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Voice and Meaning: Advanced Comparative Literature

What do we mean by "voice" when we discuss literature? How does the author's voice affect the development of character? How do writers use "voice" in establishing character?

How do other literary elements augment and illuminate text, voice and meaning?

Students will engage in Socratic seminars in their discussions of the text, putting to use their interpretive skills and citing evidence. They will also consider the relevance of the text to real life situations and whether issues of importance to particular groups also reveal something about the society as a whole.

Black Boy by Richard Wright
Florida- by Daniel Alarcon
Breakfast at Tiffany's- Capote
Ordinary People
House on Mango Street- Cisneros
Media Used: 
Film Heaven directed by Tom Tykwer
Significant Assignments: 

A series of comparative essays based on the texts read and the themes that guide the course.

Sample PBATs: 
Using two of the novels we've read this semester, discuss the influence of "voice" on the structure and meaning of the novel. Consider the role of the narrator, the characters, as well as the author. You many choose any of the novels you'd like to work with. Be sure to support your analysis with evidence from the texts.

Representations of War

This course will examine how various artists have portrayed war and its effects, and what these portrayals reveal about both. It is a truly comparative class, looking at short stories, novels, poetry, painting, photography, film, and even dance, in an attempt to analyze what it means to make art about war, how people cope with war—in some very surprising ways—and how conceptions about war have both shifted over time and shaped our perceptions about life generally.

Sample PBATs: 
Independent research essay on one of the course's texts

"Ladies, Love, & 'Lationships"

The search for love is a struggle common to all people. Yet, why must this burden fall more heavily on women? If a man sleeps around he is a “player,” but a woman who sleeps around is a “slut.” If a man stays single for his whole life he is a “bachelor,” but a woman who never marries is a “spinster” or an “old maid.” Why do these disparities exist? Why do men appear to have more sexual freedom than women? In an examination of the role of women in our society, we will read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

"Metaphors" by Sylvia Plath
"Why Women Always Take Advantage of Men" by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
"The Problem That Has No Name" by Betty Friedan
Significant Assignments: 

Socratic Seminars will give you the chance to talk about your feelings about the reading. This is your space to discuss our guiding question for the week. You will have guiding steps, but by the end of the year, you will be pros and have no problem discussing the work.

FR Sheets and stickies on the text are due on assigned days in the Course Calendar—these are necessary tools for Socratic Seminars; you cannot talk about the work unless you have actively read it. Please complete assigned readings (complete means that you have stickies and an FR Sheet) on the dates assigned.

On Friday of each week, we will write in class essays. After teaching MEAT, students will become accustomed to writing solid responses to the Socratic Seminar questions. All of this will help prepare us for the deep analytical writing needed for the PBAT.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Throughout our entire study of Their Eyes Were Watching God, we will track important characters, important metaphors, what promotes a positive female identity, and what prevents a positive female identity. We do this to answer one of our Essential Questions: What is agency? This question brings more questions that we have used to support our essential question: What allows women to make choices free of social pressure? What causes women to make choices based on social pressure? For a series of classes we organize this information on our FR Sheets to create Janie’s Path to Self-Revelation—a graphic representation of how Janie has become “full of that oldest human longing—self-revelation” (Hurston 7).


The next novel, The Bell Jar, details the trials of Esther Greenwood. Since her society causes these trials, we explore the culture that Esther lives in a bit to gain a firm understanding of the conflict of the novel. To explore her culture, we research cultural aspects of the novel and build Historical Webs based upon our findings. Some of these topics are less historical and more psychological because psychology and mental health will play a large role in the text.

The topics are: Women in the 1950s, Birth Control, Sylvia Plath, Electroconvulsive Therapy, Clinical Depression, and Julius & Ethel Rosenberg.

Sample PBATs: 
"Finding Feminism Is a Two-Way Street: Esther's and Janie's Claim to Agency"
"Love in the Eyes of Women, or The True Love Esther and Janie Really Find"
"On the Journey for Agency"
"The Painful Growth of Janie and Esther"

War: Guilt and Redemption

"Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better"
--Albert Camus

The semester centers around class discussion and reflection on the current "state of the world" through the reading and critical analysis of literary texts and relevant non-fiction articles that share the central theme of war. The study of these texts is complemented by various films and first-hand accounts of individuals affected by war.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Media Used: 
Documentary: I Know I'm Not Alone by Michael Franti
Current newspaper articles on civil war in the Middle East and Africa
Significant Assignments: 

Literary analysis papers and presentations

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Artistic interpretations of texts - symbolism

Sample PBATs: 
How does war influence the development of a person's character/personality and the life he/she chooses to live? What are the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical casualties of war?
What role does hope play in a person's individual journey towards salvation?
How does guilt affect a person? Is redemption always attainable?

American Studies

Topics include American literature set in the historical periods from the Civil War to WWII. Throughout the course, the focus is to answer the following questions: What is freedom? What is democracy? What is the role of the government? What is the United States' role in the world? What is your role as a community member?

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Night by Elie Wiesel
Multiple short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Caroline Bond Day, and Ernest Hemmingway
Significant Assignments: 

Students write a literary analysis of Kindred using a critical lens.

Students write a comparative literary essay analyzing one of Yezierska's short stories and her novel, Bread Givers.

Students write historical short stories based in the 1920s.

Students participate in an academic debate and develop a persuasive writing piece based on their reading To Kill a Mockingbird

Students write and perform poetry based on their study of WWII and Night by Elie Wiesel.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

The Civil War and Kindred by Octavia Butler: This historical science fiction novel follows Dana's journey through time into her ancestral past of slavery. Student groups will be asked to conduct historical research on the antebellum period and the Civil War and present to the class through drama, Power Point or tableau. While reading this novel students focus on analysis of literary techniques such as characterization, foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony.

The Progressive Era and Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska: Students conduct an author study of Anzia Yezierska and examine her characters by reading Bread Givers and two of her short stories set during the Progressive Era in the United States. Students visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and create historical walking tour brochures of the neighborhood.

The Roaring Twenties and the Harlem Renaissance: Through this unit, students will have an opportunity to read multiple short stories by Fitzgerald, Hughes, Bond Day, and Hemingway. After reading these short stories and analyzing plot structure and literary techniques, students research and create a group short story based in the 1920s, which is performed in class. In addition, students write their own historical short story based in the 1920s and practice using literary techniques.

The Great Depression and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: Students explore the Jim Crow south and the effects of the Great Depression by reading this classic. The unit focuses on a group academic debate and culminates in a persuasive writing piece.

World War II and Night by Elie Wiesel. Students study the main events of World War II and the Holocaust. While reading Night, students explore themes of indifference, resistance and identity through this novel. In order to gain a deeper understanding of Jewish culture, students interview a Jewish Rabbi who visits each class. Throughout the unit, students read and analyze poetry connected to WWII and the Holocaust. Students create poetry that is exhibited and presented during one of the monthly school performances which we call The Brooklyn International Coffee House.

Sample PBATs: 
Students conduct an author study of Anzia Yezierska and examine her characters by reading Bread Givers and two of her short stories set during the Progressive Era in the United States.

African Literature

This semester long course will focus on questions about the importance of history, education, cultural traditions and language. We will explore these questions primarily through reading the work of writers from former colonial African countries. We will read the texts not only to appreciate and analyze their literary qualities but also to view them as products of the cultures and of the political/social circumstances in which they were written.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Weep Not, Child
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart
Obama, Barack. Dreams From My Father
Mark Mathabane. African Women: Three Generations
Nadine Gordimer. Selected short stories
Significant Assignments: 

Compose two essays that investigate and interpret the thematic aspects of the literature, such as: “Does an individual have the responsibility to give back to their community?” or “Do traditions prevent an individual or society from growing or changing?”

Write a substantive comparative literary analysis that examines two anchor texts in order to demonstrate your ability to: build and sustain a strong argument, make connections to social/political issues and historical setting, apply and analyze sophisticated literary techniques, incorporate evidence from multiple sources, utilize a unique writing style and voice, apply clear organization and structure, vivid word choice, and strong grammar

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Analyze and interpret texts from multiple cultures and historical periods
Present research and artwork that investigates the political, social, and historical aspects of the literature

Discuss and defend arguments about gender roles presented in the texts

Work in groups to decipher puzzling imagery and figurative language rooted in other cultural contexts

Assign a writing prompt for the class and facilitate the class discussion on a technical aspect (i.e. concentrating on stylistic choices such as language, point of view, characterization, use of irony and symbolism, etc.) of the literature

Sample PBATs: 
"What Role Does Gender Playin Kenyan Literature?"
“Do traditions prevent an individual or society from growing or changing?”
"What is the responsibility of the individual to his or her society as revealed in African literature?"

11th Grade English

George Carlin once said: “it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Martin Luther King hoped that true equality among men would eventually stem from it. Hunter Thompson once went on a hallucinogen-catalyzed trip through the desert in search of it. Countless immigrants have traveled across the world’s open oceans to find it. And, luckily enough for all of you, innumerable authors have focused upon it, both intentionally and unwittingly, in their writing.

"The Lost Beautifulness" and "How I Found America" (Yezierska), Billy Bathgate (Doctorow), "Absolution" and The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), Day of the Locust (West), Song of Solomon (Morrison), "We, Too, Sing America" Poetry and Short Fiction (anthology of works by many different authors)
Significant Assignments: 

Several analytical essays, including those that incorporate secondary sources to prove arguments; fiction writing; poetry anthologies; psychoanalyses of characters; in-class essays; nightly reading and writing homework


During their 11th grade year, students must conduct guided research in order to incorporate evidence from secondary sources into their essays about literature. Students pull evidence from historical, sociological, political, philosophical or scientific sources or literary criticism.

Sample PBATs: 
Who is an American? Does the dream change depending upon the identity of the dreamer? What qualifies as a triumph or a failure? Who emerges heroic and who allows the pursuit of the dream to turn him villainous?

What Does It Mean To Be an American?

What does it mean to be an American? We’ll explore this question by reading works by a diverse group of Americans, each giving a different perspective on the “American” experience. Fall semester will focus on writers from the 1800s. Spring semester will focus on writers from the 1900s.

Walt Whitman, selections from LEAVES OF GRASS
Black Elk and John Neihardt, selections from BLACK ELK SPEAKS
Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”
Independent reading/book groups: choice of readings either by immigrant writers or about immigrant characters, including An Na, Jamaica Kincaid, Lawrence Yep, Edwige Dandicat, Adeline Yen Ma.
Media Used: 
Woody Guthrie, selected songs
youtube.com for Woody Guthrie songs and songs from the Vietnam War era
Film: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Film: The Grapes of Wrath
Significant Assignments: 

Vocabulary: Study a new root word each week. Brainstorm words using root, and write sentences with the root word.

Develop an understanding of open and closed questions.

Research historical context of each book we read.

Practice skills of annotation, outlining, compare & contrast

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Create a collage of images from a Walt Whitmen poem. Add text describing literary elements and major theme of the poem.

Create a class map of the Mississipi River with the locations of events in each chapter of Huckleberry Finn

Create a TV Show about the events on the Mississippi River (“Mississippi River News”). A student host interviews other students who pretend to be characters from Huck Finn.

Study a Woody Guthrie song, and create an illustrated poster depicting summary and theme of song.

Study a song from the Vietnam War era and present it to the class.

Develop presentation and spoken English skills through various activities.

Sample PBATs: 
Comparataive lit essay based on poetry of Walt Whitman.
Develop thesis and analytic essay based on character, conflict, biblical references, or gender roles in THE GRAPES OF WRATH.
Comparative lit essay based on THE GRAPES OF WRATH and “The Things They Carried.”

Dreaming (in) 21st Century America

What is the biggest dream you could ever imagine for your life? Who is the biggest person you could ever imagine yourself becoming? What are the things holding you back from getting there, and how are you going to get there anyway?

Significant Assignments: 

-Literary Analysis Paper (Of Mice and Men)
-Literary Theory Paper (use at least two "lenses") (Lit Circles including Bodega Dreams, Invisible Man, Malcolm X, Great Gatsby, When I Was Puerto Rican, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
-10-Minute Play (various ten minute plays)
-Poetry Portfolio including creative, analytical, and personal responses (various poems, focus on Whitman and Ginsberg)
-Feature Article Profile of someone (various readings, including Partner Reading books)

Sample PBATs: 
How do John Steinbeck and Ernesto Quinonez use literary elements to show how a dream can be deferred?
How do Stephen Chbosky and Ayn Rand use characterization and conflict to show how one can realize their true self?
How do John Steinbeck and Ralph Ellison use literary elements to explore the effects of marginalization on a person's identity?

English 12: Utopias and Dystopias

Students grapple with the thinking person and utopia. What does it mean to be a thinking person? What makes you think and what gets in the way of your thinking? Are Dystopian writers right about the future? What does dystopian literature communicate to us about our society? What meaningful connections can you make between the themes or characters in the text and your own life? Students engage in discussions using the Socratic method and reflect on how it helps develop a deeper understanding of a text and prepares students for college-level discussions.

Fahrenheit 451
Animal Farm
Oedipus Rex
Media Used: 
Film: Scotland, PA
Standard Deviants video: Shakespeare's Tragedies
American Theater production of Fahrenheit 451
Significant Assignments: 

Students will write an essay comparing their utopian society to the world described in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut.

Comparative essay on Fahrenheit 451 and assigned literature circle text, in which students will develop thesis around one of the essential questions.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Reading of Macbeth: in addition to reading the play, we will listen to and watch various media versions

Student create 10 commandments describing the values, culture, and rules for a utopian society.

Sample PBATs: 
Is a utopia possible?
Why do good people do bad things?
How can ambition be corrupted?
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