Pleasant Grove HS English

Friday, March 10

I hope you have a wonderful spring break! If you come up with a research paper topic over the next two weeks and want to discuss it with me, shoot me an email! I’m happy to brainstorm with you prior to the next class. Just be in touch!

Friday, March 3

It’s time to wrap up the first half of the semester. (Isn’t it going quickly??) If you have questions about the content of your Foundation Project, please be in touch. If you have questions about how to work Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote, please consult YouTube! 🙂


Finish your Foundation Project. Share it with me via email by Thursday night. If you want me to give feedback on your project prior to the due date, please get it to me earlier in the week. Thursday morning is too late!

Friday, February 24

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 Blount County, you’ll have to do some research to figure out what the homeless situation in Blount 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 in Blount 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.
  • Include both an emotional and logical appeal to your cause.

Be in touch if you have questions!


Finish reading I Am Malala. Then, answer the following questions in your same Google Doc. Submit your homework by Thursday 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 initial 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. 

Friday, February 17

It may seem like the young people in Pakistan are nothing like us, but when we peel away at the layers of what makes us human, we know that Maya Angelou’s quote is true: We are more alike than we are unalike. Every single one of us wants to be loved, to feel safe, to have friends and a satisfying life of some sort.

Part of our responsibility when reading a memoir is to reflect on our own lives, circumstances, and choices. So, in addition to continuing to read Malala’s story, you’ll do some of your own reflective writing over the next couple of weeks. Be as vulnerable as you’re comfortable, and remember that no one will see your words except me. There is no peer pressure at play here. I’m an old woman, so it takes a lot to rattle me.

The same goes for your Foundation Project. Please search your mind and heart and select a cause/issue you actually care about. Like I said in class, as long as you don’t advocate abusing animals, I won’t judge you 🙂


Read Part Two of the memoir. Then, answer the following questions in your same Google Doc. If you are behind, please try to catch up this 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? Are you working independently or in a pair with someone?
  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? (This isn’t a religious question. Your belief system may or may not be associated with a church doctrine, so feel free to explore other avenues of belief if you want to.)

Friday, February 10

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 were absent, please get notes from friends!)

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 Thursday 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?

Friday, January 27

Great job, everyone! I think we can all agree that performing Shakespeare’s plays, even in our silly way, is far more enjoyable than reading them. 🙂

We’re taking a brief hiatus from class while some of you jet off to Nashville. I’ll see you all on Friday, February 10. Be sure you have a copy of I Am Malala by then.

Friday, January 20

Today was so fun 🙂

I know there’s some sketchy language in this play (and in many others), but y’all are doing great to breeze by it. Keep in mind the time period we’re in. Shakespeare’s works are fraught with things that we know are wrong but would’ve been culturally acceptable in the late 1500s/early 1600s. Antisemitism, prejudices, etc. Some plays are worse than others, but overall we can accept them in the time and place that they were written/performed and make adjustments as we go.

Also, make sure you have a copy of I am Malala by next week (not the Young Reader’s Edition). This is the last book you’ll need for the semester. I’ll supply all the short stories after spring break.


Finish reading the play, then click here to take the reading quiz.

Act IV, Scenes I and II
Titania: Katie
Nick Bottom: India
Robin/Puck: Remy
Oberon: Asher
Theseus: Matthew
Hippolyta: Alice
Egeus: Conner
Lysander: Noah F.
Demetrius: Seth
Hermia: Ayla
Helena: Emily
Quince: Grace
Flute: Conner
Starveling: Jennie
Snout: Millie

Act V
Theseus: Matthew
Hippolyta: Alice
Philostrate: Jennie
Quince: Grace
Lysander: Noah F.
Snout as a wall: Millie
Demetrius: Seth
Nick Bottom as Pyramus: India
Flute as Thisbe: Conner
Snug as a Lion: Matthew
Moonshine: Jennie
Robin/Puck: Remy
Oberon (minus the singing): Asher
Titania: Katie

Friday, January 13

Thanks to everyone for being good sports and not taking these performances too seriously! It’s all in good fun.

Here are all the roles for next week:

Act II, Scenes I and II
Robin/Puck: Remy
Oberon: Asher
Titania: Katie
Demetrius: Seth
Helena: Emily
Lysander: Noah F.
Hermia: Ayla

Act III, Scenes I and II
Quince: Grace
Bottom: India
Snout: Millie
Flute: Conner
Starveling: Jennie
Snug: Matthew
Titania: Katie
Oberon: Asher
Robin/Puck: Remy
Demetrius: Seth
Hermia: Ayla
Lysander: Noah F.
Helena: Emily


Read Acts II and III in Midsummer. Then click here to take the reading quiz. Don’t forget to bring your books next week!

Friday, January 6

Welcome back to class! We’ll spend all of January reading/acting out A Midsummer Night’s Dream using No Fear Shakespeare. Remember, this is a low stakes/low pressure activity, so please don’t be shy or think any of us care about award-winning performances. It’s just for fun.

I gave you a long-suffering family history on Queen Elizabeth I and the Elizabethan Era/Golden Age of England, none of which I’ll test you about specifically, but you will need to understand why William Shakespeare was born at the right time and place and why his work is worth studying.


Read Act I in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You are welcome to read the left-hand side of the page if you want the full Shakespearean text, but you are also welcome to read the right-hand side if you want plain English.

When you’re finished, click here to take a short reading quiz to make sure you know the gist of what’s going on.

I’ve assigned the roles for Friday, though y’all can switch them up if you want. Doesn’t matter to me one bit. If you raised your hand and don’t see your name below, you will definitely have a role the following week when there are more characters.

Act I, Scene I
Theseus: Matthew
Hippolyta: Alice
Egeus: Conner
Hermia: Ayla
Lysander: Noah F.
Demetrius: Seth
Helena: Emily

Act I, Scene II
Quince: Grace
Bottom: India (this is a bigger comedic role, India, so if you don’t want it, be sure to switch with someone.)
Flute: Conner
Starveling: Katie (I have you playing Queen Titania next week, so this is just a small role for Act I.)
Snout: Remy (this is a smaller role, Remy, but I have you playing Robin/Puck the rest of the play. If you don’t want that bigger role, be sure to switch with someone.)
Snug: Matthew

See you Friday, January 6

I’ve emailed your semester grades to your parents. I hope you all have a wonderful winter break and I’ll see you in January. Be sure to get a copy of No Fear Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Friday, November 11

This is your last week to get caught up on weekly homework and essays, so please tend to those things by next Friday morning.


Answer the following essay questions substantively. You may use your notes and the novels, but please refrain from using the internet. Each answer should be about 200-300 words. Do not be vague. Pulling from the text helps, but do not use quoted scenes to pad your answer. Also please refrain from being casual in your answers. Use MLA format 🙂

  1. Shirley Jackson used symbolism to present specific 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.

Print your answers and bring them to class next Friday.

Friday, November 4

It’s time to start your last book of the semester, and it should be a good read! C.S. Lewis is an excellent writer, and The Great Divorce is a powerful book for both Christians and non-Christians. I encourage you to do more research on The Inklings, if you’re interested. There have always been literary groups and like-minded writers who get together to critique each other’s work, but The Inklings were a special crew. I cannot imagine sitting among these legends and reading early versions of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Amazing!

Make sure you understand what an allegory is and what intertextuality means.


Read The Great Divorce. Then, in a new Google Doc, answer the following questions substantively by Thursday 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. The narrator’s interaction with the Intelligent Man provides more information about The Grey Town. What is your understanding of how the town works logistically and economically? What is the Intelligent Man’s plan and subsequent flaw? (Ch. 2)
  4. 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)
  5. What is your interpretation of who the Spirits are? What is their purpose? (Ch. 3)
  6. 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?
  7. Describe the Hard-Bitten Ghost in your own words. Then share a quote or passage you think defends your claim. (Ch. 7)
  8. What effect did the Hard-Bitten Ghost have on the Narrator? (Ch. 8)
  9. 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)
  10. Ch. 9 is full of instruction, as the Narrator and George tease out questions and answers. What are your main takeaways from this heavy chapter? 
  11. What’s your understanding of what happened to the female ghost in Ch. 10?
  12. 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? 
  13. The chessboard is the ultimate symbol of the entire book. Do your best to describe what Lewis is trying to teach us. (Ch. 14)
  14. What are your final thoughts about The Great Divorce

Also, finalize your Response Essay on Fahrenheit 451. Bring a printed copy to turn in on Friday.

Friday, October 28

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.


Write the rough draft of your Response Essay. Please review the structure on the handout I gave you. It will be tempting to start writing stream-of-consciousness, but that will require more editing on the back end of things. Submit your rough draft by Wednesday if you want personal feedback before Friday. Be in touch if you have questions.

Also, get a copy of The Great Divorce by CS Lewis! We’ll start reading it next week.

Friday, October 14

We got started with Fahrenheit 451 today, and you’ll be finishing the book by the time we see each other again on Friday, October 28.

As you read the story, pay attention to what bothers (or interests) you the most. Take some notes, if that’s helpful. You’ll be writing a Response Essay in a couple weeks, so having your initial opinions jotted down somewhere might useful later.

Regarding the essay, I will offer you a list of quotes from the novel and you’ll choose one to respond to. However, if you come across a line in the story that resonates with you, check with me about using it for your essay.


Finish reading Parts Two and Three of Fahrenheit 451. Then, answer the following questions substantively in your same Google Document no later than Thursday, Oct. 27. (Please do not be lazy with your answers.)

Part Two
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. 

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?

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

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.

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? 

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? 

Part Three
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 better or for worse. What are your thoughts on all of this access? Have you ever watched a national or international event unfold live?

Explain your understanding of Capt. Beatty’s role in the book and the meaning behind his eventual fall from power.

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? 

Why is a phoenix an effective symbol in Fahrenheit 451

Why does Granger say that the first thing they should do is build a mirror factory? 

What are your overall thoughts on Fahrenheit 451

Friday, September 30

I hope you all enjoyed perusing old Frankenstein film clips. Now you can go around correcting everyone who gets the story wrong and make a solid defense for the Monster’s reputation. 🙂

We have two more books to read this year, starting with Fahrenheit 451. Be sure you have a general understanding about Science Fiction vs. Fantasy, along with what Speculative Fiction means. We will spend a lot of time over the next few weeks talking about how humans (in this book and in real life) respond to emerging technology.


Read Part One of F-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 Thursday, October 13 (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?

Finally, edit your paper on Frankenstein and bring a nice, beautiful, clean copy to class on Friday, October 14.

Have a wonderful fall break!

Friday, September 23

I feel like we rushed through everything today, so I want to go over the parameters of the paper in more detail for those of you who are still trying to wrap your head around the assignment.

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 noon on Thursday. I hope to read through them before class on Friday 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 Friday!

Friday, September 16

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 thing I thought about on my drive home is that I hope you all understand that the Monster’s request for a female isn’t about lust or the mechanics of attraction. The Creature is desperate for community and companionship, and after watching Felix and Safie (especially how Felix’s whole attitude improved after she showed up), he realizes that this is the kind of companionship he wants. He is deeply lonely, even more lonely than Robert Walton was when he wrote to his sister about wanting a friend on the ship. After years of rejection and alienation, the Monster knows that having a female companion is the only way he’ll ever feel some measure of happiness and contentment.

But whoa. Just wait and see what happens after Victor gets started…


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

Friday, September 9

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, 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 Thursday 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?

Friday, September 2

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.

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. 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 Thursday 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?

Friday, August 26

It’s time to take all of your notes and thoughts about the characters in We Have Always Lived in the Castle and churn them into a proper academic essay. If you initially wanted to write about one character but have changed your mind, it’s no big deal to me. Write about whomever you feel most confident analyzing.

The most important concept you need to remember when writing an academic essay is the claims/evidence combination. Make solid, coherent claims about your character, then provide the evidence to prove you’re correct. You do this by citing narrative or dialogue straight from the book. Below is an example of what it should look like:

Though Uncle Julian claims he remembers the poisoning event “very clearly” because he has it “all down in his notes,” readers quickly understand that he is not regularly coherent on past details nor what might be going on at the current moment (49). In fact, in Chapter 7, he tells Charles that his niece, Mary Katherine, is dead, when in fact she’s been living in the house the entire time (93). This gives credit to the idea that Uncle Julian’s primary role in the novel is to provide some details of the murder while leaving the ultimate question of who committed the murder unanswered.

In the example, I’ve offered both a direct quote from the book and a direct reference to something Uncle Julian said and provided the page numbers in parentheses. This is how to cite evidence to support a claim. You should do this in every body paragraph (not the intro or conclusion).

Because you’ll be citing quotes from the book, you’ll need to provide a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. If you already know how to draft a Works Cited, please do. If not, we can go over it next week, so don’t stress about including it in the rough draft.

A few more things:

  • Focus on characterization, not summarizing the plot. It’s far too easy to get carried away recounting everything that happened in the book, so be mindful of getting off track.
  • Mention the author and book title in the introduction. Book titles go in italics.
  • Avoid editorializing/offering opinions. Only write about what you can prove with evidence from the text.
  • Keep to the third person point of view. No mention of I, we, us, etc. If you catch yourself switching to the first person, an easy fix is to switch the word to Readers. (“We see that Merricat likes to bury things…” turns into “Readers see that Merricat likes to bury things…”)
  • Avoid filler words, such as very, really, quite, etc. Instead of very big, say large. Instead of very scary, say terrifying.
  • Elevate your language. Use words that evoke feeling and imagery. Instead of calling Merricat weird, say that she’s unnerving or manipulative or that she makes people around her so uncomfortable that they avoid her. Be specific.
  • Aim for 750-1000 words, but don’t stress if you struggle to get there. Do your best and I’ll help you polish your work in the editing phase.
  • As always: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, one-inch margins. Give your paper a proper heading and title.


Write the rough draft of your Character Analysis. Take care of all the things you know to take care of (spelling, grammar, etc). Do yourself a favor by reading your work out loud before sending it to me. The ear will catch what the eye misses.

Share your Google Document with me by Wednesday afternoon. I will endeavor to read through all of them prior to our Friday meeting.

Also pick up a copy of Frankenstein. You’ll need it for next week.

Friday, August 19

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 in the example I gave you in class. (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, one-inch margins, etc.) 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 Friday.

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!) 

If you haven’t submitted last week’s answers yet, please do so as soon as possible.

Friday, August 12

It was good to meet all of you today! I think we’ll have a good year together. If you have any questions, please email me anytime: You’ll also use this email address when sharing your Google Documents.

Today we talked about what you can expect in this class work-wise. Do read through the topics under the Housekeeping tab, particularly if you’ve never taken a traditional high school English class before and have zero experience writing in MLA format, sharing Google Documents, and so on. If you misplaced your homework syllabus, click here to view and print a new one.

We also talked about Shirley Jackson, whose primary claim to fame is her 1948 short story “The Lottery”. Her work is generally unforgettable because it errs on the side of disturbing and bizarre. You’ll see what I mean as you begin We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Since you’re going to write a Character Analysis from this novel, it would be wise to pay attention to how Merricat, Constance, Uncle Julian, and Cousin Charles are developed, how they interact with one another, what their motivations are, and so on. Certainly by next week you’ll need to know who you want to write about for your essay.

Also take note of how Shirley Jackson’s own agoraphobia and small town experience in Vermont might have been the influence for the Blackwood’s experiences in their small town. (This is one reason why it’s important to know about the writers — it’s almost always personal.)


Read Ch. 1-5 in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. If you come across an interesting scene or line of dialogue that might be useful in your Character Analysis, jot down the page number or make a few notes. This is how you help your future self.

Then, answer the following questions substantively in a Google Doc and share it with me by next Thursday night using the email address above. Be sure I have editing capabilities, that the document isn’t “Read Only”. You are welcome to copy/paste the questions into your document, if that’s helpful to you.

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.

Dates to Remember

Fall Semester
August 12: First day of class
October 3-7: Fall Break
November 18: Last day of class

Spring Semester
January 6: First day of class
January 30-February 3: Break for TeenPact
March 13-17: Spring Break
April 21: Last day of class