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English Department

The goals of the English Department are to help students become stronger, more articulate thinkers and communicators, and to develop their understanding and lifelong love of literature. Underlying the entire language arts curriculum is a firm belief that stronger reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills help us become better people by deepening our understanding of ourselves and of others.

The study of literature is the backbone of the Language Arts curriculum. Literature serves as a forum for critical thought and debate, a focus for oral and written communication, and a model of good writing technique. Students learn to differentiate between factual and interpretive issues in a text and gain practice in using the text to support or refute specific interpretations. Lessons in grammar and vocabulary are text-based, and they encourage students to develop an understanding of correct patterns and rules. Qualified students are encouraged to take the AP English and the English SAT II achievement examinations.

The Curriculum:

The Curriculum:
9th – Introduction to Literature
10th – British Literature
11th – American Literature
12th – World Literature or AP Literature and Composition

Elective offerings have included:

-Creative Writing
-Women in Literature
-Modern Drama/The Short Story
-Comparative Literature
-Contemporary Literature

Students are required to take four years of English language and literature.

Tracking:  English classes are tracked in 10th - 12th grades. English classes are tracked indpendently of other disciplines.


The ninth grade English language and literature course concentrates on presenting various literary genres and building advanced reading and writing skills. Students study literature, media, grammar and vocabulary in addition to formal and creative writing. The course covers diverse genres of literature: short stories, novels, plays and poetry. Students study both Shakespearean and modern drama, as well as the works of classic and contemporary novelists. In order to enhance the students' engagement with the texts, the course is organized around central themes such as "parent-child relationships" and "moral dilemmas."  Students learn techniques of close textual analysis.   They are taught to read and identify theme, symbols and allusions, character development and other literary and poetic devices.

The goal of the 9th grade writing curriculum is to learn how to write clear, coherent prose. The focus is on mastering the critical essay and all its components: organized paragraphs, clear thesis statements, smooth transitions and the effective use of quotations. Students learn to edit their work carefully with the help of the teacher and their peers. Students also write book reports on books that they read independently, and complete a public speaking unit, in which they study rhetoric and present a persuasive speech. Grammar and vocabulary are both gleaned from the literature and studied through the use of formal texts.

Since excellence in writing is a skill that must be mastered in order to advance scholarship and careers, our ninth-grade students get a jump-start on honing their college writing skills by taking a mandatory freshman writing seminar that meets weekly. Students read, discuss, write, critique, rethink and rewrite as they develop their skills in written communication through building a portfolio of their own that includes journals entries, expository writing, response papers and creative pieces.


The tenth grade English course offers a comprehensive study of British language and literature. The course begins with the Anglo-Saxon period and covers works written through modern times. Since is impossible to understand the literature of a people without understanding that population's history, the historical context of each literary work is discussed. The reading selections include Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Renaissance poetry, a Shakespearean drama, the 17th century and the metaphysical poets, the Romantic and Victorian poets, the 19th century novel and a 20th century dramatic work. Writing assignments, examinations, and alternative forms of assessment are assigned to determine students' mastery of work covered. A research paper prepares students for college level literary exploration. Vocabulary mastery is incorporated into the curriculum to build and reinforce students' word usage. Grammar and mechanics usage are reviewed in conjunction with practice exercises and personal writing.


The eleventh grade English course focuses on American literature. The greatest emphasis and concentration is placed on the study and analysis of 19th and 20th century literature and movements such as realism, romanticism, naturalism, transcendentalism, surrealism and imagism.

A great deal of work is done to hone writing and grammar skills. Compare and contrast, character analysis, literary analysis and other persuasive essay assignments are emphasized. The vocabulary program has three goals: to improve the communication skills of our students, to enable them to speak and write with clarity and precision, and to prepare our students for the PSATs and SATs, which they will take during their high school career.


The twelfth grade English course focuses on world literature. Having studied both British and American literature, students gain exposure to the literature of other cultures. Students explore classic masterpieces of European literature, as well as more current authors and poets from around the world. The course covers a variety of genres, and students have the opportunity to study the conventions of short stories, plays, novels and poetry. A major aim of the course is to bring students' reading and analysis of literature to the college level by having them do independent, close readings of the text. Class discussions then reinforce and expand upon what students have gleaned.

In writing, the goal is to improve students' formal essay writing in preparation for college. Teachers work on guiding students through both the literary and the research essay.


The AP English course is designed for students who have demonstrated a high degree of interest and ability in the study of literature. The course offers college-level analysis and discussion of some of the masters of world literature in both the areas of poetry and prose. Weekly essay assignments on poetry or prose are geared toward preparing the students for the AP English exam, a test that requires students to analyze literature passages and answer multiple-choice questions at the college level.

The first semester concentrates on the genres of short stories, novels and plays; the second semester places greater emphasis on poetry, in addition to continuing study of novels and plays. The course may include but is not limited to the following works: Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Becket's Waiting for Godot, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Dreiser's Sister Carrie, Emerson's essays, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Melville's Billy Budd, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice, Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and an intensive unit of British and American poetry.

Since its level of reading, writing and study is intense, this course is only recommended for students who greatly love literature and who have demonstrated proficiency and skill in writing and analysis.


A Creative Writing elective is offered in the eleventh and twelfth grades. This course provides students with the opportunity to focus intensively on various aspects of the craft of writing, both formal and creative. The first part of the course centers on the components of story writing, beginning with writing point of view, character and dialogue. Students work on descriptive writing, and aspects of plot and structure. In the second part of the course, students concentrate on various aspects of journalistic writing, both news and editorial. Students work to master diverse forms of essay writing, such as descriptive, persuasive, and compare and contrast. The last section of the course includes a unit on poetry and short stories. A portfolio of the students' work is submitted at the end of each semester. It includes selected items for grading that have been revised and polished. A significant focus of the course is on editing one's work effectively; this skill is honed over the course of the year through peer-editing and individual conferencing with the teacher.

For all grades, Ma'ayanot offers a lunchtime Writing Center where students can drop in and have a personal conference with an English teacher to discuss writing, from paragraphs to poems to papers. Students may refer themselves or be referred by a teacher to the Center. This program is modeled upon similar drop-in writing centers offered at some of the finest colleges.