HS English A

Thursday, October 21

Today we picked right back up in the 1920s with the Lost Generation, a group of writers who’d become disillusioned and disenchanted with life after coming of age during WWI. No one epitomizes this concept better than F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose works of fiction always had a bit of autobiographical flare. This will be clear to you as you start reading The Great Gatsby this week. He and Zelda’s time in New York City and Long Island worked as source material for the novel. All the parties, all the extravagance, all the cynicism…

The memoir I mentioned in class is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. If you’re interested in this group of American writers living in Paris in the 1920s, then you’ll love this book.

We also talked a bit about characters in literature, which, as I said in class, was probably familiar to you on some level. Perhaps all you lack is the terminology. If you’ve paid any attention to characterization in film or television, or even in books you read for fun, you’ve seen the trends. Once you pinpoint a trend – a recurring behavior, a classic line, a predictable outcome – you’ve pinpointed an archetype. Hang onto the list I gave you today.

To help you craft a solid character analysis, next week we’ll map out everything we can about Nick Carraway (our narrator), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, her terrible husband Tom, and Jordan Baker. Take notes on these people as you read. If one of the characters starts to peak your interest, be diligent about jotting down page numbers where important scenes happen. (This will be helpful to you later.)

If no one in this book is interesting to you, then perhaps someone in To Kill a Mockingbird will be.


Read Ch. 1-5 in The Great Gatsby in preparation for a reading quiz next Thursday. Take notes as you feel led, and come prepared to talk about each character. Whatever notes you take may be used on the reading quiz, but they must be handwritten notes, not copied/pasted things from the internet.

Thursday, October 7

Today we talked about the Harlem Renaissance, but it felt a bit rushed to me! We’ll come back to Langston Hughes’ poetry when we return to class on Oct. 21.

If you are still editing your Reaction Essay, that’s fine, but please send a finished paper to me before we return from fall break. I will grade everything before we meet again and report back your grades so you know where you stand mid-semester.

Thursday, September 30

Today we started talking about the Modern Era in American Literature, which is characterized by an attempt to redefine the American Dream. These were cynical people whose lives were deeply impacted by two World Wars and a crippling economic depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Despite there being some depressing works born out of this time (Hello, Grapes of Wrath!), there was a good amount of literary experimentation that worked well. The Modern Era was a diving board of creativity for American writers, so we saw a surge of short stories and poetry, along with a few Great American Novels (The Great Gatsby is one of them).

This week you’re going to read a few short stories and poems, and next week we’ll cover the Harlem Renaissance in class.

Homework Due by Wednesday, October 6

Read “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf (our only non-American writer) and three poems by Robert Frost on this PDF. (I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness writing style.) Then read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “A Jury of Her Peers.” Then answer the following questions in a Google Doc and share it by Wednesday:

  1. What do you think of Woolf’s method of writing in stream-of-consciousness? Was it easy to follow along, or harder than a straight-forward narrative?
  2. In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber uses the psychological technique of free association, in which words, sounds, and events from Mitty’s real life inspire elements in his daydreams. What causes Mitty to lapse into each daydream? What decidedly unheroic event snaps him out of each fantasy? 
  3. Compare and contrast the real Walter Mitty with the Walter Mitty of his own daydreams. Use examples from the story to support your answer.
  4. Summarize in your own words the moral, or message, of “Birches” by Robert Frost. 
  5. “Mending Wall” can seem ambiguous, as it presents opposing views of the wall. Do you think Frost favors the view of the speaker or of the neighbor? Which details from the poem lead you to this interpretation? 
  6. “The Road Not Taken” is one of the most popular American poems of all time. Summarize it in your own words. If it resonates with you in any way, share those thoughts with me.
  7. From “A Jury of Her Peers,” list three clues the women find that the men miss. Give evidence from the text to support your answer. Also tell me if you enjoyed this story! 

Finally, please revise your Reaction Essay. Read through the comments and suggestions I made. Be sure you are citing your sources, reacting to facts with logic and descriptive language, and putting everything in MLA format. If you are overwhelmed, please reach out. When your essay is ready for a grade, resend it to me. If you don’t want homework over fall break, take care of these edits this week.

Thursday, September 23

It sounds like all of you are ready to start working on your Response Essays. Some of you have a nugget of an idea that needs to expand a bit, while others have too broad of a subject and need to whittle it down. Embrace the challenge. Your topic will flesh out once you start writing the rough draft.

One thing to keep in mind: No matter what topic you’ve chosen, endeavor to answer the question, “Why does this matter to me?” It is easy to say you like something or are interested in something, but it is exceedingly difficult to explain why. When you’ve completed your rough draft or final essay, before sending it to me, read through your paper and make sure your reactions to the topic – the sentences written in the first person – explain why the topic matters to you.

If you misplaced the handout with the essay guidelines, click here to view/print it.

Homework Due by Tuesday, September 29

Write an essay that explores a topic you’re interested in related to anything we’ve read so far, whether a writer, a group of writers, a theme or subject, or a literary period in general. Pull from the texts and respond to them with your impressions, ideas, and related feelings. Be sure to explain why this topic is important to you and what you’ve learned from reading the various works.

Aim for 750-900 words (no fewer than 500, no more than 1000) and keep to MLA format. You must add one outside source that I’ve not provided for you. Cite your sources throughout the paper and include a Works Cited page at the end. Submit your paper via Google Docs, just like you’ve been doing with response questions.

If you are a confident writer and know all about MLA format, you are welcome to turn in a final draft on Tuesday for a grade. However, if you want feedback, turn in your essay as a rough draft and I’ll edit it. You’ll then have a couple of extra days to complete it. Be sure to tell me whether you want a final grade on Tuesday or if you want me to read your paper as a rough draft.

Be in touch if you have questions. I’ll be out of pocket from Friday afternoon through Saturday, but if you email me on Sunday, I’ll likely be at my computer and can respond to you pretty quickly. Same goes for Monday. (Please, do not reach out to me Tuesday afternoon and hope I reply in enough time for you to finish your paper by the deadline. That’s not fair to either of us!)

Thursday, September 16

You have to more stories to read that fall under Realism and Naturalism, and then it will be time to look back at everything we’ve read since the start of the semester and write about a paper about the subject of your choosing. Hopefully the exercise today helped to parse out the works/writers you liked, or at least the subjects you’re more comfortable writing about. Whatever you choose, come to class prepared to talk about your topic next week.

Homework Due by September 22

Read “To Build a Fire” and “The Mystery of Heroism“. Then, complete the worksheet you started in class. Remember – no reaction is a wrong reaction. It’s completely fine to say, “I hated this story,” as long as you follow it with why you hated it. Hopefully you’ll look back at these works and find something or someone you appreciated. 🙂

When you’re finished reading the stories and filling out the worksheet, answer the following questions SUBSTANTIVELY in your Google Doc by Wednesday night (no more one sentence answers, please):

  1. Summarize the plot of “To Build a Fire” by listing its string of major causes and effects. Start by identifying the man’s mission, then examine why he builds two fires and what results from those events. Be sure to include what happened to the man and the dog at the end of the story. 
  2. How do the man and dog differ in the ways they approach the intense cold? What point do you think London is trying to make? 
  3. In “The Mystery of Heroism,” Stephen Crane uses the desire for water, as well as the desire for heroism, as a parallel motive for Fred Collins. How might Fred’s low rank as a private be the perfect rank for this parallel? Also, what situational irony occurs at the end of the story? What is its significance? 
  4. Looking back at the Foundational Literary Period, the American Romantic Era, and Realism and Naturalism, which group of readings did you enjoy the most? Which were harder to read then others? Give me a brief run-down of your opinions. If you’re able rank them from favorite to least favorite, do that.

Bring the completed worksheet to class next week and be prepared to outline your essay in class. I’ll review in more detail what’s expected for the paper as well.

Thursday, September 9

Today we moved into Realism and Naturalism, the time period sandwiched between the Civil War and World War I. War was a defining event for this literary period! It yanked everyone right out of that high-brow, flowery Romantic Era and straight into gritty, no frills stories and narratives that spoke to who we are as messy human beings.

Realism and Naturalism stressed real life, not the fanciful, imaginary lives the Romantics wrote about. Emerging sciences, like biology, psychology, and sociology, worked their way into this literary period too, as Realists and Naturalists sought to explain WHY ordinary people behave the way they do.

As you read works by various writers over the next two weeks, look for the qualities we listed on the board today. Look for the optimists and the pessimists, the ordinary settings, and themes of survival. When you read the Spirituals, look for the metaphors and double-meanings.

Homework Due by September 15

Read The Most Remarkable Woman of This Age” (originally a newspaper article) and “I Will Fight No More Forever“, which are on the same PDF. Before you read “I Will Fight No More Forever, click here to read about Chief Joseph so you have some context for his short, heartbreaking message.

Then read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge“, “The Lowest Animal“, “The Story of an Hour“, and these two Spirituals. It might help you to find the songs on YouTube when reading the Spirituals if you’re unfamiliar with the tune.

Then, in a Google Document, answer the following questions substantively by Wednesday night:

  1. After reading the article about Harriet Tubman, tell me a few things you learned about her that were interesting to you. Also, what do you think about reading personal narratives and news stories about slavery, as opposed to reading facts about it in history book? 
  2. In “An Occurrence at Owl Bridge,” the Civil War serves as a backdrop. Bierce’s main intent is to examine the psychology of someone in a life-or-death situation. What does this story imply about human psychology in the face of death? 
  3. Explain why Mark Twain calls man is alone in his distinction of a “Cruel Animal.” Use lines from the story to support your answer.  
  4. In “I Will Fight No More Forever,” does Chief Joseph’s speech appeal to logic, emotion, or both? Explain your response.
  5. What emotions is Louise Mallard experiencing as she gazes out the window and thinks about her future in “Story of an Hour”?
  6. What aspects of Realist writing are apparent in this story by Kate Chopin? Remember, realism often focuses on social issues and the accurate portrayal of human behavior. 
  7. After reading the lyrics of the Spirituals and listening to the songs online, pull out the symbolism. Which words have double meanings? 

Thursday, September 2

I hope you paid attention to the conversation about archetypes! We’ll revisit this topic again over the course of the semester.

Today we talked more about transcendentalism and how pivotal Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were in that movement. I encourage you to read more of their work, particularly if you enjoyed the bits you read today outside.

We covered supernatural elements last week, so this week it’s time to read other elements of American Romanticism – specifically The American Experience, which was more about the individual and less about society.

Homework Due by September 8

Read the poems by Walt Whitman, “Hospital Sketches” by Louisa May Alcott, and an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s personal narrative, all available here in this PDF. If you didn’t get a good read accomplished today with Emerson’s Nature and Thoreau’s Walden, go back and re-read them (outside, if you’re able!).

Then, answer the following questions substantively in your Google Document and share it with me by Wednesday night.

  1. You can sense a feeling of acceptance and contentment running through the voices in “I Hear America Singing”. Considering the long hours and low pay of laborers in the 19th Century, do you think Walt Whitman is romanticizing or idealizing the lives of these workers? Or, are the songs simply spun in a positive tone? Explain your answer. 1
  2. “O Captain, My Captain!” is a poem about the end of the Civil War and loss of President Abraham Lincoln, which means the poem is fraught with juxtaposition (good positioned next to bad). Pull some lines from the poem to show where feelings of victory and loss are best juxtaposed.
  3. In “Hospital Sketches”, Louisa May Alcott recounts an experience she had serving as a wartime nurse when a large group of patients arrived at the same time. What is the overall tone of the excerpt? What do you think she was feeling compared to what the soldiers were feeling? What mood is Alcott trying to evoke in the reader? 
  4. In the beginning of Ch. 11 of Fredrick Douglass’s autobiography, he is critical of the underground railroad. Explain what his criticisms are, then tell me what you think about it. 
  5. Name two things that gave Frederick Douglass hesitation when he considered escaping slavery. Describe the impact those two things had on him. 
  6. After reading the excerpt from Walden, in your own words, summarize what Thoreau meant when he wrote that he wants to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” 
  7. What do you think Thoreau meant by “We are determined to be starved before we are hungry”? 
  8. In Emerson’s Nature, do you agree with what he wrote – “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun.” Why or why not? Defend your answer. 
  9. Edit and share the observations you made in the margins from Nature and Walden. Share what stuck out to you the most. 

Thursday, August 26

We moved on to American Romanticism today, so here are some of the things I hope you jotted down (with more detail):

What defines American Literature? 

  • Lack of collective ancient history
  • Centered around the invention of a country
  • Diverse cultures of people who already lived here (whose stories existed well before 1607), along with those who came willingly and unwillingly
  • Pursuit of liberty (as defined by what was available to specific people and groups)

Major conflicts in America from 1800 to 1860:

  • Continuing to define our independence
  • Urban vs. Rural life (Agrarian vs. Industrial Economy)
  • Westward expansion
  • Exponential growth

But, because we’d broken free from the Puritan way of life, writers were able to get creative! American Romantic writers focused on:

  • Supernatural settings and experiences (Dark Romantic, Gothic)
  • The Wilderness (Transcendentalism)
  • The American Experience (The Human Experience)

This week we’re focusing on a few Dark Romantic writers who loved to play in the tension between good and evil. If that isn’t your cup of tea, sit tight. We’ll read lighter works next week.

Homework Due by September 1

Read the following stories and poem by Dark Romantic writers Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawethorne, and Edgar Allan Poe: “The Devil and Tom Walker“, “Mr. Heidegger’s Experiment“, “The Raven“, and “The Purloined Letter“.

In either a new document or the same one from last week, answer the following questions substantively:

  1. “The Devil and Tom Walker” opens in Puritan New England in 1727. The Salem Witch Trials had taken place in 1692, only 35 years earlier. Identify five details describing the setting that suggest something sinister and supernatural. 
  2. Washington Irving’s characters in this story are one-dimensional people who represent one or two character traits. In fact, Tom Walker’s wife is the stereotype of the nagging wife, which is a common archetype still used today. What character traits are represented by Tom Walker? Why do you think Mrs. Walker met such a nasty end? 
  3. What is the story behind the painting in Dr. Heidegger’s study? What does the painting and its story suggest about Dr. Heidegger’s motivations for his experiments? 
  4. What does Heidegger prove with his experiment? What has he learned? 
  5. In “The Raven,” how does the significance of the word “nevermore” change each time it’s spoken? Though the speaker says his beloved will be nameless, he uses her name in lines 28-29, 82-83, and 94-95. How does the raven’s answer to the speaker’s queries keep reminding you of her? 
  6. Explain why the epitaph in “The Purloined Letter” – Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness – fits the story perfectly.  Give two examples from the story to support your answer. 

Thursday, August 19

If you want to print out a copy of the assignments for this semester, click here.

Here’s some of what I hope you took away from today: 

  • The five major American literary periods – Foundational, Romanticism, Realism/Naturalism, Modernism, Postmodernism – are closely aligned with big events (mainly wars). 
  • American literature is defined by the cultures of people who settled here willingly and unwillingly, and their religions, allegiances, goals, and points of view are all worth analyzing.
  • American literature is rooted in several main conflicts: Indigenous people vs. colonists, colonists vs. the land they’re trying to survive upon, colonists vs. their home countries, colonists vs. enslaved people, and colonists vs. themselves
  • The Foundational Literary Period (1607-1800) is primarily made up of personal narratives, autobiographies, argumentative essays, goal-oriented work, diary entries, etc. There was little fiction being written at this time. People were busy trying to build a country, stake a claim, and survive.

Taking notes in class will pay off on Dec. 16! You’ve been warned 🙂

Homework Due by August 25

Click to read “The Sun Still Rises in the Same Sky,” “The Sky Tree,” “Coyote Finishes His Work,” an excerpt from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” an excerpt from Ch. 2 in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, and the poem “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House”. You’re welcome to print off these pages or read them straight on the screen, whatever works best for you. 

Then, create a new Google Document and answer the following response questions substantively. (If you’re unclear about what substantively means, click here.) Share your Google Doc with me (jennie@jenniecreates.com) no later than Wednesday evening. (If you don’t know how to share a Google Doc, click here.) 

  1. Identify three comparisons Bruchac makes between American Indian and Western views of the world. 
  2. In “The Sky Tree”, would the people who told this myth feel hostile or supportive toward the natural world? Support your answer with textual evidence. 
  3. In “Coyote Finishes His Work”, Old Man says that when he returns, earth “will require a change.” What do you think that means? 
  4. What images and figures of speech might have helped Jonathan Edward’s listeners feel the peril of their sinful condition? (If you’re unfamiliar with imagery or figures of speech, read about them here.)  
  5. If you had the chance to respond to Edwards, what would you say? 
  6. Olaudah Equiano was “handled and tossed up” by some of the crew as soon as he was taken aboard. Why? What would have happened to him if the crew had found him unsatisfactory? 
  7. Is this your first interaction with a first-person account of someone who was enslaved? If not, what other works have you read connected to this topic? Share some of the thoughts you had while reading about Equiano’s experience.
  8. In “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House,” Bradstreet first narrates an incident and then moves on to draw conclusions from it. What do you think is the turning point of the poem? 
  9. Bradstreet speaks of another “House” in an extended metaphor at the end of the poem. What is this house, who is its architect, and how is it better than the house she’s lost? 
  10. Of everything you’ve read this week, what’s stuck with you the most, and why? 

Be in touch if you have any questions!


Welcome to English class! I hope you’ll find this page easy to navigate. I’ll post class recaps here each week by Friday morning so those who are absent can easily see what was missed.

Students must have a gmail account, either their own or access to a parent’s account, so that homework and academic papers can be submitted via Google Docs. This allows for easy submission and feedback.

Books are listed in the order we’ll read them: 

Fall 2021
*Short stories, essays, poems, and speeches will be provided here to print or read on the screen. (There will be a lot of them, so hold on tight!)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Spring 2022
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth, a novelization
Macbeth (No Fear Shakespeare)

Please get a copy of the 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook. We’ll use them in class throughout both semesters.

See you Thursday, August 19!