Curriculum Detail

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English

With a curriculum that embraces both the traditional and the progressive, the Woodberry Forest English Department teaches critical reading and effective writing at every grade level. Starting in the ninth grade, students learn to organize their thoughts coherently and to express their ideas in clear, precise prose even as they begin to experiment with style, voice, figures of speech, wit, rhetorical strategies, poetic devices, and form. Reading assignments, ranging from Shakespeare and his contemporaries to the most recent memoirs, essays, and poetry, reinforce the principles of good writing and reveal minds that have defined American and other cultures. The department also uses clippings from daily newspapers, current magazine articles, films, letters, speeches, websites, and advertisements to engage, instruct, inspire, and sometimes provoke students. Hence the claim to be both traditional and progressive. While teachers demand that students encounter familiar canonical writers from the past, write in standard English, and master the principles of English grammar, they also employ non-canonical texts, visual arts, and modern media to prompt students’ thinking. The complementary processes of reading and writing constitute the foundation of what the English Department teaches, and everything else—grammar, vocabulary, test-taking skills, research—must contribute to the primary goal of producing nuanced, thoughtful, canny readers and confident, controlled writers.

In the third and fourth forms, classes cover standard English grammar, formal and informal essay writing, and readings from different centuries in five genres: essay, poetry, drama, novel, and memoir. The students in the fifth and sixth forms write in longer, more sophisticated forms and read challenging works that serve as models of good writing and that generate lively discussion.

With a curriculum that embraces both the traditional and the progressive, the Woodberry Forest English Department teaches critical reading and effective writing at every grade level. Starting in the ninth grade, students learn to organize their thoughts coherently and to express their ideas in clear, precise prose even as they begin to experiment with style, voice, figures of speech, wit, rhetorical strategies, poetic devices, and form. Reading assignments, ranging from Shakespeare and his contemporaries to the most recent memoirs, essays, and poetry, reinforce the principles of good writing and reveal minds that have defined American and other cultures. The department also uses clippings from daily newspapers, current magazine articles, films, letters, speeches, websites, and advertisements to engage, instruct, inspire, and sometimes provoke students. Hence the claim to be both traditional and progressive. While teachers demand that students encounter familiar canonical writers from the past, write in standard English, and master the principles of English grammar, they also employ non-canonical texts, visual arts, and modern media to prompt students’ thinking. The complementary processes of reading and writing constitute the foundation of what the English Department teaches, and everything else—grammar, vocabulary, test-taking skills, research—must contribute to the primary goal of producing nuanced, thoughtful, canny readers and confident, controlled writers.
In the third and fourth forms, classes cover standard English grammar, formal and informal essay writing, and readings from different centuries in five genres: essay, poetry, drama, novel, and memoir. The students in the fifth and sixth forms write in longer, more sophisticated forms and read challenging works that serve as models of good writing and that generate lively discussion.

The English Department asks its students to learn how to read actively, how to decode a complex text, how to respond to voices from earlier centuries, and how to respond to works in any genre of nonfiction or fiction.

The study of writing progresses from basic work with sentence structure and paragraphs to personal narrative to more formal analytical writing. In the fourth form students take a timed writing exam in December to evaluate their ability to write a personal narrative and again in April to demonstrate their ability to analyze a text. In the fall of the fifth form, students begin to work with rhetorical strategies. The sixth form classes revisit and expand on the skill set of earlier forms. Every student meets at least once per marking period with his English teacher for a private conference to discuss their writing.

Placement in honors and regular sections in the fifth and sixth forms is at the discretion of the department.



  • English: Third Form: Essentials of English

    “Essentials of English” for incoming third formers emphasizes skill development in reading, grammar, vocabulary, literary analysis, and composition. Writing instruction stresses control of language at the sentence and paragraph level. Longer writing assignments focus on description and personal narrative in the first two trimesters and shift to analytical assignments in the third trimester. The class introduces students to the techniques and lexicon of critical reading as it encourages the life-long pleasure to be found in reading, and it likewise emphasizes writing as a process that requires prewriting and rewriting. Students develop oral skills through the recitation of poems or excerpts, the leading of a class discussion on a literary work, and the delivering of oral book reports; they build vocabulary through the study of Greek and Latin roots, the study of words in context, and the examination of vocabulary within the texts chosen for study; and they improve their understanding of grammar and its application to their own writing. The course also stresses study skills associated with the English class.
  • English: Fourth Form: Using Language

    Fourth Form English continues to stress the basics of good writing, with a particular focus on paragraphing and organization of essays, as well as on the continued mastery of grammar. A timed writing exam, administered twice a year, measures each student’s progress in writing both personal and argumentative essays. The course broadens students’ understanding of literature. Students read representative works in memoir, drama, poetry, short story, and the novel. Fourth Form English is distinguished by its focus on literary genres, on the terms useful for understanding literature, on close attention to the personal essay, and on its emphasis on the longer analytical essay by the end of the year. In addition, students practice the close reading of a text for tone, nuance, implication, and its effect on a reader.
  • English: Fourth Form (Advanced): Using Language

    This course is open only to fourth formers who have been recommended by their third form teacher.  Students in this course should expect more challenging reading and writing assignments, but the basic framework of the course will be similar to other sections of Fourth Form English.  This is not an “honors” course and does not come with a GPA “bump.” The decision to offer this course will be made on a year-by-year basis, depending upon interest and need.
  • English: Fifth Form: Literature and Composition (Regular)

    Fifth Form English is an intensive writing course. Every student covers the principles of how to lay out an effective, sustained argument in a variety of forms, from the personal essay appropriate to a college application to a formal essay appropriate for publication. Students review and build on the close-reading and diverse writing skills covered in the fourth form, practice writing in longer and more complex forms, including document-based questions, hone their editing and proofreading skills, and examine basic rhetorical strategies — appeal to emotion, appeal to reason, appeal to common values, and appeal on the basis of a reliable character. The course pays special attention to point of view, tone, narrative structure, connotation and denotation of language, levels of diction, figures of speech, tone shifts, irony, allusion, and validity of supporting evidence. Teachers select readings that are excellent models for writing and that generate lively class discussion.
  • English: Fifth Form Honors (Language)

    Students in this year-long course will work with a wide variety of stimulating reading and writing assignments. Though not an AP course, this class will make students familiar with the skills needed to succeed on the A.P. English Language exam.  Students will focus on the art of persuasion and will learn to recognize and use various strategies for delivering an argument. Texts will include poetry, prose, drama, essays, speeches, letters, and images — any text that might present an argument to a reader.
  • English: Fifth Form Honors (Literature)

    Students in this class will write in every mode of discourse — from the personal essay to a formal analysis of a text, from college essays to short stories, from humor to creative nonfiction. There will also be plenty of lively discussions. Though not an AP course, this class will make students familiar with the skills needed to succeed on the A.P. English Literature exam through the reading of poems, novels, plays, short stories, essays, magazine articles, memoirs, and whatever else teachers can get their hands on.
  • English: Sixth Form (Regular): Crime and Suspense in Literature, Film, and Creative Writing

    How does crime provide a structure for analyzing film and literature? In Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, each of Hawley’s twelve bullet scars represents a separate chapter of his life of crime, a history that his teenage daughter Loo is just beginning to discover. In Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, the true story behind the discovery of unmarked graves at the Dozier School for Boys in Florida is reimagined as historical fiction. Through film studies, students will consider how crime and suspense are portrayed across genres and styles (e.g. western, gangster film, neo noir) and how race, ethnicity, gender, and class are presented. Students will write their own short fiction, creative nonfiction, and vignettes.  Taught by Dr. Karen Broaddus
  • English: Sixth Form (Honors): Uprising: Subversion Survival World Literature, Film, Creative Writing

    Students in this course will examine literary form and technique as a way to grapple with world issues and to develop their own expertise as creative writers. Analysis of the rhetoric of film will prepare students to design their own research projects. Each student will also pursue a creative writing project within a unique area of experimental literature. The course will begin with Colson Whitehead’s imaginative, revisionist take on slavery in The Underground Railroad, which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Other readings in this course have been as diverse as The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga’s darkly humorous version of murder as upward mobility in Indian economics, and The Dog Stars, Peter Heller’s post-apocalyptic tale of a pilot and his dog trying to survive after a flu pandemic. Students will experiment with style and form in creative nonfiction, short fiction, vignettes, and poetry.  Taught by Dr. Karen Broaddus


  • English Sixth Form (Regular): Shakespeare Alive

    People get frightened by Shakespeare without reason.  They decide that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult and that somehow he is only for intellectuals.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Shakespeare wrote for everyone—kings and groundlings alike.  His characters are universal.  They span the full range of humanity.  His observations about human nature are profoundly applicable to our everyday lives.  Studying Shakespeare makes us understand ourselves and our world more fully.  This course is aimed at helping students overcome their fear of Shakespeare and in the process learn to appreciate some of the world’s greatest literature.  We will study comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances.  We will also read modern works with parallel themes.  We will also study a variety of actors and their performances in order to understand how Shakespeare comes alive on stage. Taught by Mr. John Amos
  • English: Sixth Form (Honors): Shakespeare Alive

    People get frightened by Shakespeare without reason.  They decide that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult and that somehow he is only for intellectuals.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Shakespeare wrote for everyone—kings and groundlings alike.  His characters are universal.  They span the full range of humanity.  His observations about human nature are profoundly applicable to our everyday lives.  Studying Shakespeare makes us understand ourselves and our world more fully.  This course is aimed at helping students overcome their fear of Shakespeare and in the process learn to appreciate some of the world’s greatest literature.  We will study comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances.  We will also read modern works with parallel themes.  We will also study a variety of actors and their performances in order to understand how Shakespeare comes alive on stage. Taught by Mr. John Amos
  • English: Sixth Form (Honors): Creative Writing: Making Art out of Words

    What do Stephen King, William Shakespeare, George R.R. Martin, and Dr. Seuss all have in common?  They have all created stories that open up whole worlds inhabited by characters who come alive in our imaginations as they navigate struggles which absorb us (and change us).  This is a course in doing that.  We will work mainly on stories, but we will also work on creative essays and poetry.  We will practice reading like writers as we study closely how the masters do it; and we will practice writing like readers as we create and refine our own pieces.  

    The students in the course will also have the opportunity to work with a professional writer (TBA) who will visit in person.  Taught by Mr. Ben Hale


  • English: Sixth Form (Regular): Leadership in Literature

    What is leadership?  Who is a leader?  What values and principles are associated with leadership?  In the "Leadership in Literature" course, we will explore these and other fundamental questions with an eclectic mix of material across genre, setting, topic, perspective, time period, and style.  Through our exploration of different portrayals of leadership, we will reflect on our own concepts and practices, equipping students with examples and frameworks for their own growth and development as leaders.  Students can expect text-based discussion using the Socratic method, personal and analytical writing, and real-world relevant projects applicable to both Woodberry and their lives beyond Woodberry.  Taught by Dr. Ansel Sanders

Our Faculty

  • Photo of John  Amos
    John Amos
    English
    (540) 672-3900 Ext. 8607
    University of Virginia - BA
    2008
    Bio
  • Photo of Ryan Alexander
    Ryan Alexander
    English, Student Affairs
    Dean of the Fifth and Sixth Forms
    (540) 672-6037
    Davidson College - BA
    2010
    Bio
  • Photo of Karen Broaddus
    Karen Broaddus
    English
    College of William and Mary - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd, PhD
    2005
    Bio
  • Photo of Paul  Erb
    Paul Erb
    English
    Head Varsity Squash Coach
    Amherst College - BA
    Universite de Paris III - DEA
    University of Michigan - MA, PhD
    2015
    Bio
  • Photo of Ben Hale
    Ben Hale
    English
    Head Varsity Cross Country Coach
    (540) 672-3900 Ext. 8605
    Washington and Lee University - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
    Pacific Lutheran University - MFA
    1992
    Bio
  • Photo of Marc Hogan
    Marc Hogan
    English
    Head Varsity Golf Coach
    (540) 672-3900 Ext 8606
    University of Virginia - BA, MA
    1987
    Bio
  • Photo of Tracy Robertson
    Tracy Robertson
    English
    English
    Duke University - BA
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - MEd
    2021
    Bio
  • Photo of Seth  Rushton
    Dr. Seth Rushton
    English
    English
    Claremont Graduate University - PhD
    2019
    Bio
  • Photo of Ansel Sanders
    Dr. Ansel Sanders '00
    English, Student Affairs
    Dean of Students; secretary to the Board of Trustees; Director of Summer Programs
    (540) 672-6776
    Washington and Lee University - BA
    The Johns Hopkins University - MAT
    Harvard University - Ed.L.D.
    2019
    Bio
  • Photo of Aleisha Smith-Thornton
    Aleisha Smith-Thornton
    English
    English
    University of Puget Sound - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
    University of Minnesota - Currently Writing Dissertation
    2021
    Bio
  • Photo of Trevor Thornton
    Mr. Trevor P. Thornton '04
    English
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
    2020
    Bio
  • Photo of Charlie Wright
    Charlie Wright
    English
    Kenan-Lewis Fellow
    University of Alabama - BA
    2020
    Bio
Woodberry Forest admits students of any race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, and national or ethnic origin to all of the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs. The school is authorized under federal law to enroll nonimmigrant students.