Advanced Writing & Literature


Writer’s Path to Critical Thinking


Teacher:  Holly Van Houten

Ages 13-15

Note:   This is a 2 hour class ending at 3:15


Class Fees:

$341 or $331 if taking 2 or more classes.   Can be split into 3 equal payments




Homework:  Reading: 2-3 hours/Writing: 2-3 hours (approx.)  

A-G Course Requirements are available for those who wish to receive that credit.


This class is designed for 8th and 9th grade students that are eager to transition to the kind of writing they will need to be able to do in High School classes!  We will read short stories, novels, poems, speeches, and plays. Students will have a chance to explore wonderful works of literature with their peers. They will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and exercise their critical thinking skills, while enjoying imaginative literature that will stay with them forever! 


For the fall quarter, our Thematic Focus will be:  “What do We Value?”  We will begin with short stories by Jack Finney (“The Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”) and Ray Bradbury (“There Will Come Soft Rains”), before beginning Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We will continue our Shakespeare studies as we explore his sonnets and students prepare oral presentations on these poems.  We will then turn to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, as we continue our look at American values, and explore the ghostly lessons offered by Marley and his trio of time traveling ghosts in A Christmas Carol. We will end the fall quarter with a look at some famous speeches about values, including John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.” Students will then write and present their own speech on what they value.


For the Winter Quarter, our Thematic Focus will be “Feuds and Futility.” Conflict is at the heart of any story, and as we explore the intricacies of disputes, we’ll not only look at the causes and casualties of famous literary rivalries but consider how authors use conflict to move their plots forward. We’ll begin with a short story by Saki, “The Interlopers,” which will drive home the second half of our theme – the futility of feuding, before moving on to Shakespeare’s most infamous feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets. As we read, Romeo and Juliet, we will consider how various adult characters contribute to the tragic ending of the youths who pay the ultimate price for the enmity of their parents. Our poetry for this quarter will center around the protest lyrics of Bob Dylan, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan’s anti-war stance motivated millions to oppose what many considered to be a futile conflict in Vietnam, and his words demonstrate the inspirational power of the pen over the sword. We will then move on to two well-loved 20th Century novels that have long inspired young readers to consider the cost of conflict:  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. We will wrap up the quarter with a discussion of Mark Twain’s short story, “The War Prayer” and use that as inspiration as we write formal “Letters to the Editor” expressing the insights we’ve gained into the power of literature to shape our understanding of conflict.


For the Spring Quarter, our Thematic Focus will be, “For What Should We Be Responsible?” We will begin with two classic short stories that explore familial and social responsibility, “The Scarlet Ibis,” by James Hurst and “Thank You, Ma’am,” by Langston Hughes. We will also consider the timeless inquiry, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” as we read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which we’ll introduce with a look at the Robert Burns poem that inspired its title, “To a Mouse.” Additional poetry for this quarter will include works by Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Emily Bronte, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson, all of which address the issue of responsibility. Our play for the Spring Quarter will by Edmond Rostand’s famous tale of Cyrano de Bergerac, whose Code of Honor shapes his ideas about responsibility. Our final novella for the year will be The Call of the Wild by Jack London. We will consider how Buck changes as he becomes increasingly feral but retains his sense of responsibility towards those to whom he owes loyalty. We will finish the year by studying the insights into responsibility offered in two recent speeches: “Remarks by the President in a National Address to America's Schoolchildren” (President Obama) and “Commencement Speech” (J.K. Rowling).  Students will also examine the rhetorical techniques utilized by each speaker and hopefully adopt some of them as they write their own speeches outlining what they consider to be their own responsibilities as scholars. 


Students will have an opportunity to explore and debate ideas, as they learn and practice essential writing strategies. We will work on rough drafts together in class, which will allow students to see the reactions their writing elicits from others and to gain extensive revision experience, identifying strengths and weaknesses in their own writing and in the writing of their peers.  Students will have many opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills, practice persuasive and analytical writing and enjoy some amazing literature!


The Writing Process will also be a central focus in this course, as students apply their creative and analytical thinking to these marvelous works of literature.  Students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their understanding in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing.  In addition to longer, academic essays, students will participate in weekly online discussion forums and will be asked to keep dialectical writing journals to help them organize their responses to the literature we read.  Students will learn research techniques and MLA documentation as they develop their persuasive, analytic, expository and descriptive writing skills.  As students practice their writing skills, they will also build their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the conventions of formal, academic writing.