Preparing Boys for Life


All Haverford students are required to be enrolled in a year-long English course every year. Each level of English class is populated by students in that form only (i.e. all third formers take English I). In the spring semester of their sixth form year, students select one from an array of electives to complete their English requirement. Below you will find descriptions of the advanced (denoted by an *) and standard course offerings.

Core Courses

English I

This course seeks to ground students in the essential elements of effective reading, writing, and speaking. Two major objectives of the course are to teach students to read for meaning as well as pleasure and to teach them to express themselves clearly and logically through the written word. Writing assignments vary from analytical essays and personal narratives to journal entries and creative exercises. Most assignments emphasize revision and require multiple drafts. During the year students study and discuss works from many genres and examine how plot, character, theme, and language inform each other. Selections from Homer’s The Odyssey familiarize students with the background of the Western tradition, while providing a common base of reference for the future study of literature at Haverford. Other works in the recent past have included: A Raisin in the Sun, Lord of the Flies, American Born Chinese, and selections of short stories and poems. English I also includes a formal study of grammar, based on online resources and Warriner’s High School Handbook, and vocabulary, largely based on Wordly Wise 3000.

English II: World Literature

This course exposes students to many genres of world literature and introduces them to the critical idiom. It places special emphasis on close reading and urges students to explore how figurative language, allusion, connotation, and imagery enhance meaning. Students hone these reading skills through sources as diverse as the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri and Ha Jin, the poems of Wilfred Owen and W.D. Ehrhart, and the drama of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the boys. Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis and Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart round out a selection that we hope will challenge and broaden the perspectives of our young men. Expository essays help students to develop analytical and critical skills; personal narrative assignments encourage Fourth Form writers to develop their own voice or rhetorical style. Original poetry, journalism, and frequent print or online journal entries supplement more traditional writing assessments. In order to further their ability to communicate effectively and gracefully, students also continue the study of grammar and vocabulary begun in Third Form, turning their attention to usage and the mechanics of writing. In addition to the core resources of, they continue to use Wordly Wise 3000 and may refer to sources like Warriner’s High School Handbook.

English III: American Literature

Building upon the grammatical foundation and introduction to literary genres established in Fourth Form, this course is a selective survey of important works that reflect the varieties of the American experience. The course includes selections of poetry, fiction, and essays from authors such as Edwards, Wheatley, Thoreau, Douglass, Whitman, Dickinson, Hughes, Kesey, and Diaz. Core texts include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Great Gatsby, and Fences. This study of American literature serves as the basis for regularly assigned critical papers and personal narratives. Teachers assign a variety of topics, and as the year progresses, students are given greater freedom of choice in their topics and their approaches. The department expects papers to be thorough, well organized, clearly worded, insightful, well documented, and substantially free of spelling, grammatical, and mechanical errors.

English IV: The Individual and Society (Fall)

For the fourth required year of English, the course is divided into two distinct terms. The fall term is devoted to honing the Sixth Formers’ skills in close reading and careful writing. Students write frequent analytical essays on complex literary texts. Texts assigned in the recent past include Brave New World, Hamlet, Between the World and Me, and classic and contemporary poetry.

English IV* (Fall)

This English IV fall seminar delves more deeply into some of the same challenging early British texts as the standard Sixth Form English course. It may include one or more other British literary works, such as a Jane Austen novel and some Romantic poetry. Students will write frequent papers of the length typically required in an introductory college course. Sixth Formers may enroll in this first semester course if they meet the following prerequisites: A- average in English III, the recommendation of their English III teacher, and, after consideration of a writing sample, the consent of the department. In the second semester, the department offers the variety of seminars as described below in English IV.

English at The Haverford School

Students indicate preference for each of the following English IV seminars, and the department makes every effort to place a student in one of his top-three choices. Each course offers the equivalent of four major works, and students write between 20-25 pages of criticism, fiction, or personal narrative.

The Cinema of Masculinity

In this course, we will critically dissect the longest continuously running film series in history. The works of Ian Fleming serve as a unique way to map American masculinity. The coded objects, in Bond, point to drastic changes in male identity from 1950s into the present moment.

Journalism: Speaking Truth to Power

Students will further hone their writing abilities through a study of a variety of contemporary journalistic lenses: investigative, feature, arts criticism, opinion, sports, and world-affairs news analysis. We will read, write, critique, revise, and publish. We will consider the state of contemporary American journalism in its print, digital, and social media contexts.

Page and Stage

After close readings of contemporary and classic plays, students will attend live performances on Philadelphia stages. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the productions using the critical language of the arts journalist. Whenever possible, we will discuss the creative process with writers, directors, designers, and actors.

Seeing is Believing

Students spend their Haverford career learning how to be a critical reader. This course will focus on being a critical viewer. It is about the power of story in visual media. In particular we will focus on advertisements and film. In the case of advertising, the course will look at how audience determines all aspects of the final product: narrative, cast, setting, sound, lighting, framing, acting, and more. Writing assignments will include commentaries on the readings, film critiques, and journals.

Fiction Writing

Students will craft original pieces of fiction and discuss them in the workshop format. Additionally, we will read and discuss published fiction from successful authors like Junot Diaz and Stephen King in an effort to emulate and understand what makes good writing so good. A significant portion of this class will be focused on the rewriting and journaling process, so students should be prepared to be reflective and thoughtful. Students will compose at least two original pieces of fiction submitted for workshop, in addition to peer reviews, reaction papers, reflections, and freewriting.

Art of the Short Story

Students will immerse themselves in a variety of short stories, concentrating on what makes the short fiction genre special. From work by William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, to Tobias Wolff, and Junot Diaz, we will read a broad selection of fiction offering a range of narrative voices, including contemporary stories. Through close character study and investigation into the arch of a narrative, students will craft their own original work in the style of their favorite authors, paying special attention to character creation, dialogue, and figurative language.