upper school english

Required Courses

English 9

English 9 focuses on writing as a process and on reading culturally diverse works that center on the journey as a defining experience in the creation of personal identity. Students concentrate on the process of developing their essays through such stages as pre-writing, outlining, first and second drafts, peer reviews, and metacritical essays. Students experiment with the workshop method for some essays, and most writing culminates in a one on one paper conference with the instructor. Students are introduced to elements of style while also learning how to structure arguable persuasive essays, compelling narratives, and imaginative poems. They acquire the fundamental patterns of critical thinking and the vocabulary necessary for written and spoken analysis of literary texts. Other skills important to a student’s Upper School career, such as class participation, note-taking, recitations, and presentations, reinforce the school values of collaboration and community. (Full year course)

English 10

English 10 asks two essential questions. How do people write to effect change? How does the act of writing foster growth in the writer? Each of our core texts and each of our assignments helps students to develop their critical thinking, reading, writing, and presentational skills in order to empower them as change-makers. Our reading list focuses on the dialog between the English canon and the modern and contemporary texts that have responded to the canon. Put in terms of Salman Rushdie’s famous article, we examine how and why the “Empire Writes Back with a Vengeance.” Students develop their writing skills through formal correspondence, through creative and persuasive narratives, through close textual analyses, and through writing and reciting poetry. As presenters, students teach each other about important terms and concepts related to literary study and to the study of culture and identity. Students write about and then teach each other about poetry, and then each student takes a turn working with a partner to teach the class about part of a reading. Working in groups, sophomores create and perform an original dramatic scene or adaptation of a Shakespearean scene through the Othello Response Project. Finally, through the year-long Agents of Change project, students reflect on and become advocates about social issues that matter to them. Each sophomore develops a portfolio of persuasive writing that furthers their goals in confronting their chosen issue and that chronicles their personal growth through advocacy. (Full year course)

English 11

English 11 offers an opportunity to study some of the key texts of American literature from the colonial to the contemporary period, with a special focus on the periods of the American Renaissance, the late nineteenth century, and Modernism, and a consistent interrogation of the ways in which categories of gender, race, and social class have inflected the question of what it means to be an American. Readings include selections from Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Sherman Alexie. The course continues development of students’ analytical abilities by drawing on and extending the interpretive skills developed in English 9 and 10, and also seeks to increase students’ reading speed in anticipation of the demands of college humanities courses. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills, and include a personal narrative designed to serve as a first draft for the college application essay. Over the course of the year, students continue to develop their presentational abilities; by the end of the year, they are responsible for planning and teaching the majority of class sessions. (Full year course)

American Studies

American Studies is a field of study that integrates many traditional disciplines into a single search for the answer to the question, “What is an American?” In our new American Studies course, we will look at American lives. What richness, spirit, creativity, and heartbreak do we see in the Dreamers, the Builders, the Rulebreakers, the new Pioneers, the Seekers? How do these individuals reinforce or challenge our ideas about who is an American? Where do we see ourselves in this tapestry of American experience? The course will take a multidisciplinary approach, looking at primary and secondary historical texts, literature, film, visual art, and music. We will read historians including Eric Foner, Annette Gordon-Reed, Michelle Alexander, and Howard Zinn, and writers such as Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Catherine Beecher, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsburg, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, Naomi Shihab Nye, George Saunders, Junot Díaz, Jade Snow Wong, and Jhumpa Lahiri. We’ll be inspired by artists like Aaron Copland, Nina Simone, Joan Baez and Tupac; Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, and Pablita Velarde; Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, and Ava DuVernay. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills and will offer the opportunity for some creative writing as well. Over the course of the year, students will also continue to develop their research skills and presentational abilities, and will be responsible for planning and teaching class sessions. This course is worth two credits and satisfies both U.S. History and English 11 requirements. (Full year course; one credit in English and one credit in Social Studies)

Senior English

Seniors must successfully complete one English class during each semester. Students often lead the seminar-style senior electives. Fall courses include research papers; in the spring courses, public collaborative projects are required. Offerings are slightly different each year, with new course listings released each May. (Honors)


Creative Writing

The creative-writing elective is open to students in the Upper School who want to develop their individual voices and hone their skills as writers of poetry and prose by participating as members of a writers’ workshop. Each day we will read examples of interesting writing, including lyric poetry, prose poetry, short stories, and graphic novels, and work on our own writing. Each student is responsible for organizing an on or off campus event to promote learning about creative writing for their peers. For example, students might organize a poetry night, work with lower school students on a writing project, or attend a reading in the Portland area. Students also publish in a school zine a few times over the course of the year, work on the literary magazine Pegasus, and read at the final end of the year Creative Writing Assembly. This class will meet two times a cycle for the entire year; upon completion, students will receive a half-credit. Note: This elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel’s English requirements. This course can be taken more than once for credit. (Full year course)

Dialogue for Democracy

What role does journalism play in creating and maintaining a healthy democracy? How might we learn to be more critical media consumers and, in turn, more deeply engaged democratic citizens? In this interdisciplinary course, students will consider these very questions as they learn about the history and role of journalism as foundational to democracy. Over the course of the semester, students will study journalistic ethics, media and rhetorical analysis, the history of print media, news in the divided digital age, and core journalistic writing and multimedia production skills. In addition, students will spend time in the community in and outside of school learning from both experienced journalists and local citizens. As part of the CatlinSpeak staff, students will practice writing and publishing for an audience by producing weekly content and one print edition per semester of CatlinSpeak, an award-winning, student-created online news magazine and print newspaper. This course is open to all students in grades ten through twelve. Students may take this semester-long course more than once, and it may count as a Social Studies elective credit. Seniors may take one semester of this course as an English credit that will count toward the four-year graduation requirement. (Fall or spring semester)

Middle School Teaching Assistants

Assist our Middle School English teachers in the classroom. Build your communication, facilitation, presentation, and mentoring skills for your future career. Those interested in this exciting opportunity will set up an interview with the teacher to understand the expectations and the rubric for assessment. Decisions will be made before Memorial Day. This offering is open to Juniors and Seniors and may be requested for the Year or Semester. This course does not meet our English requirements.

Global Online Academy (GOA)

Please note: GOA English electives do not count toward English requirements.


This skills-based course explores the creativity, effort, and diversity of techniques required to change people’s minds and motivate them to act. Students learn how to craft persuasive arguments in a variety of formats (written, oral, and multimedia) by developing a campaign for change around an issue about which they care deeply. We explore a number of relevant case studies and examples as we craft our campaigns. Units include persuasive writing, social media, public speaking, informational graphics, and more. The culminating project is a multimedia presentation delivered and recorded before a live audience. (Spring semester)

Creative Nonfiction Writing

Tell your own stories and the stories of the world around you! This course centers on the art of shaping real experiences into powerful narratives while growing in foundational writing skills. Participants will read, examine, and write diverse works of creative nonfiction including personal narratives, podcasts, opinion editorials, profile pieces, and more. Emphasizing process over product, this writing workshop provides opportunities to create in new ways. Students will practice essential craft elements (voice, style, structure) while reflecting stories from their own lives, communities, and interests. They will also build a personalized library of inspiring mentor texts, consider opportunities for publication, and develop sustainable writing habits. Both in real-time video chats and online discussion spaces, students will support one another intentionally; feedback is an essential component of this course, and students will gain experience in the workshop model, actively participating in a thriving, global writing community. Creative nonfiction has never been as popular as it is today; participants will experience its relevance on their own lives as they collaboratively explore this dynamic genre. (Fall semester)

Fiction Writing

This course connects students interested in creative writing (primarily short fiction) and provides a space for supportive and constructive feedback. Students gain experience in the workshop model, learning how to effectively critique and discuss one each other's writing in an online environment. In addition to developing skills as readers within a workshop setting, students strive to develop their own writing identities through a variety of exercises. This Online Fiction Writing Course, titled International Connection: The Globalization of Creative Fiction Writing, capitalizes on the geographic diversity of the students by eliciting stories that shed light on both the commonalities and differences of life experiences in different locations. Additionally, we read and discuss the work of authors from around the globe. (Spring semester)

Poetry Writing

This poetry writing workshop explores identity and seeks to answer the question: How are you shaped (or not) by the community you live in? Our goal is to create a supportive online network of writers that uses language to discover unique and mutual understandings of what it means to be a global citizen from a local place. Students draft and revise poems, provide and receive frequent feedback, and read a range of modern and contemporary poets whose work is grounded in place. Sample assignments include audio and video recording, an online journal, study of performance poetry, peer video conferences, close reading, investigations into process and craft, collaborative poetry anthologies, and a class publication. All writers have the opportunity to send their work to international contests and publications. (Fall semester)