Online HS English


Monday, October 19

Welcome back! I’m brewing with excitement about Frankenstein, one of my most favorite books. I do not expect all of you to love the story as much as I do, but I hope you’ll learn to appreciate the work when we’re finished.

There are a few things I want you to capture from the lecture today:

  • Be sure you understand the environment in which Mary Shelley was born into and raised. 18th Century England was all about Romanticism and individuality. Her writing and lifestyle reflects that. Her family situation was full of drama, but that really prompted her to write about themes of parentage and responsibility (among other things).
  • Be sure you understand how the Enlightenment Era led to Romanticism. I talk about this in the latter part of the lecture, but if all of that stuff is foreign to you, do the extra legwork to understand it. There was a huge shift in thinking between the 1700s and 1800s, and Mary Shelley was a product of that shift.
  • Mary Shelley’s writing style is quintessential Romanticism – flowery and poetic and expressive. It is the opposite of what you just read in Fahrenheit 451. Some of you will not enjoy it, so I highly recommend listening to Frankenstein alongside reading it if you struggle to engage with the text. I personally love Dan Steven’s narration. (He played Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey.)
  • Write down what a frame story is, as well as what an epistolary feature is in literature.

Your Work This Week:

First, listen to the lecture and take notes as you can. Then read Volume I in Frankenstein, which includes four letters and eight chapters.

Then, answer the following response questions in a new Google Document and share it with me by Sunday evening (or sooner).

1. Explain why this passage is quintessential romanticism: “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.”(Chapter 2, end of the first paragraph) 

2. 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?

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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?

Monday, October 5

I was glad to see so many of you were able to meet on Zoom today. I don’t prefer that platform, but I’ll take what I can get since we can’t be in a real classroom together.

When we finished, I emailed all of you the mid-term. Please have your test answers to me (via Google Doc) by Friday, October 9. If you can finish it sooner, that would be great.

I will read through your rough drafts over the next few days and leave notes for you on the document. The final essay is due by Sunday, October 18.

Although this essay is written in the first person, please still follow MLA format. You should have a proper introduction and thesis statement with body paragraphs that support your main ideas. Resist the urge to write a full summary of the book! A little bit of context around your quote is enough.

Be in touch if you have questions! Look for the next class update on Monday, October 19.

Monday, September 28

We wrap up Part Three of 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 a 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.

Your Work This Week:

First, listen to the lecture.

Then, take a few minutes to observe and think about the illustrations I’ve posted below. Consider how we have embraced technology in this current era. Consider how it’s embraced us.

Then, 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!

Finally, 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, but then spend the rest of your essay arguing your point of view.

Aim for 750 words written in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced. Give your essay a title and cite scenes throughout. This means you should also have a Works Cited page at the end.

  • 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.”

Submit your rough draft via Google Docs by Sunday night, Oct. 4.

We will meet on Zoom at 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, to discuss the books, your rough drafts, and my plans for the rest of the semester. After the Zoom meeting, I will email you the mid-semester test, which will be due by Friday, Oct. 9.

Monday, September 21

In today’s lecture, I go over Part Two of Fahrenheit 451 and talk about about the highlights I want you to catch. Be sure you understand literary elements such as conflict and the definition of protagonist and antagonist.

I also talk about how I’m scheduling a Zoom meeting for us on Monday, October 5, at 1 p.m. Please make plans to be available that day. We’ll only meet for about 30 minutes, but I want to briefly discuss the two books we’ve read and go over what we’re doing the rest of the semester. After our Zoom meeting, I’ll post the link to the mid-semester test for you to take, and then we’ll be on fall break (so no new content on Monday, October 12). We’ll resume the semester on Monday, October 19.

This week, however, you’ll finish Fahrenheit 451 and answer response questions. Also be thinking about how this book makes you feel. Yes, on the test, you’ll be asked factual questions that have definitive answers, but the response paper you’re writing will reflect your own feelings and thoughts on whatever line you choose to write about. It will be helpful to read Part Three with this in mind.

Your Work This Week:

Listen to the lecture (click here).

Read Part Three of F-451 and answer the following response questions substantively in your Google Doc by Sunday 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? 
  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 like this book? Why or why not?

Monday, September 14

I’ve seen many of your assignments come through my email. Thanks to those of you who are working steadily! Some of you haven’t yet turned in your Character Analysis papers or response answers to Part One of Fahrenheit 451, so please get to those things soon. I understand if you need an extension, but to avoid losing points, you need to tell me something is going to be late BEFORE the deadline.

This week I go over key points in Part One of F-451. One of the bigger sections I don’t want you to miss is Capt. Beatty’s monologue, which is a sprawling ten pages toward the end of the section. He explains how they got to their dystopian reality – that the people wanted to have everything dumbed down for them. They didn’t want to think too hard or have their feelings hurt. The people wanted a world that entertains them, and the government complied.

Your Work This Week:

Listen to the lecture. Take notes, particularly when I talk about conflict. Then, in the same document where you answered questions from Part One, answer the following questions for Part Two. Please answer substantively:

  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? 

Finish your work by next Sunday evening. If you haven’t sent me your final Character Analysis, please do so.

Monday, September 7

I know it’s Labor Day and some of you might not be doing schoolwork – that’s okay! Just in case you are, I wanted to have everything available to you.

This week you’ll have a shorter lecture as I introduce Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction, Ray Bradbury, and Fahrenheit 451. 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. I’ll be reading them and offering feedback today and tomorrow.

Your Work This Week:

Listen to the lecture and take notes as you go.

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 Sunday night. If you need an extension, please let me know ahead of time. Late work – without prior notice – gets a lower grade.

Monday, August 31

I will be making my way through your response answers and outlines today so I can give you feedback as soon as possible.

Now that we’ve finished our first book, it’s time to write the first paper. After reviewing the final chapters of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I explain how the Character Analysis should go. I talk about how to make claims and provide evidence to support those claims, which is the basic recipe for the paper. If you’ve never written an academic paper before, listen carefully to that last bit of the lecture with a pencil in hand. Email me with your questions and I’ll try to help you.

Your Work This Week:

Listen to the lecture and take notes as you go. There are things I mention that could help you with your paper.

As promised, here is Freytag’s Pyramid in diagram form for those of you who are unfamiliar with it:

Then, get started on your rough draft. Resist the urge to wait until later in the week to start it. You may need more time than you realize, and while I try to be as accessible as possible, contacting me on the weekend won’t get as swift a reply as contacting me on a weekday. I can help you via email or phone, and I can even set up a Zoom chat with you. Whatever you need, be in touch and I’ll do my best.

Share your rough draft with me no later than Sunday, Sept. 6.

Monday, August 24

I hope you’re enjoying We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s a short read, but Shirley Jackson is incredibly intentional with every line. It’s the sort of book you cannot skim because you’ll miss something.

There are a few terms I want to catch this week, so take notes as you hear them: Genre, Gothic Mystery, Literary Realism, and Formal Realism.

Your Work This Week:

Listen to this week’s lecture on genre, chapters 1-5, and how to draft an outline. Click here to open the file in a separate window.

Then, finish reading Castle. Use the same document as last week to 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. 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!) 

Finally, draft an outline of your Character Analysis paper in a new document and email both parts of your homework (response answers and outline) by Sunday evening.

As I mention in the lecture, here is the example of an outline for you to look at prior to getting started. Your standard font for academic work is Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, with one-inch margins.

You can also review Types of Outlines on Purdue OWL to get more information about MLA format.

If you are lost and have no idea where to start, be in touch 🙂

Monday, August 17

Thanks to those who made it to the Zoom class at 1 p.m. If you missed it, no problem. Here’s a quick recap:

  • I went over the books we’re reading this semester, starting with We Have Always Lived in the Castle. You’ll have a reading assignment nearly every week, followed by answering response questions in a Google Document. You’ll need to share your Google Document with me by Sunday evenings.
  • You’ll also write a few essays this semester and one bigger research paper in the spring. Those papers need to be in MLA format. If you have no familiarity with MLA format, please let me know right away.
  • You will take four tests this semester, but they are open notes. That means you should take notes while listening to the weekly lecture. I’m not a professional podcaster, so I apologize if the sound quality isn’t spectacular. I’m doing by best!

Your Work This Week:

Click here to listen to the lecture where I talk about who Shirley Jackson was and a little bit about We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Be sure to listen for details on Shirley Jackson’s life, such where she lived during her writing career and other works she’s known for. Take notes so your tests will be easy. (If you haven’t read “The Lottery”, her most well-known short story, click here to read it.)

Read Ch. 1-5 in We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Start a new Google Document, title it “Castle Response”, and answer the following questions. Please number your answers accordingly :

1. In the first paragraphs of the book, we learn a lot – Merricat and her sister Constance live together 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 sometime 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. 

Share your document with me no later than Sunday evening. You are welcome to send your work sooner, of course, but anything dated after Sunday evenings will be considered late work and you’ll lose points.

Also, remember to answer substantively. A thorough answer with examples from the book is always the goal. One sentence or two isn’t enough.

Be in touch if you have any questions. If you’re unfamiliar with how to share a Google Document, click here.

Introduction to Literature and Composition for High School Online (Grades 9-12) 

This class will expose students to different genres, writing styles, and themes. Rather than sticking to one time period or place of origin, we’ll explore a variety of works from diverse writers. From Romanticism and dystopian to short stories and Shakespeare, students will surely find something they enjoy reading in this potpourri of literature. 

Students will also write several essays in MLA format, answer weekly response questions via Google Docs, write a research paper in the spring, and take two end-of-the-semester tests. 

Schedule: The 16-week fall class will be in session from Monday, August 17, to Monday, December 14. (We’ll skip Monday, October 12, for fall break, and Monday, November 23, for Thanksgiving.) I will schedule a Zoom meeting on our first day of class so we can make proper introductions, but we’ll communicate primarily through email and Google Docs throughout the semester. I will post weekly lectures and links on this page. 

In the spring, we’ll start on Monday, January 4, and finish on Monday, April 26. (We’ll skip Monday, March 15, for spring break.)

Please get a copy of either the 7th or 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook or be familiar with the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for help with MLA format. Click here to read more information about MLA format.

Required reading:

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

Spring 2021
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
Short stories and poetry will be provided

To enroll: Space is limited to 15 online students. (This class is now full.)

First, send me your child’s full name, grade, and email address. Payment for the semester ($100) is due in full by Friday, August 14 via Paypal ( If you decide to drop the class, you may do so by Tuesday, September 1, to get a refund of $75. After September 1, the refund window closes. 

Participating in the fall semester does not commit you to the spring semester. The enrollment process simply starts over. Payment for spring ($100)  is due by Friday, January 1 in preparation for starting class on January 4. If you decide to drop the class, please do so by January 22 to receive a $75 refund. After that, the refund window closes.

I will communicate with both parents and students via email at the start of each semester so expectations are clear, but students and I will go on to communicate primarily through Google Docs. This means each student is required to have a Gmail account. Aside from novels, I provide everything students need here on the class page.