Curriculum Guide

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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 study of literature is skill-based, rather than content-based. 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 writing problems and how to eliminate them.

Placement in honors and regular sections in the fifth, and sixth forms is at the discretion of the department.
  • English 600 Honors: Reading and Writing Nature (A Literary Approach)

    NOTE: This class is linked to the class by the same name the Science and English department

    The students will be​ ​enrolled in both classes and get both English and Science credits. The two classes will share this goal: to learn to pay close, careful attention to the natural world and to think about it in fresh ways with new vocabularies and skills. Students will, for example, study trees at the same time. In science, they will be identifying trees and studying their life cycle. In English, they will be seeing how different writers think about trees while they practice articulating our own perspectives. In science, boys will study the natural processes of the earth, starting with the underlying geology and moving into the dynamics of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Students will investigate these topics through observational field work, data collection, and student-made visual presentations. In English, they will study a wide variety of works, which look at nature and our relationship with it (from essay and memoir to poetry and fiction to art and film). Boys will also spend time outside collecting our own observations, which will provide inspiration and material for our own thinking and writing. (Note: this same option is being offered as a regular course.)
  • English 300

    English 300 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 400

    English 400 for fourth formers 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 English 400 course broadens students’ understanding of literature. Students read representative works in memoir, drama, poetry, short story, and the novel. English 400 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. Literary analysis in English 400 builds upon and elaborates on that covered in the third form. In addition, students practice the close reading of a text for tone, nuance, implication, and its effect on a reader. The English 400W class, essentially the same as the English 400 class, includes an intensive review of grammar.
  • English 500

    English 500 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. Honors students may choose to specialize in preparation for the A.P. English Literature exam, the A.P. English Language exam, or both. English 500 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 500 Honors (Language)

    Students in this year-long course will work with a wide variety of stimulating reading and writing assignments. Because one of the goals of the course is to prepare students for 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 500 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. This year-long course will prepare students to take 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 600

    English 600 prepares students who wish to take an Advanced Placement exam to do so, though the course is much more concerned with providing a satisfying and challenging culmination to the study of English in high school. Students who complete the course should be prepared for any reading and writing assignment that they will face as college freshmen and should feel confident of their preparation regardless of where they enroll. Because most of the students in English 600 Honors have already taken an Advanced Placement exam in English, the course looks beyond the preparation for A. P. exams to consider preparation for college English and lifetime success with reading and writing. Students choose from a set of year-long electives. The choices for 2019-20 are listed below with course descriptions written by the individual teachers:
  • English 600 Honors: Uprising: Subversion and Survival in 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 an independent reading and creative writing project within a unique area of world 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 Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng’s suburban mystery of a fire set in a planned communityIn addition to writing creative commentary about these readings, students will experiment with style and form in book reviews, film critiques, creative nonfiction, short fiction, vignettes, free verse poetry, metrical poetry, and microfiction.
  • English 600 Regular - Philosophy

    Investing time in “doing philosophy” pays practical, emotional, and social dividends, even though in the short run it's likely to irritate your neighbors. Students will spend classes learning to reason with others about topics like knowledge, mind and body, free will, the self, the social contract, stoicism, the world, and what to do. All should expect to hear cherished ideas challenged. Readings will come from philosophers like Plato, Nietzsche, and Marcus Aurelius as well as popular essays on topics like how to think about machine-learning algorithms that use video games to control their players. Each student will write seven focused essays per trimester. Exams will consist of special research projects. Topics might include AI and the mind; laws and punishments; ideology and free will; nature, capitalism, and sustainability; fairness, language, race, and culture; entitlement to the senior slide; and promises, contracts, and rights.
  • English 600 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. InPeterHeller’sTheRiver,​ JackandWynnareconfrontedwithamysterioussituationinvolving a missing person during their canoe trip on an isolated river in northern Canada. A massive forest fire threatens to jump the river as they head back upstream. Through film studies students will consider how crime and suspense are portrayed across genres and styles (e.g. western, gangster film, neo noir). The course will begin its study of creative writing with short fiction by T. C. Boyle and Ron Rash and continue with other brief readings as inspiration for student experiments in short fiction, creative nonfiction, and microfiction.
  • English 600 Regular_Mythology and Modern Literature

    There are certain basic stories—we’ll call them myths—that repeat themselves in almost every culture: stories of creation, stories of heroes, quests, fantastical beasts, floods, the destruction of the world, and so on. All of literature is a constant re-working of these timeless and universal stories, which have been around since the first campfire tales. In this course we will look especially closely at the greatest old plot of all: the journey of the hero. We will use the hero myths as a springboard for looking at the work of modern novelists, poets, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, who hearken back to the age-old stories, rediscovering and reinterpreting their truths for our own time. This course will concentrate on how the ancient, eternal stories continue to speak to our modern culture. 

Our Faculty

  • Photo of John  Amos
    John Amos
    (540) 672-6181 Ext. 8607
    University of Virginia - BA
  • Photo of Ryan Alexander
    Ryan Alexander
    English, Student Affairs
    (540) 672-6037
    Davidson College - BA
  • Photo of Karen Broaddus
    Karen Broaddus
    College of William and Mary - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd, PhD
  • Photo of Paul  Erb
    Paul Erb
    Head Varsity Squash Coach
    Amherst College - BA
    Universite de Paris III - DEA
    University of Michigan - MA, PhD
  • Photo of Ben Hale
    Ben Hale
    Head Varsity Cross Country Coach
    (540) 672-6181 Ext. 8605
    Washington and Lee University - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
    Pacific Lutheran University - MFA
  • Photo of Marc Hogan
    Marc Hogan
    Head Varsity Golf Coach
    (540) 672-6181 Ext 8606
    University of Virginia - BA, MA
  • Photo of Seth  Rushton
    Dr. Seth Rushton
    Claremont Graduate University - PhD
  • Photo of Ansel Sanders
    Dr. Ansel Sanders '00
    English faculty; 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.
  • Photo of Trevor Thornton
    Trevor P. Thornton '04
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
  • Photo of Kristyn Wilson
    Kristyn Wilson
    (540) 672-6181 ext. 8646
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd
  • Photo of Charlie Wright
    Charlie Wright
    Kenan-Lewis Fellow
    University of Alabama - BA
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.