HS English A


October 8

Thanks for working hard on your mid-terms today! If you felt like it was harder than you expected, then please take that into consideration for the remainder of the semester. That may mean you need to pay attention more closely, take better notes, or check in with me if you’re confused. You can expect something similar test-wise in December that covers both Frankenstein and The Great Divorce.

For now, I’ll read through your Response rough drafts and make comments as I go. There is no rush to finalize them over the break, unless you want to. Some of you might want to get it out of the way. If you don’t want to fuss with it, no worries. The final isn’t due until Friday, October 23.

In the meantime, get your hands on a copy of Frankenstein (the 1818 version)!

October 1

We wrapped up Fahrenheit 451, which presents us with the analogy of the phoenix and a beautiful picture of people as walking libraries. I always love a good metaphor.

Now that we’ve finished the book, it’s time to write your second paper of the semester. A Response Essay is an opportunity to communicate your personal point of view related to specific questions, themes, and topics. A Response Essay is not a book summary or a list of reasons why you enjoyed it. Rather, it is an introspective reflection of personal beliefs and values.

First, be sure you understand Bradbury’s point of view regarding the quote you choose. Misunderstanding his point could derail your whole paper. This means you need to show that you understand the meaning of what was written and then respond to that meaning. Reflect on your own experiences, knowledge, and opinions as they relate to the story. Consider the things that unnerved you, upset you, and gave you pause.

If you need to do extra research, then go ahead. BUT – resist the urge to lift someone else’s ideas. Be like Montag and think a new thought. Challenge yourself to consider your own opinions. Be sure to cite all of your sources so I don’t accuse you of plagiarizing.

I am not requiring an outline for this paper, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft one. Some of you would benefit from outlining your thoughts first before starting on the rough draft.


First, click on this quick story about Samsung’s latest Television Technology, The Wall. If you can afford it, you can have a near life-size TV in your house. Mildred would love it! 🙂

Then, choose one of the following quotes and write a Response Essay that reflects your thoughts and opinions. Do not write a full summary of the book. Instead, offer a few sentences (no more than a paragraph) of context to explain where the quote comes from and what was going on in the scene, but then spend the rest of your essay arguing your point of view.

  • Captain Beatty, pg. 55: “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.”
  • Guy Montag, pg. 78: “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 books might help.”
  • Faber, pg. 79: “Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches in the universe together into one garment for us.” 
  • Faber, pg. 99: “They are so confident that they will run on forever. But they won’t run on. They don’t know that this is all one huge big blazing meteor that makes a pretty fire in space, but that someday it’ll have to hit.”
  • Granger, pg. 157: “We’re going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”

Aim for 750 words written in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced. Give your essay a title. And remember – citing scenes means you’ll need a Works Cited.

Share your rough draft by Tuesday night, October 6. If you need more time, let me know. The final won’t be due until after fall break.

If you want to look at the images again from today, here you go:

Finally, make sure your notes are in order for the text next week. You can use notes, but you can’t use your phone or the books.

September 24

Today we discussed Part Two of F-451. I’m glad some of you are enjoying it. I really hope you’re drawing more from this book than futuristic fictional content. Part of the reason why we read speculative fiction, particularly from writers such as Ray Bradbury, is so we can look at our current circumstances and see what’s familiar. Do we recognize anything that connects to this story? Once you start paying attention, it’s hard to look away.

Next Thursday I’ll have a list of quotes from the book. You’ll choose one and respond to it in an essay. The syllabus says you’ll turn in an outline this week, but that’s incorrect. I’m not requiring an outline this time, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do one. Sometimes an outline helps you organize your thoughts before writing them down. I’m happy to look at your outline if you need me to.

The Response Essay will be similar to the last essay – about 750 words, quotes from the book, etc. But this one will be written in the first person since it will reflect your own thoughts. Be thinking about your reaction to this book. If there’s a particular line or quote that resonates with you, let me know. Perhaps you can write your response essay about it. 

Don’t forget: You have a mid-semester test on October 8.


Finish reading Fahrenheit 451 and answer the response questions below in your Google Doc by Wednesday night:

  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? How do you feel knowing everything you do could be recorded?
  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? Would you run the risk of hiding books if you had the ability to?
  4. Why is a phoenix an effective symbol in Fahrenheit 451
  5. Did you enjoy the novel? Why or why not?

Also, if you haven’t finished your Character Analysis, please do so this week.

September 17

I’m glad y’all are enjoying Fahrenheit 451. (Do make sure you are spelling Fahrenheit correctly in your response answers. Some of you need to double-check your work.)

Today we went over Part One, so naturally your job is to read Part Two this week. I will spend the weekend reading and grading your Character Analysis essays. As I explained in class, I’m a bit behind. Thanks for being patient with me.

Your next paper will be a Response to this book, so if something jumps out at you and you want to respond to it in the essay, take notes. You’ll be grateful later.


Read Part Two of F-451 and answer the following questions substantively in the same document you used last week. Finish your work by Wednesday night:

  1. 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?
  2. What’s your interpretation of Faber’s words: “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

September 10

*I’m updating this page on Wednesday, Sept. 9 since I won’t be in class on Thursday, Sept. 10*

The substitute should’ve played you the recorded lecture I used for the online English class. As I said in the lecture, the only real difference between this class and the online class is the deadline for work. So, when I say something is due Sunday for the online class, that means Wednesday for you.

If you need to listen to the lecture again, click here. Be sure to take notes so you’ll have these things handy for the test in a few weeks.

One of the first things I reference on the lecture is a print by Ward Shelley called “The History of Science Fiction”. It’s a stunning illustration that I have hanging on my wall. Please try to zoom in on it and find the books and movies you recognize. Start in the top lefthand corner with “Fear and Wonder” and follow the works as they off-shoot to other titles and ideas.

If you haven’t emailed me your rough draft of the Character Analysis, please do so today.


Read Part One in Fahrenheit 451. Then, start a new Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively:

  1. Writers of speculative fiction like to play with the question “What if?” as a way to propose a potential future. 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? 
  1. Clarisse is a girl unlike anyone Guy has encountered before. With her carefree attitude and keen eye for the little things, she helps shift Guy’s perspective on his life and the world around him. 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? 
  1. 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?
  2. What’s your interpretation of this quote from Captain Beatty? “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.”

Finally, edit your rough draft and resend a final version that includes a Works Cited page. Have everything to me by Wednesday night. If you need an extension, please let me know ahead of time. Late work – without prior notice – gets a lower grade.

September 3

Today we wrapped up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Thank you so much for participating in the conversation. That’s what makes the class so much fun (for me). Like you, I get tired of hearing myself talk, so thank you for raising your own voices.

Now that we’ve fully dissected Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles (and Jonas, to an extent), it’s time for you to put your own thoughts down on paper. Focus on what is crucial and unique to the character you’ve chosen.

Aim for 750 words. Follow MLA format and cite your sources. You must quote scenes from the book to support your claims. Remember to include a Works Cited page at the end. At the very least, you’ll have the novel as a source. If you do any other outside Googling, you’ll need to cite those sources.


Write the rough draft of your Character Analysis and share it with me via Google Docs no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8. If you have questions along the way, please reach out. I’m happy to help.

We’ll start reading Fahrenheit 451 next week, so grab a copy of the book soon.

August 27

Here are the terms I hope you wrote down in your notes, because you’ll likely see them again: Genre, Gothic Mystery, Literary Realism, and Formal Realism.

This week you’ll finish reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle and start working on your outline for the Character Analysis. If you have no familiarity with outlining papers, click here to see an example. It’s a pretend outline, of course, as if I’m writing a Character Analysis about Hermione Granger. You’ll see that the thoughts are loose with plenty of room to expand. But, you’ll get the general idea of what I’m looking for in your work. The basic bones of an essay include an introduction (with a thesis statement), a handful of body paragraphs, and a conclusion that wraps up your main points and leaves a final, strong impression. If you’ve been making notes on a specific character while reading the book, you may already have some of this fleshed out.

Remember: A Character Analysis looks at a character objectively to discern his/her role in the book. This isn’t a paper on what YOU think about the character. Instead, you want to take Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, Cousin Charles, Jonas, or the Blackwood House (as we discussed today) and offer a concrete argument for his/her purpose, impact, and role. Resist the urge to include your personal opinions.


Finish reading Castle. Then, open your Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively:

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

4. 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? 

5. 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?

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

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

Finally, draft an outline for your Character Analysis. Share both assignments with me by next Wednesday night. Reach out if you have questions.

August 20

Welcome back, everyone, and welcome to the new folks! I’m excited to read these books alongside you and help you make sense of them.

Today we reviewed the basic flow of the class, and I introduced you to Shirley Jackson and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As I said, do take notes each week as this will be a gift to yourself when it’s time to take an open-notes test (the first test is Oct. 8).

If you haven’t read “The Lottery” but are curious enough to read it, click here.

Finally, please let me know if you have no familiarity with MLA format. I am happy to help you!


Read Ch. 1-5 in Castle. Take some mental notes on the character who’s most interesting to you. Remember, your first essay will be a character analysis, so it might also be helpful to take actual notes (or dog-ear some pages) in case there are scenes you want to find again.

Then, create a Google Document, title it “Castle Response”, and answer the following questions substantively (with substance):

1. In the first paragraphs of the book, we learn a lot – Merricat and her sister Constance live together with Uncle Julian, and the rest of the family is dead. 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) 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) What do you think about Constance’s responses to the women and conversation as a whole? What does Constance’s 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 (think Halloween tropes). 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. 

Share the Google Document with me (jennie@jenniecreates.com) by Wednesday night. If you want feedback prior to class, send it by Tuesday. Be sure that you give me access to make comments on the document. If it’s “view only,” then I can’t comment. Ask for help if you need it!

If you need to listen to everything again, or if you miss class, I’ll post a weekly recording of my notes. Click here to listen to Week 1.


I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to meet in person ALL YEAR. With that hope in mind, I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in August. If you’ve been my student before, we don’t need any introduction. If you’re new to my class and style of teaching, I hope we’re a good fit.

The class rules are simple:

  • Do the work I assign and be in touch if you’re confused. I’m here to help! You should never turn in work with the disclaimer that you didn’t understand something. ALWAYS reach out to me for clarification. I’m easily accessible. Promise.
  • Be respectful of other students’ opinions, and be courageous about sharing your own. Literature is meant to be discussed. No one, including me, wants to hear my voice for 55 minutes straight.
  • You won’t like every novel or story I assign, but that’s not my goal. Rather, I want you to recognize each work’s significance and impact.
  • MLA format is SUPER BORING AND TEDIOUS, but the sooner to accept that hard truth and move on, the easier it will become to apply it to your papers. Please familiarize yourself with Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) or the MLA Handbook.
  • Make sure you’re up to speed on using Google Docs. You’ll submit your homework and essays by sharing documents with me so I can edit them and leave you comments.

If we get the privilege of starting in person but have to move our classes online, I’ll record weekly lectures in audio format and schedule occasional Zoom meetings so we don’t forget what each other looks like.

Fall 2020 Reading
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818 edition)
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

Spring 2021 Reading
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare)
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley (978-0425276198)
Short stories and poetry will be provided