provide them with a common language with which to discuss their writing.
  • Southern Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Writers from the American South after the Civil War seem to possess a unique sense of the past that colors their creative genius; consequently, their literature is populated by characters that make indelible impressions in our hearts. In this course we will read the fiction of writers such as Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner and consider the burdens and beauties of this rich literary tradition.
  • The Waste Land (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” is a brooding meditation on the condition of the modern world—a desert that he terms a “waste land” of spiritual desolation and ennui. Woven throughout the poem are allusions to texts that span across time, such as The Tempest, Metamorphoses, Oedipus Rex, Arthurian legend, popular song lyrics, Renaissance artwork, and Hindu prayer. By studying excerpts from these texts, students will explore the way in which Eliot’s intertextuality speaks to the universality of the human condition and question whether the poem leaves room for recovery and hope. The course will culminate in a writing project where students will write their own poem, using Eliot and material from their own lives as sources of inspiration.
  • Third Form English (Y)

    Third Form English strengthens students’ ability to read and write with confidence and precision, as well as to listen carefully and participate respectfully during class discussions. Additionally, students work to craft their own interpretations of the readings. Writing assignments help deepen students’ understanding of the texts and strengthen their analytical skills. Class work consistently stresses clarity of expression and effective organization of ideas. Continuing from their work in the Second Form, students study grammar and mechanics to provide a common vocabulary with which to talk about writing with teachers and peers. By the end of Third Form, students should understand the basic structure of an essay and be increasingly adept at providing evidence to support their thinking. All Third Form students read Oedipus the King, a Shakespearean comedy, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  • Three New England Poets (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course students will have the chance to study the lives and works of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. While their styles and sensibilities differ greatly, these poets each bring to life aspects of New England life, scenery, and attitudes in the poetic worlds they create. This course will not be offered in 2014-15.
  • Women Writing about Women (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers.  This course will consider women's voices in a variety of forms (stories, essays, novels, and poems), the issues these works raise, the roles heroines accept or reject, and the way we as readers respond to the ideas on the page.  The reading list will include writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nora Ephron, and Natasha Tretheway. Writing will take the form of journal responses, analytical essays, and narrative essays.
  • Writing Short Fiction (S)

    Open to Sixth Formers. In a workshop setting, writers in this class read a selection of stories from The Best American Short Stories of the year, study Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft (exercises and recommendations for fiction writers), and evaluate each other’s short stories. Students typically present a piece of short fiction once a week.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Sravani Sen-Das
    Sravani Sen-Das
    English Department Head, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Peter B. Camp Chair in English and the
  • Photo of John Capen
    John Capen
  • Photo of Peter Fry
    Peter Fry
    Dorm Head, Elizabeth R. Peabody Chair
  • Photo of Sabrina Gilchrist
    Sabrina Gilchrist
    English Teacher
  • Photo of Martha Gracey
    Martha Gracey
  • Photo of Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder
    Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder
    Dorm Head
  • Photo of Vuyelwa Maqubela
    Vuyelwa Maqubela
  • Joseph Martinez
  • Photo of Ellen Rennard
    Ellen Rennard