The Winsor School
A leading school for academically promising girls in grades 5-12


For both the Upper School and Lower School the objective of the English department is to encourage each student to develop her ability to read with insight, think logically, and express herself clearly. Class discussions, frequent essays, and regular meetings with teachers help achieve these goals.

English Classes

Class I

Strong reading, writing, and thinking skills are the focus of this course. Literature-based units are designed to help students make connections between texts and to think about the layers of meaning in complex stories. By using active reading strategies, students respond to literature and develop reading comprehension, interpretation, and analysis skills. Writing skills are developed through work in a variety of expository and creative forms. In responding to literature, students practice writing strong paragraphs and supporting opinions with specific details. Many creative writing opportunities, including a novel-writing and poetry unit, allow students to follow the steps of the writing process. Technology is a tool that students will use to communicate, collaborate, and create while developing their critical thinking skills.

Class II

This course focuses on building reading, writing, and critical thinking skills through carefully chosen texts and writing projects. In our comparative mythology unit, students also develop technology, research, and presentation skills as they work together to understand how myth reflects a culture’s values and how different cultures’ myths compare with one another. Literature units on fantasy, mythology, and multicultural fiction allow students to deepen their understanding of character, theme, plot, and setting. A poetry unit reinforces close reading and creative writing skills. Narratives, dialogues, analytical paragraphs, short essays, and reflective writing are also woven into the curriculum. Large and small group discussions enable students to develop their ideas and to practice expressing them. Grammar work on the parts of speech also begins in the spring semester. Throughout each unit, students practice revising, editing, and proofreading their work.

Class III

Students work on reading accurately and in depth by studying a variety of genres in this course. They learn terms of literary analysis and explore how plot, characters, and themes develop. Students also learn to take useful and concise margin notes as they read. Written assignments focus on developing an effective writing process and include analytical paragraphs, short essays, and short stories. There is also regular grammar study. Works may include a collection of short stories, The Pearl, The Miracle Worker, and To Kill a Mockingbird. A unit on the graphic novel The Arrival focuses on visual analysis and includes a research project on immigration.

Class IV

In this course, students study The House on Mango Street, A Separate Peace, a variety of poems, and a Shakespeare play, which they will perform in their drama classes. They develop analytical skills through close reading of these texts and through visual analysis during our advertising and media unit. During frequent writing assignments, students develop their ability to structure paragraphs and longer pieces, to write thesis and topic sentences, and to incorporate evidence. There is continued emphasis on the writing process, including brainstorming, outlining, and revising. Class IV students also study creative and personal writing and complete a research project. Grammar study continues with a review of parts of speech and functions of the noun and an introduction to clauses.

Class V

Students write frequently in a variety of modes, including literary analysis, visual analysis, personal narrative, and style imitation, and read Macbeth, Catcher in the Rye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Persepolis, and short stories from around the world. (1 credit yearlong course)

Class VI

Students take a full year of United States literature in conjunction with a full year of U. S. history. The first semester includes literature from early America through the end of the 19th century; the second semester draws from 20th and 21st century U.S. literature. (1 credit yearlong course)

Class VII

Students take a one-semester elective course in the literature of a country or region outside of the United States or Europe in conjunction with a matching history course. Students have four offerings from which to choose: Africa, China, India, and the Middle East. For their other semester of English, students choose from a range of electives in literature and writing.

Class VII (Junior) Electives

Indian Literature

“Incredible India,” the alliterative title of a 2002 campaign to bring tourists to the country, has an attractive ring. From the ancient world of Sanskrit philosophy to the colonial British Raj, from 67 years of Independence to Bollywood and an international curry craze, India offers it all. But realities of gender inequality, religious strife, government corruption and caste violence threaten this romantic myth. In this course, we will devote time to both the wonder and controversy of historical and contemporary India by first considering through the play Final Solutions one of the great debates that has shaped Indian society: communal violence. We’ll then glance back to the timeless epic of The Ramayana, a foundational work of the Indian and Hindu canon. Subsequently, we’ll contend with the stark reality of Partition juxtaposed with the dream of a sovereign India. Finally, we’ll look at issues of caste, servitude, and globalization through a selection of short stories and films. Throughout the semester, we will attempt to explore the diversity of India’s masses while questioning the conundrum of modernizing an ancient land. Along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities for students to guide inquiry, most notably through the interdisciplinary research paper process. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, fall semester)

Chinese Literature

The Chinese word for civilization means “transformation by the word.” In fact, the Chinese have shared the same written language since early in the first millennium B.C.E., and not surprisingly, literature has been an important part of Chinese culture in every dynasty and region. Because it would be impossible to survey such a rich and diverse tradition, we will instead look closely at recurring subjects in the literature from family to revolution by reading traditional texts, poetry, and contemporary fiction and memoirs. This course will also join with its History counterpart for an interdisciplinary research project. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, fall semester)

African Literature

One of the first questions we will consider in this course is how to approach studying the literature of an entire continent in a single semester. We will also examine how the very notion of an African Literature is shaped by cultural and economic forces. Course texts will focus much of our attention on the effects of colonialism and the formation of postcolonial literary voices. Those texts may include Sundiata, an epic from Ancient Mali that has been passed down orally; the autobiography of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano; Chinua Achebe’s canonical Things Fall Apart; the novel Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga; a play by Athol Fugard; works by authors including Coetzee, Gordimer, Achebe, and Adichie; and films like The Battle of Algiers and Hotel Rwanda. While students are guiding their own inquiry through the interdisciplinary research paper process, we will look at stories, articles, and films about contemporary “African” issues and the African diaspora. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Literature of the Middle East

Students in this course will seek to broaden their cultural understanding of the Middle East by engaging with literature from or about that region. Readings will include ancient works such as Sufi poetry and religious texts as well as fiction and nonfiction contemporary prose. Students will investigate the westernization of fairy tales and other popular images of the Arabic world. Films, shown at various points in the semester, will augment the course material. Students will write analytical papers and create poetry. This course will also join with its History counterpart for an interdisciplinary research project. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, spring semester)

The Urban Experience in Literature

In 1897, the urban population growth and the resulting streetcar traffic in Boston led to the advent of the very first subway system, and Park Street Station was opened the following year. That same decade, Chicago erected the first skyscrapers and thereby initiated a competition with New York to produce the tallest buildings in the world. The modern city was here! Within it, American culture was expanding and diversifying, colliding and fracturing. The literature of this course will explore issues of identity as experienced by the American city go-er. Readings might include the work of Nella Larsen, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, E.B. White, Jonathan Safran Foer, T.S. Eliot, and Edith Wharton. While the course writing will center on the analytical essay, students will also have the opportunity to compose poetry and personal narratives. (.5 credits, fall semester)

The Personal Is Political: An Interdisciplinary Look at Feminism

In this interdisciplinary course, which is team-taught by a History and an English teacher, we will explore the forces that have shaped gender relations in the United States over the past two centuries. To do so, we will look closely at literary texts, films, and historical sources from key moments in women’s history. Each unit will begin with a “flashpoint” that connects the ideas in the unit to current events and issues for women in America (and sometimes the broader world); each unit will focus on a particular literary/artistic genre and place it in an historical context. In the first unit, we will focus on ideologies around and representations of marriage in the mid- to late 19th century; our literary genre will be the short story. In the second unit, we will study the development of second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s, focusing on women’s bodies and sexuality and exploring poems that both comment on the restrictions placed on women and imagine ways to experiment with liberation. Unit three will focus on the relation between women and religion: our emphasis here will be on the 1980s, when a group of religious fundamentalists in the U.S. created a backlash against feminism on moral grounds; we will analyze the futurist dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale as our central means of understanding that backlash. Lastly, we will analyze two films that both offered a new storyline based on female friendship and had trouble finding an ending for such a narrative, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Thelma and Louise (1991). We will also read revisionist myths and fairy tales, and, at the end of the course, students will write their own revisions of well-known tales. (.5 credits, spring semester)

From Cowboys to Gangsters: Constructing American Masculinity

Cultural critics periodically ask if the American male is in crisis. Well, is he? This course will examine the ways in which various forms of literature—from the novel to hip hop—have shaped and reflected American conceptions of masculinity since the mid-19th century. First, we will study literary representations of violence and sport with works that may include Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises or a novel by Cormac McCarthy and excerpts of Friday Night Lights. In a unit titled “John Wayne’s Teeth,” we will ask questions about masculinity after WWII and into the 1960s through works by the Beats, films by directors like John Ford and Mike Nichols, short stories by Annie Proulx, and the novel Montana 1948 by Larry Watson. Having used these works to unearth assumptions about race and gender, the class will look more specifically at this intersectionality for the black American male. Authors may include August Wilson, Ralph Ellison, Robert Hayden, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Baldwin, and Kendrick Lamar. Finally, the class will turn its attention to the deconstruction and reconstruction of the definition of masculinity in works ranging from the poetry of Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein to television shows like Transparent and Parks & Recreation. What does and what should masculinity mean to us today? If you are interested in investigating that question and reading a wide range of great, engaging literature, then, as Kevin Millar would say, cowboy up! (.5 credits, fall semester)

Literature and Ethics: What would you do?

Literature often raises ethical questions. Some texts make us want to defend and condemn a protagonist’s actions simultaneously. They make us question our own moral compasses and ask ourselves: What would we do in the same situation? We may also become critical of the societies that have pushed these protagonists to act in immoral ways. We will begin with some reading and discussion about theories of moral development. The bulk of the course will then focus on two texts in which the protagonists face crushing societal oppression that leads them to break social, legal, and moral codes: the contemporary Indian satire White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1988 novel about American slavery, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Both texts not only raise questions about societal injustice and individual reaction, but also offer complex and fascinating narrative strategies to connect us to these desperate protagonists. If you are looking to read two great recent novels, learn about two unfamiliar cultures and historical periods, explore two unique narrative styles, and engage in some lively and thought-provoking ethical debates, this is the course for you. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Class VIII

Class VIII (Senior) Electives (0.5 credits, Fall)

Contemporary British Fiction

This course explores British fiction of the last several decades. We will consider how vast social and political changes – in Britain’s role in the world, gender roles, and the nation's ethnic makeup – have challenged traditional forms of identity and modes of representation. Readings may include Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, as well as short stories and poems by Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Salman Rushdie, William Trevor, and Jeanette Winterson.

The Empire Writes Back

This course will first explore the political, racial, cultural, and religious beliefs that informed the development of the British Empire. How does the literature of the time reflect both the ideology of empire and the latent cracks in its structure? We will then explore the postcolonial literary response from authors in African, Caribbean, and Indian regions that were colonized and from contemporary British writers reflecting on Britain’s colonial heritage. Authors may include Conrad, Coetzee, Said, Forster, Rhys, Rushdie, Smith and others. This course will build on students’ experience in their Global Studies courses and raise important questions about the impact of Britain’s colonial heritage on our world today.

Love, Loss and Longing: Innocence to Experience

Two of the Nineteenth Century’s greatest novelists and Oscar Wilde will provide the fictional touchstones around which our progress from the Romantic to the Victorian will swirl. Starting with poets who saw in Nature what inspired Emerson and Thoreau, we will journey through nearly a century of England’s richest literary tradition, sampling the greatest of the greats from Wordsworth and Keats to Bronte, Hardy, Tennyson, Browning and Wilde. From the Romantic icon Heathcliff, black-browed and seething, to Hardy’s impulsive, ambitious idealist who sells his wife to the highest bidder, to the rake whose honeyed tongue can lure an innocent lady to her doom, three of the most complex and surprising plots will unfurl to show you how the literary landscape in England grew from the ideal to the real, from Nature as spiritual inspiration to Nature as Darwinian science, from the wilds of the moors to the boudoirs of the fashionable, from Romantic idealism to fin de siècle debauchery. We will read poetry, prose, novels and a play and write about most, learning to identify the great writers for their style as much as for their message.

Desire, Consciousness, and the Poetic Self

How can a poem express your desires – and maybe even convince someone to love you? How can a poem represent your innermost thoughts and darkest secrets – perhaps even those you hide from yourself? Can a poem portray who you truly are? In this course, we’ll read a wide range of poetry that speaks to these questions; in each unit, students will also experiment with writing their own poems that express different aspects of the self. We will read poems from different time periods and that are written in a variety of forms – some traditional, like the sonnet, and some experimental – and we will explore the works of both well-known poets and lesser-known, often marginalized writers. One thematic focus of the course will be the representation of identity in poetry: in the first unit, we’ll interrogate the definitions of love, desire, and gender that early modern poets embraced and also sought to move beyond. In unit two, we’ll focus on the Romantic poets and their emphasis on spontaneous feeling, imagination, and the representation of consciousness. Lastly, we’ll examine the way Victorian and Modernist writers wrestled with an increasingly fragmented and alienated sense of self in the wake of industrialization and war.

Dynamic Shakespeare

In this course we will study a range of Shakespeare’s major works. The syllabus might include three or four major plays, as well as a selection of sonnets. The course examines both written and production texts; while grounded in Shakespeare’s written work, students visually and aurally map the two-dimensional written text onto the three dimensional stage. We carefully consider the elements of language, character development and story line. Then, to complement those elements of the written texts, the course draws from film productions of various directors since the 1900s. We will speak, read, see and imagine Shakespearean drama.

Class VIII (Senior) Electives (0.5 credits, Spring)

Transgression and Modernity

What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind--then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be. (Fyodor Dostoevesky, Crime and Punishment)

What does it mean to cross the “barriers” that restrain us? Do such barriers support morals and society, or are they merely “artificial terrors”? Is the choice to transgress the “modern” individual’s path to freedom or the road to alienation and destruction? We will begin by reading about mythical transgressors, such as Prometheus, Pandora, Adam, and Eve, and then turn to modern examples. Along the way, we will consider the relationship between science and ethics, gender and knowledge, the human and the divine. Readings will include Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, a selection of poetry and short stories, a unit on humor, and a play by David Mamet, John Guare, or Caryl Churchill.

Creative Writing

This course will give you the opportunity both to study the craft of other writers and to apply those lessons to your own creative writing about topics that are both familiar to you or might be in the farther reaches of your imagination. We'll study point of view, dialogue, monologue, plot development, climax, and resolution. Students will write a series of short stories using different creative techniques that will culminate in a portfolio of revised and polished work. Daily writing prompts will help you develop a writing journal full of raw material that can be drawn on for longer stories. You will participate in a writing community, offering feedback to your peers about their stories through regular writing workshops and sharing your work electronically and through in-class readings. We may experiment with creative nonfiction and different types of personal narrative as well.

Modern Society and Literary Theory

What is reality? How do you know that what you know is real? Are your actions determined by your individual human agency, or are they determined by some “grand plan” bigger than yourself? The literature of this course attempts to navigate the practical and the theoretical conflicts raised by modern society: man’s sense of reality, purpose, and the social order. Essays by literary and political theorists such as Jorge Luis Borges, Michel Foucault, Stephen Orgel, and Rene Descartes will frame the course. These essays explore and question the definition of an author, a reader, and a text. Other texts might include Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Franz Kafka’s The Hunger Artist, excerpts from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and various poems by Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein, and e.e. cummings. Films such as Limitless and Inception will supplement course readings. Students will write in a variety of genres including analytical papers, style analyses, poetry, and short stories.

Monstrosity and Society

“Vampires, Aliens, and Orcs! Oh, my!”

Why has so much traditional literature and popular culture focused on horrific monsters and the “heroes” who face and, sometimes, overcome them? By examining representations of monstrosity in a selection of literary works and films, what will we discover about societal values, the idea of the monstrous outsider, or “Other,” and the idea of the hero-slayer, the individual who enters the dragon’s lair? Are we always sure we know who the monster is and who the hero is? As society moves toward the modern period, how do “monsters” also change? How do modern monsters reflect contemporary society’s anxieties, fears or values? Is monstrosity always physical? Does moral or psychological monstrosity gain power by its ability to camouflage itself in outward conformity, as in the case of the serial killer? How does the cultural mapping of monstrosity intersect with modern technology and the anxieties it creates? We will explore both monsters and their nemeses by examining works such as the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, Gardner’s Grendel, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In terms of film and television, we may explore the 1939 film version of Frankenstein, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, or samplings from recent cultural products, such as The Walking Dead. Students will write in a variety of modes--analytical essays, film responses, and fictions--as well as leading discussions and making presentations to the class.

Film as Text: an Introduction to the Critical Language of Film

Film as Text is a course designed to expose students to the academic discipline of film studies, a relatively recent (and often interdisciplinary) study of the history, theory, and formal analysis of film. In this introductory course, students will learn the critical language of film—how film communicates, manipulates, and excites—by exploring a number of cinematic texts from a variety of genres. Students will study the basic elements and conventions of film construction (shot formation, angles, lighting, movement, sound, editing, narration, and mise-en-scene) and will learn to apply them to a critical analysis of select sequences and films. Relating form to content, students will move beyond story, and in so doing they will be pushed to think actively and critically about moving images and their ability to shape audience responses. Readings may include Louis Giannetti’s Understanding Movies as well as excerpts from film criticism and theory. Core texts will be films chosen for their artful construction and/or place in film history, and students will be assigned critical writing exercises and presentations throughout the semester.