HS English A

Thursday, March 9

Have a wonderful spring break! There is no written homework, but you should be thinking about your research paper topic. Come to class on March 23 prepared to talk about it!

Thursday, March 2

Click here to watch Ziauddin Yousafzai’s TED Talk.

Please be in touch with me this week if you need help with your Foundation Project!


Finish your Foundation Project and share it with me by Wednesday night. I look forward to seeing what all of you come up with!

Also, if you are behind on response questions for I Am Malala, you must finish them this week. I won’t except late homework after spring break.

Thursday, February 23

It’s time to finish reading I Am Malala and start putting real thought into your Foundation Project. Remember what I said in class:

  • Be specific with your mission and cause. If you want to combat homelessness in Knox County, you’ll have to do some research to figure out what the homeless situation in Knox County currently is. What exactly do you want to do for this group of people? Give them food? Offer counseling? Help them find jobs? “Helping the Homeless” is too vague, so be sure you’re specific about what your goals are.
  • Consider your audience. Is your foundation designed for folks at Thursday Connection? Knox County? East Tennessee? The United States? The world? For our purposes, think smaller rather than larger. It will be easier for you to devise a plan when you don’t have to consider the whole world.
  • Is your foundation geared towards Education? Action? Both? You’ll need to decide what your foundation does, not just how it exists. If your foundation is primarily about educating a population about your cause, then design a plan for how your message gets around to the masses. If your foundation is primarily about DOING something, an actionable effort, then you’ll need to figure out what type of events you’ll hold, or what services you’ll provide.

Be in touch if you have questions!


Finish reading I Am Malala. Then, answer the following questions in your same Google Doc. (If you are behind, please catch up before Spring Break.) Submit your homework by Wednesday night.

  1. Explain some of the incidents that caused Malala to think her country was “going crazy” (in Ch. 17).
  2. Explain how Malala’s visit to Jinnah’s mausoleum further stirred her political ambitions? What were her main concerns?
  3. What do you learn about Malala’s belief in God in Ch. 20? Was she as devout as her mother, Tor Pekai? Why or why not?
  4. Summarize how Malala’s mother reacted to the shooting and what can be inferred about her.
  5. Explain how Malala sums up her experience and why she was not killed.
  6. Has your chosen issue for the Foundation Project evolved into something else, or something more specific? Tell me where you are in your brainstorming process. 
  7. Reflection: Describe a person who’s played an important role in your life so far and shaped you to be the person you are today. Share examples of how this person has influenced you, whether he/she knows it or not. 

Also, come to class next week prepared to answer the following questions: What did you notice in the reading? What stuck out to you? What did you find interesting about Malala’s experience? I’d like everyone to participate in the class discussion.

Thursday, February 16

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation today. I may call on some of you (the quieter ones) next week, so make sure you’re reading the text with comprehension AND reflection. Zero in on the things that interest or bewilder you. Malala has lived a very different experience than the rest of us, but this is why storytelling is important. This is how we learn from one another.

Be thinking about which social issue you want to focus on for your Foundation Project! Remember, your presentation won’t be shared with the rest of the class, so no need to worry about peer pressure or what someone might think. I’m a safe audience, so as long as you don’t advocate harming animals, we’re good 🙂


Read Part Two of the memoir. Then, answer the following questions substantively in your same Google Doc as last week.

  1. In Ch. 9,  Malala brings up an important problem: “Mullahs often misinterpret the Quran and Hadith when they teach them in our country, as few people understand the original Arabic. Fazlullah exploited this ignorance.” What parallels from world history can be drawn with this statement and the Taliban’s ability to “seduce” people to their way of thinking? (Consider the Reformation, slavery in the United States, WWII, etc.)
  2. What hope did Benazir Bhutto bring to the country, and how was that hope quickly diminished?
  3. How did Malala’s beliefs give her courage to speak out for peace in her country? Why do you think her father allowed her to be interviewed and speak out about such controversial topics?
  4. Why is Ch. 14 called “A Funny Kind of Peace”? What hopes did many people have that did not come into fruition?
  5. How was Malala’s 12th birthday symbolic of the times?
  6. What social issue(s) are you considering for your Foundation Project?
  7. Reflection: Tell me about your belief system. What drives you and motivates you? Have these beliefs ever failed you? Have they helped you succeed? What are the most important beliefs you hold and why? 

Thursday, February 9

I hope you all took notes today because you’ll see a lot of those words and terms about genre on the semester test.

If you want to know more about the after-effects of us pulling out of Afghanistan, thereby giving room for the Taliban to retake control of the region, click here. Like I said in class, even though this memoir is ten years old, it’s become relevant again because the Taliban is back in control.


Read Part One of I Am Malala. Don’t rush through it. The narrative is easy to read but sometimes it can feel heavy with details. Don’t resist engaging with the text. The goal here is to connect with a young person who is living (or already lived) a totally different experience that you.

When you’re finished, answer the following questions substantively in a new Google Doc and share it with me by Wednesday evening.

  1. Explain at least three examples of how Malala’s father broke from tradition before and after she was born.
  2. It is important to note that Malala’s early references to Pashtunwali explain a cultural code of ethics that is separate from the actual religion of Islam, even though both had tremendous influence in her formative years. She explains near the end of the chapter that “like all Swati’s I thought of myself first as Swati and then Pashtun, before Pakistani.” Explain the difference in the three terms and why she may have placed them in this order of importance.
  3. Explain how and why Malala’s father eventually rejected jihad or what became known as “militant Islam”.
  4.  In Ch. 4, Malala begins to question some of the Pashtuni code, particularly the treatment of women. List some examples that bothered her.
  5. Even though Malala’s mother had not continued her own education, in what ways did she help further her husband’s dream of their school and the cause of education?
  6. How did Americans seem to make matters worse in this time of political and religious unrest in Pakistan?
  7. Why did Part I begin with the quote “Rather I receive your bullet-riddled body with honor—Than news of your cowardice on the battlefield”? What was the real battlefield described in this section? How did Malala and her family show their honor?

Thursday, February 2

I hope acting out the play helped you engage with the Shakespeare’s work in addition to reading the text. Thanks to everyone who played a role!

There is NO HOMEWORK this week. Enjoy this reprieve. Be sure to get a copy of I Am Malala by next week. We’ll start next week’s class by discussing the main themes in Julius Caesar, and then we’ll get into Malala’s memoir.

Thursday, January 26

Great job today, everyone! We will pick up our play on pg. 139 when we return next week. I hope we can finish Julius Caesar next week, but I guess we’ll just play it by ear.

Once again, pay attention to the themes in this play. I will ask you about this stuff on the semester test.


Finish reading Julius Caesar, then take the reading quiz (click here).

Don’t forget your Shakespeare books next week! Also, please get a copy of I Am Malala (NOT the Young Reader’s Edition). We’ll start reading it after Julius Caesar.

Thursday, January 19

Great job acting today, everyone! Please remember to bring your books again next week so we can finish Act II and get started with Act III. We’ll pick up with Portia at the start of class.

AS YOU READ, look for lines of dialogue that align with the main themes of the play:

  • Manhood and Honor
  • Logic and Language
  • Politics and Morality
  • Fate/Free Will

*You will be asked about this stuff on the semester test.*


Read Acts III and IV for homework. Then, click here to take the reading quiz. (If you haven’t taken last week’s quiz yet, please do so!)

CLICK HERE to see what roles you’ll be playing in Acts III, IV, and V. Please print these pages and bring them with you to class with your book so you can keep track.

Thursday, January 12

Welcome to the spring semester! If you missed class today, click here for the syllabus.

We’re starting the semester with Shakespeare, so if you were absent, make sure you get notes from a friend. We walked about how and why Shakespeare was born at the right place and at the right time. You’ll see this on the semester test.


Read Acts I and II in No Fear Shakespeare Julius Caesar. When you’re finished, click here to take a reading quiz.

Come to class next week WITH YOUR BOOK so we can perform the first two acts. Below are the roles I’ve assigned. Some of you have more than one role, but that’s likely because they are smaller roles so it’s easy to manage. If you aren’t happy with your character, feel free to change it with someone!

Act I, Scene I
Flavius: Mattie
Carpenter: Eli
Murellus: Layton
Cobbler: Jack

Act I, Scene II
Caesar: Nicholas
Casca: Layton
Calphurnia: Ella
Antony: Elijah
Soothsayer: Jennie Miller
Brutus: Sarah
Cassius: Mattie

Act I, Scene III
Cicero: Leo
Casca: Layton
Cassius: Mattie
Cinna: Jack

Act II, Scene I
Brutus: Sarah
Lucius: Elijah
Cassius: Mattie
Casca: Layton
Decius: Eli
Cinna: Jack
Metellus: Matthew
Trebonius: Leo
Portia: Addie
Ligarious: Jennie Miller

Act II, Scene II
Caesar: Nicholas
Servant: Jennie Miller
Calphurnia: Ella
Decius: Eli
Publius: Jennie Miller
Brutus: Sarah
Ligarious: Jennie Miller
Metellus: Matthew
Casca: Layton
Trebonius: Leo
Cinna: Jack

Act II, Scene III
Artemidorus: Jennie Miller

Act II, Scene IV
Portia: Addie
Lucius: Elijah
Soothsayer: Jennie Miller

Thursday, December 15

Enjoy your winter break! I’ll grade everything and email you/your parents with semester grades sometime next week.

If you have any outstanding work, tomorrow (Friday) is the last day I’ll accept it. 🙂

Thursday, December 8

These essay questions are half of your semester test grade. Please follow MLA format and write in complete sentences. Run a spellcheck too! You may use your notes and the novels, but please refrain from using the internet.

Copy/paste the following questions into a new Google Document, answer the questions thoroughly and substantively, and bring your printed documents to class next Thursday. Come to class prepared to take the second part of your semester test. Make sure your notes are in order!

  1. Shirley Jackson used symbolism to present ideas in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. What did food and the moon symbolize in the novel? How did Jackson reveal characteristics about Constance and Merricat through food and the moon?  
  2. Give two reasons why Frankenstein is still relevant today. Use examples both from the book and from today’s society/culture to support your argument. 
  3. Guy Montag undergoes a character transformation in Fahrenheit 451. Compare the protagonist from the beginning of the book to the character Montag becomes at the close of the novel. Use specific instances from the text to support your argument. 
  4. Select three different ghosts from The Great Divorce, explain what their personal struggle is, and show how it kept them separated from The Valley of the Shadow of Life.

Thursday, December 1

It’s time to read your last book of the semester. The Great Divorce may be challenging for some of you, but that might be because of the limited descriptions and the quick pace. Don’t rush with this book. Take notes on the ghosts so you can keep them straight. I don’t want you to miss what each one struggles with.


Read The Great Divorce. Then, start a new Google Document and answer the following questions substantively by Wednesday night.

  1. The concept of hell always brings to mind images of fire, torture, and physical pain, but Lewis chose instead to craft The Grey Town as desolate, full of grouchy, aggravated people who are either fighting with one another or stowed way in isolation. Do you think this is effective? Why or why not?
  2. What is the Poet’s main flaw? Share a passage from the text that best describes him. (Ch.1-2)
  3. Why do you think there is confusion and frustration among the passengers when they settle by the river? The Driver explains they are under no obligation to return to The Grey Town – essentially telling them they have free will – but this isn’t a comfort. It’s another aggravation. Why? (Ch. 3)
  4. What is your interpretation of who the Spirits are? What is their purpose? (Ch. 3)
  5. In Ch. 5, Lewis spotlights the debate of heaven and hell as two separate places or states of being, as opposed to William Blake’s argument in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that they are “two sides of the same coin.”  We learn that the fat man/ghost used to be a bishop (clergy), and yet he wound up in The Grey Town. What’s your understanding of the conversation between Dick and the fat man/ghost?
  6. What effect did the Hard-Bitten Ghost have on the Narrator? (Ch. 8)
  7. George MacDonald was a famous Scottish writer whom C.S. Lewis admired. Why do you think Lewis chose to include a real person into a work of fiction and use him as the Narrator’s guide? (Ch. 9)
  8. Ch. 11 is a heartbreaking picture of a grieving mother named Pam. All she wants is to be reunited with her deceased son, Michael. What are your thoughts on the exchange between Pam and Reginald? What do you think Lewis is trying to say here?
  9. The chessboard is the ultimate symbol of the entire book. Do your best to describe what Lewis is trying to teach us. (Ch. 14)
  10. What are your final thoughts about The Great Divorce?

Thursday, November 18

Today we talked about some things y’all need to work on related to your rough drafts. SOME of you are in great shape, but some of you need to hunker down and rework your response essay.

That being said, it can wait until the week after Thanksgiving (unless you wanted to get it over with). You are also welcome to start reading The Great Divorce by CS Lewis if you know reading the whole book in a week will be challenging for you.

When we return on Dec. 1, please bring a printed copy of your final response essay! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10

It’s time to write your final essay of the semester. While it may seem like it’s going to be an easy one to write, you might find it more challenging once you get started. If you want to sketch an outline for me to look at before you start on your rough draft, go for it. I’m happy to help you in the process.

Also, if there’s a quote you want to write about that isn’t listed on the handout, check with me before you get started.


Read through the handout I gave you in class thoroughly before getting started. Remember – you’re not writing a sermon. You are not writing a persuasive essay designed to convince me of something. Instead, you are looking in the mirror, just like Granger suggested.

Write the rough draft (your best effort) of your Response Essay and share it with my by Tuesday evening.

Thursday, November 3

Today we talked about Part Two of F451 and started analyzing the main characters with terminology related to characterization (dynamic vs. static, round vs. flat). As you finish the novel this week, consider how the main characters have changed or not changed from the start. I promise you this is something you’ll see on the final test.


Read Part Three of Fahrenheit 451. In addition to analyzing the characters, consider what you believe about any of the themes/ideas explored in this novel. You’ll be writing a Response Essay next week, so it will be helpful to have some emerging personal points of view jotted down somewhere.

  1. Bradbury uses television and radio to turn citizens into a mob as Guy becomes a fugitive. Though not present in the book, we know our current media (traditional and social) can have this effect. The world is literally capable of watching big events unfold – for good or for bad. What are your thoughts on all of this access? Also, have you ever watched a major event unfold on television or through social media?
  2. Explain your understanding of Capt. Beatty’s role in the book and the meaning behind his eventual fall from power.
  3. Guy runs into men who are trying to preserve knowledge by memorizing works (as it was too dangerous to keep actual books). If you were responsible to preserve knowledge, what areas of information would you endeavor to keep? Why? 
  4. Why is a phoenix an effective symbol in Fahrenheit 451
  5. Why does Granger say that the first thing they should do is build a mirror factory? 
  6. What are your overall thoughts on Fahrenheit 451

Thursday, October 27

I’m glad so many of you are having strong feelings about Fahrenheit 451. That’s the point! It’s why you’ll be writing a Response Essay in a few weeks. This book begs a reaction.

As you read Part Two, jot down reactions you have. Engage with your own feelings and opinions. This mental exercise will help you when it’s time to write your essay.


Read Part Two. Then answer the following questions substantively on your Google Document by Wednesday night. Please read the questions fully and pay attention to when I’m asking you multiple things at once.

  1. Montag’s frame of mind is dizzying at the start of Part Two. Summarize what happens (and what is learned) between Montag sitting in the hallway listening to the rain and showing up on Faber’s doorstep. 
  2. Montag reached a breakthrough when he said, “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought the books might help.” What are your thoughts on the differences between physical and spiritual needs? What has Montag begun to realize?
  3. What’s your interpretation of Faber’s words: “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”
  4. Faber says that three things are missing from people’s lives: 1) quality information, 2) leisure time, and 3) the freedom to act on things they learn from the quality information and the time they have to consider those things. Even with these revelations, Faber is reluctant to act. Consider his hesitation. Put yourself in his position and weigh the risks. Argue both sides – to act or not to act.
  5. What’s happening in Montag’s house when he returns home from meeting Faber? Summarize what Mildred and her friends talk about? How does Montag react? 
  6. Part Two ends with the firemen responding to a call to Montag’s house. Capt. Beatty makes sure Montag is on that run. (“You’ll be fine. This is a special case. Come on, jump for it!”) Do you think Capt. Beatty set him up? Why or why not? 

Monday, October 17

I will be out of town on Thursday, but everything you need for English is posted here.

You’re starting Fahrenheit 451 this week, which is a wonderful dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953. Before you get started, listen to the audio lecture linked below and take a few notes on the following terms:

  • Science Fiction (as a genre)
  • Fantasy (as a genre)
  • Speculative Fiction
  • Dystopian vs. Apocalyptic Fiction


Click here to listen to a short audio lecture. Then, read Part One in Fahrenheit 451.

Pay attention to the technology Ray Bradbury designs in this work, along with how the characters interact with it. Take notice of the things that start to shift Guy Montag’s point of view. We move very quickly from “It was a pleasure to burn” to his disillusionment. When you’re finished reading, answer the following questions substantively in a new Google Document by Wednesday, October 26 (take notice when I’m asking you multiple questions at once):

  1. Bradbury opens the novel with a quote from Juan Ramón Jiménez: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” Why do you think Bradbury selected this statement, and what does it mean?
  2. Writers of speculative fiction like to play with the question “What if?” as a way to propose a potential future and how humans might respond to it. In Fahrenheit 451, censorship is a primary theme. Imagine a world where all books of any substance were banned. How would that make you feel? Do you see anything in our current culture that concerns you when it comes to censorship? 
  3. Clarisse is a girl unlike anyone Guy has encountered before. What do you think Clarisse’s presence represents in this story? What do you consider some of her more powerful quotes to Montag, the words that start to shift his brain? 
  4. Guy and the firemen try to arrest a woman who refuses to stop reading and surrender her books. In defiance, she martyrs herself, lighting herself and the house on fire. This is a jarring image, but it speaks to the lengths people will go for something they believe in. Consider what it means to be a martyr. What qualities and characteristics must one have to fully surrender to one’s beliefs, even if it results in death?
  5. Captain Beatty says: “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.” What’s your interpretation of this quote? How does it make you feel? 
  6. How does the technology within the novel compare to our current technology? Does technology improve the quality of life for Montag and his wife, Mildred? Why or why not?

Lastly, if you haven’t already, click here to vote on your favorite yearbook cover!

Thursday, October 6

There is no homework over fall break unless you choose to keep editing your essay on Frankenstein. Be sure to get a copy of Fahrenheit 451 soon!

Don’t forget – I’ll be absent on Thursday, October 20. If you are on campus during class, you must be in the Chapel. I’ll post everything you need for class that week by Tuesday, October 18.

Thursday, September 29

We’ve talked extensively about the major themes of Frankenstein, but we haven’t formally discussed how they are all interdependent on each other. For example, the rejection and alienation the Monster experiences is because of the overwhelming prejudice he endures. Victor’s blind ambition, fueled by his pride in self-isolation, creates fallibility (the tendency to make mistakes or be wrong). The Monster longed to have a family/community, which is part of our human nature, but when this is denied him, the alienation and threat of perpetual loneliness spurs him toward revenge, which is also a part of our human nature. Victor feels the pain of losing family, but he fails to see the importance of having family when he abandons his own creation and then denies that creation a family of his own kind. Heck, he doesn’t even give the Creature a name.

Do you see what I’m doing here? These themes connect and overlap, and it’s your job now consider what you choose two themes (or three, if you must) and show how they speak to the overall story. If you need to view this as a cause-and-effect paper, go for it. You might focus on Victor more than the Monster, or the Monster more than Victor, depending on the themes you choose.

Resist the urge to write about ALL THE THINGS. It is tempting to want to include as much information as possible, but that will result in an unnecessarily long and convoluted essay. The challenge here is to whittle down your ideas to the most pivotal and crucial details that prove your claims.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep to the third person point-of-view. Nowhere in this essay should you include personal opinions or references to yourself.
  • Include the book title and author’s name in the introduction
  • Avoid summarizing the entire plot. Instead, a one- or two-sentence summary is sufficient enough to give context to your essay.
  • Cite scenes or dialogue from the book to support your claims. There are some GREAT quotes in this novel. You have plenty to choose from.
  • MLA format: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, Works Cited page, etc…
  • Aim for 800-1200 words
  • Read your work OUT LOUD before sending it to me. Your ears will catch the mistakes that your eyes overlook.
  • Before getting started, it might be helpful to draft a short outline, even if it’s just on notebook paper, to help organize your thoughts. Be in touch if you need help.


Write the rough draft of your essay and share it via Google Docs by Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. I hope to read through them before class on Thursday morning, so if you finish it sooner than that, great! Make sure I have editing capabilities on the document.

If you are behind on response questions, please catch up on them this week. Also, if you haven’t brought me your final Character Analysis, bring it Thursday!

Thursday, September 22

It’s time to finish Frankenstein and bring the story full circle. We’ll finally learn how Victor and his Creature end up in the North Pole and running into Robert Walton.

One big reminder: Some of you are answering the response questions thoroughly and with reflection. Some of you are doing the most minimal work possible. The credit you earn will reflect your effort! If you aren’t getting full credit, your answers are too short.

If you are behind in your homework, please catch up this week.


Finish Frankenstein. Continue to look for how scenes and plot points fit into our themes. Answer the following questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday night:

1. Victor agrees to make a companion for the monster and retreats to isolation and secret-keeping to accomplish it. Why do you think Victor failed to see the signs that it wouldn’t go smoothly?

2. Stricken with grief and despair, Victor vows revenge on the monster and tracks him northward to the Arctic. Why do you think Mary Shelley selected this setting for this part of the story? 

3. In both your own words and poignant passages/scenes from the final chapter, compare and contrast Victor (as a character) from the beginning of the book and the end.

4. Now examine how the Monster changed in the last section of the book.

5. Did you enjoy Frankenstein? Why or why not? Is it what you expected? Don’t be vague. Tell me what you learned. 

Come to class prepared to answer the question of why Frankenstein is still relevant today. Also, if there’s time, you’ll start outlining your theme paper. You are welcome to get a head start on your outline and bring it to class.

Thursday, September 15

I hope you are taking notes on all the themes we discussed today. This will help your future self when it’s time to write the rough draft of your Frankenstein paper. Ultimately, you will decide which two or three themes are the most important in this novel, so these notes will help you sort out your thoughts and make citing scenes easier.

The romantic writing style may be off-putting to you, but muscle through! Focus on the plot details so you don’t miss important turning points. If you need to listen to the audiobook or look up summaries, that’s completely fine, but you’ll still need to be familiar with the novel so you can cite scenes in your next paper.


Read Volume II of Frankenstein. (If your book isn’t laid out in three volumes, then you’ll read Chapters 9-17.) Take notes on the themes: Ambition and Fallibility, Alone: Rejection, Isolation, and Alienation, Prejudice, Family (importance of/loss of), and Nature (Laws of Nature, Human Nature). Come to class prepared to contribute to our ongoing lists.

Then, answer the following questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday night.

1. Victor feels led to seek revenge on the monster for the deaths of William and Justine and tries to appease his troubled mind by retreating to nature, a classic example of romanticism. Have you ever used nature to appease your mind and heart? Did it work for you, or can you see why it might work for some?

2. When Victor sees and interacts with the Monster in the French Alps (Chamonix), a parallel is drawn between the creator and the created. Look closely at the way they talk to each other and consider this interaction as a parent/child relationship. What responsibility does Victor have to the monster when paralleled with God’s responsibilities to Adam? (Chapter II/10)

3. Chapter III/11 begins the creature’s tale in his own words. Based on his experiences and maturation, as well as his interactions with the De Lacey family, has your view on the monster changed? How? Give examples of the things that stand out to you as crucial to the monster’s side of the story.

4. Road-map the path the monster took from an innocent “child” to a vengeful murderer? Summarize his character’s progression as you understand it.

5. Chapter VIII/17 ends with the monster making a final request of Victor. What does he want, and why do you think he wants it?

Thursday, September 8

I hope going over the rough drafts is helpful to you. The writing process can be tedious, but hopefully this year will result in each of you becoming better, stronger writers. Please be in touch if you need help editing your work this week. Remember what I said in class – prioritize reading Frankenstein. If you need more time editing your paper, take the time, but read Frankenstein first.

Today I went through Mary Shelley’s complicated family history, which I will not ask you to redraw on a semester test. There are too many Williams and Marys and children out of wedlock to keep track of. However, do retain in your memory how pivotal William Godwin’s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s commitment to writing and education was for their daughter Mary. She had a natural gift, and William nurtured that gift. This was a big deal in 18th Century England. Even though Mary Wollstonecraft died after giving birth to Mary, her contribution to the Suffrage Movement (from her work A Vindication of the Rights of Women) cannot go unnoticed. Also, let’s give credit to Percy Shelley, Mary’s husband, for encouraging her to turn her short story about the “hallowed arts” into a full novel that continues to be printed 200 years later. (If you’re intrigued, do some research about The Year Without a Summer – 1816 – when that Indonesian volcano caused havoc for the Northern Hemisphere. This was the summer Mary wrote her initial short story.)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written and published during the era of Romanticism, a somewhat brief time when people were tired of the logic and reason of the Enlightenment and preferred instead to embrace the softer, philosophical side of human nature. Romanticism does not mean love stories. Instead, Romanticism focused on the journey of life, exploration, following one’s whims, taking time to smell the roses, if you will. In fact, you’ll encounter long paragraphs of imagery in Frankenstein, when a character is enjoying the outdoors and Mary Shelley takes a lot of time to describe it. These may be the paragraphs where your eyes start to glaze over. Just keep reading! Hang in there!

Don’t forget – if reading Frankenstein becomes too tedious for you, download Dan Stevens’ narration on Audible and let him read the book to you. He does a wonderful job.


Finish editing your Character Analysis and bring it to class on Friday to turn in. Be sure you’ve included a Works Cited page.

Read Volume I of Frankenstein (the letters plus the first eight chapters). Remember, this story begins with an epistolary feature, letters from explorer Robert Walton to his sister. As the letters unfold, you realize that Victor Frankenstein has been adrift at sea and they’ve picked him up. He then tells his tale to Robert (and us) as a warning. (A story within a story is called a frame story.)

As you read Volume I, keep a notebook nearby and jot down scenes or plot points that correspond with the themes found in the novel. Bring these notes with you to class next week and be prepared to talk about them.

Prominent Themes:

  • Ambition and Fallibility
  • Rejection, Isolation, and Alienation
  • Prejudice 
  • Family (importance of/loss of)
  • Nature (human nature, laws of nature, etc)

Finally, start a new Google Document and answer the following questions substantively. Share your document with me by Wednesday night.

  1. Describe Robert Walton. What qualities does he possess? What is he searching for, both personally and professionally? 
  2. The first four chapters map out Victor’s journey from birth to the creation of the monster. Tell me three pivotal things that happened to him that pushed him towards his goal of making a new creation, along with why you think they are pivotal.
  3. In Chapter 3, Victor decides to study at Ingolstadt, and while there he takes chemistry class from M. Waldman, who inspires Victor to explore the “deepest mysteries of creation.” What do you consider to be the difference between determination and blind ambition? Are the two connected or mutually exclusive?
  4. Victor spends a lot of time alone studying and working on his creation. What happens in extreme isolation? Good things, bad things, both? Give examples from the text and/or your own experiences to support your ideas.
  5. A prominent element of gothic fiction is decay, which is why cemeteries are a common setting in the genre. Victor uses unearthed body parts to piece together his creation, so when the body comes to life, it becomes its own paradox. Compare and contrast Victor’s state of mind while developing his creation and his subsequent reaction with the creation comes to life. Give examples to support your ideas.
  6. Victor’s brother, William, is murdered, and a family friend, Justine, is accused of the crime. Victor knows who committed the murder but has made an inner vow to keep the monster a secret. How does Victor’s secret-keeping fit into the book’s gothic elements?

Thursday, September 1

It’s time to take all the info you’ve gathered about one character in We Have Always Lived in the Castle and draft an expository paper that makes at least three strong claims about him or her. At its core, a Character Analysis examines an author’s characterization (direct and indirect) to discern what is most important to know about a particular character. Your task is to look at Merricat, Constance, Cousin Charles, or Uncle Julian and decide what is most important to know about them. What are their individual roles in the novel? What words best describe them? And finally, what evidence can you provide from the novel to support what you’re claiming?


Write the rough draft of your Character Analysis and submit it via Google Docs before you go to bed on Tuesday night. I will read your drafts on Wednesday so we can talk about them on Thursday. Of course, if you need more time, just let me know.

A few tips:

  • Aim for 750-1000 words.
  • Keep to the third person. Do not reference yourself (I, we, us, etc.) Avoid giving your opinion on the characters or novel as a whole.
  • Elevate your language. Choose the words to mean to say. Keep a thesaurus handy, if that helps. Avoid filler words (very, really, quite…) and vague words (weird, strange, unusual…)
  • Keep to MLA format (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, one-inch margins, Works Cite page…)
  • Cite scenes and dialogue to support your claims. Use the handout I gave you as a reference.
  • Follow the basic format for an expository essay: Introduction, 3-5 body paragraphs, and a Conclusion.
  • Run a spell check before you submit your work. If there are squiggly lines underneath a word or phrase, that’s your computer trying to tell you something isn’t right.
  • Finally, READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD before you submit it to me. The ear catches what the eye misses.

Thursday, August 25

It’s time to finish We Have Always Lived in the Castle (if you haven’t already) and zero in on who you want to write about in your Character Analysis. Hopefully our conversation today helped you sort that out.

If you have no familiarity with MLA format, drafting outlines, writing papers, etc., please reach out to me this week if you need help. The outline is the skeleton of your future paper, so nothing is set in stone yet. Outlining helps to organize ideas and sort out the flow of ideas before drafting a full paper. It is totally fine if your outline starts one way and goes another in the end. The prewriting process is full of tangents and revisions, so don’t be hard on yourself this week.


Finish We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Open up your Google Doc from last week, copy/paste the following response questions into the document, and answer them substantively.

When you’re finished, draft an outline of your Character Analysis. Be as specific as you’re able. Follow the format we talked about in class. (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, one-inch margins, etc.) I’ve also drafted a faux outline if you need to see what one looks like – click here to view it.

Remember, your thesis statement, which comes at the end of the introduction, should encompass the main arguments you’re making about a particular character. Share your outline with me via email AND print a copy to bring to class next Thursday.

Response Questions:

1. In Chapter 6 (Page 77 in my book), Charles finds Mr. Blackwood’s gold watch nailed to a tree. In your own words, describe each character’s reaction to this discovery.

2. Constance admits to Merricat that she “let Uncle Julian spend all his time living in the past and particularly re-living that one dreadful day. I have let you run wild; how long has it been since you brushed your hair?” (pg. 79 in my book) To which Merricat narrates: I could not allow myself to be angry, and particularly angry at Constance, but I wished Charles dead. Constance needed guarding more than ever before and if I became angry and looked aside she might very well be lost. What is your interpretation of this exchange? What does Merricat mean by “lost,” and why do you think Constance blames herself for Uncle Julian’s and Merricat’s behavior?

3. How does Charles’ presence and behavior in the house shift the mood? Compare and contrast the atmosphere before he showed up and after. 

4. What does Merricat’s fantasy conversation at the end of Chapter 7 tell you about her as a character?

5. On Page 105/106 (in my book), Fire Chief Jim Donell helped put out the fire on the Blackwood’s second floor. He is also the first one who picked up a rock and threw it at the house. What is your understanding of this juxtaposed scenario? 

6. Merricat’s obsession with living on the moon comes full circle in Chapter 9. Why do you think she says to Constance, “We are on the moon at last.” What does she mean?

7. Why do you think Merricat sets rules for herself? Why do you think Constance allows her to? 

8. Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not? (You won’t hurt my feelings if you didn’t like it. I appreciate honesty!) 

Thursday, August 18

It was good to meet all of you today. Some of you are new faces to me, so be patient as I learn your names and personalities. Be sure you explore the pages under the Housekeeping tab, particularly if you have no experience with MLA format or sharing Google Documents.

Today we kicked off the semester talking about Shirley Jackson and her 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As you read the book, you’ll quickly see Shirley’s personal input on the plot, particularly her experience with agoraphobia and living in a small town. Remember, it was her 1948 short story “The Lottery” that put Shirley Jackson on the literary map. People quickly knew who she was, and it wasn’t necessarily a positive experience.

Since your first paper is going to be a Character Analysis, take notes on each of the four main characters as you read – Merricat (our narrator), Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles, who shows up in Chapter 4. Perhaps by the end of Chapter 5 you’ll have an idea about who you want to explore in your paper.

Be sure you understand the difference between Theme and Subject. Remember, everything I write on the board is potential test material, and tests are always open notes. I noticed some of you didn’t take notes in class, so I hope you have a good memory. The rule of thumb is to write down everything I put on the board.


Read Ch. 1-5 in Castle. Take notes on the characters – anything that jumps out at you as potentially important. We will flesh out the characters together next week.

Then, copy/paste these response questions into a Google Document and answer them substantively. (Click here to get a better idea about what that means.) Share your Google Doc via email with me no later than Wednesday evening.

1. In the first paragraphs of the book, we learn a lot, particularly that Merricat and her sister Constance live together and the rest of the family is dead (minus Uncle Julian). The Blackwood family has always lived in that home and in that town, so their history is long and sordid. There are clues in the text which give hints to Merricat’s state of mind. What is your initial impression of her? What passages flesh out her character for you? 

2. “She took the groceries carefully from the bags; food of any kind was precious to Constance, and she always touched foodstuffs with quiet respect. I was not allowed to help; I was not allowed to prepare food, nor was I allowed to gather mushrooms, although sometimes I carried vegetables in from the garden, or apples from the old trees.” (Page 20 in my book) Why do you think Merricat wasn’t allowed to prepare food or be a meaningful part of kitchen work? 

3. When Mrs. Wright and Helen Clarke come for tea, Mrs. Wright talks to Uncle Julian about the day of the poisoning, and evidence against Constance is laid bare. (Pages 36-38 in my book) What do you think about Constance’s responses to the women and conversation as a whole? What does her role in the conversation say about her?

4. Food is a symbol of power in the book, particularly since it’s always been curated and prepared by the women in the family. One might argue the women have a “witchy” sense about them. Draw a few parallels between what goes on in the Blackwood’s kitchen and garden and what you know about folklore and witchcraft. (See the first few pages of Chapter 3 as a reference.) 

5. Cousin Charles is introduced in Chapter 4, a surprise arrival. Explain Merricat’s reaction to him and explore potential reasons why she and Constance reacted differently to him. 

6. There is a great deal of suspicion around the origins of the poisoning, but Uncle Julian believes he knows what really happened. Describe Uncle Julian as a character and explain why or why not you think he knows the truth. 


This course will focus on expanding students’ abilities in literary analysis and diversified writing primarily for 9th and 10th grades. We’ll read/discuss classic and contemporary novels and short stories, and students will be expected to write several essays in MLA format.        

Students should have taken at least one writing class beforehand and have a working knowledge of how to construct a basic five-paragraph essay without help. Students must have a Gmail account with Google Drive, as this is how most work will be submitted and graded.   


  • Assigned reading
  • Reading quizzes/response questions                 
  • Academic essays
  • End-of-Semester Tests

Tests are open notes, so your ability to pay attention, take notes, and keep organized is always rewarded. Bring a writing utensil and your notebook to class every week.

Fall Required Reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; The Great Divorce by CS Lewis; MLA Handbook 8th Ed. or access to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Spring Required Reading: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (No Fear Shakespeare); I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai; short stories will be provided

Note: Please do not purchase these works too far in advance. I always like to poll the class to see how many students have read these works previously. If enough have read one of my selections, I’ll swap it out. I’ll ask everyone about the books lists at the beginning of the fall semester.