University High's English program is a sequential five-year study of literature, writing, public speaking, and media. The curriculum begins with a three-year core sequence focused on broad geographic, cultural, and historical themes, then moves into a final two years made up of four semesters of required but choice-oriented courses. These semester-long classes center on a variety of specific themes and topics that build on foundations laid in the first three years of English classes and are open to both juniors and seniors. In addition to the five-year program, the English department offers electives: Creative Writing, Journalism, Current Topics in Social Justice, and Gender Studies.

In all of our core courses, literary selections are either classics (ancient and modern) or contemporary selections of high literary merit. Every year, students study works in a variety of literary forms: prose fiction (novels, short stories), nonfiction (essays, autobiographies, and memoirs), drama, poetry, and film. Teachers take care in selecting literature appropriate to the developmental level of students and works that complement other offerings in terms of theme, historical time period, and cultural diversity. Students acquire not only knowledge and understanding of literature but also the tools to critically analyze new texts in a variety of forms and genres.

Writing is a central focus of the English department curriculum. The English faculty approaches writing as a process--one that is creative and work intensive, initially messy but evolving toward ever greater levels of focus. We teach students to aspire toward an end product that is detailed, unified, and coherent. We emphasize content and clarity over length. Most importantly, we encourage writing that expresses a fresh, individual voice. We stress the fundamentals – structure, mechanics, research, documentation, and citation – as crucial steps toward developing a distinctive and original voice and articulating an individual point of view. At each level of the curriculum we emphasize purpose, audience, thesis, invention, organization, drafting, providing support, seeking feedback, and intensive revision.

In the course of our five-year curriculum, students will gain an awareness of their own strengths as writers and the flexibility to write successfully in a wide variety of contexts, from composing a concise, well supported argument essay to crafting an incisive piece of literary criticism, a persuasive letter to the editor, or a compelling personal narrative. Students will graduate with the understanding that they have something worthwhile to say and the skills to say it with authority and panache.


Subfreshman English (World Literature)

(1 Unit)

Freshman English (American Literature)

(9th grade)
(1 Unit)

Sophomore English (British Literature)

(10th grade)
(1 unit)

A note on Subfreshman, Freshman, and Sophomore English:

The Uni High English department is in the process of rebuilding our curriculum for our classes at the Subfreshman, Freshman, and Sophomore levels. We are moving away from a fairly traditional survey literature course structure and design––where Subfreshman, Freshman, and Sophomore English covered World Literature, American Literature, and British Literature, respectively––and toward a modal design that revolves around themes that will recur during each of the first three years of our curriculum. The English department is in the process of collaboratively planning these modes and themes, which will develop and shift each year in order to create challenges for students that accord with their developmental growth through subbie, freshman, and sophomore year.

All three classes will conclude with a final theme chosen collectively by the students in each of the three grade levels (in collaboration with and with the mentorship of their teacher) for the last unit of the year.

Organizing classes around more versatile themes will create greater flexibility in curriculum planning and make it easier to incorporate a wide variety of texts from different perspectives and periods into our classes. Each year of our foundational three-year curriculum will still incorporate American literature and world literature (including British literature), but with many more and different possibilities for pairings, groupings, and cross pollination. Revisiting themes from year to year will help students make connections and build meaningful intellectual frameworks for their thinking about literature, writing, history, and culture. Offering students the chance to identify a theme that’s important to them as a group will create opportunities for collaborations that they have a significant investment in and give students more ownership over the curriculum.

Junior and Senior Special Topics Courses (Fall and Spring)
(1/2 unit per semester, 2 semesters each year)

African-American Literature

(Two sections, Fall)
(1/2 unit)

This course provides an introduction to the African American literary tradition, with a focus on fiction and poetry in the twentieth century. We will explore intersecting themes of individual identity, race and consciousness, and social responsibility in this varied and diverse tradition as we consider these novels “in conversation” with one another and with the dominant culture. Students will be required to complete a range of written assignments, including a blog, short critical essays, and a research paper, and to lead a discussion of a poem twice during the semester. The reading list includes Richard Wright, Native Son; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle; and Toni Morrison, Beloved.

The Nineteenth-Century British Novel

(One section, Fall)
(1/2 unit)

In nineteenth-century England, the novel was in its heyday; it was a relatively new and wildly popular genre that reached a large and increasingly literate audience. Nineteenth-century readers became educated about the evolving social realities of their world in part through the fiction they read, which often tackled complex issues of political conflict, marriage and family relationships, shifting class distinctions, and changing gender roles. Our study of the novel’s development throughout the century will be grounded in a basic understanding of the history of the novel and its emergence from a new, artistically uncertain and at times morally suspect form to the preeminent literary genre of the nineteenth century. We will explore how the concepts of realism, romance, sentimentalism, didacticism, and gothic horror inform British novels spanning the century. Throughout the course, we will consider how the novels we study portray historical trends arising from industrialization and the growth of urban centers and consider how each reflects changes in the conventions and perceptions of class and gender as the century proceeds. The 9 reading list will include Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and E. M. Forester, and may also include works by Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and/or Thomas Hardy.

Nonfiction Writing

(Fall and Spring)
(1/2 unit)

In Nonfiction Writing, we will write, a lot. That is arguably the best way to become a clearer, more engaging, and more powerful writer. Write and write and write, get feedback, revise, and write some more. We’ll also read nonfiction writing, and discuss the nonfiction writing we read in terms of its strengths and weaknesses as writing. We will learn about the various tools, strategies, and habits, big and small, by which you can develop your power as a writer. We’ll focus on writing on the level of argument, paragraph, and sentence, and spend time in class tinkering with our writing on all of these levels. This class will also be a collaborative investigation. We will work together to define exactly what an essay is, how it works, and what various permutations it can embody. Blogging, writing nonfiction essays, and planning and executing a multimedia project, we will use our powers of observation and evaluation to investigate the vast, messy, and exciting art of writing and explore ways that writing represents the foundation of digital and multimedia literacies. The exact content of the course will vary depending upon both the teacher and the students.

History as Fiction

(Two sections, Spring)
(1/2 unit)

This course will explore some of the ways that postmodern American fiction has made history its subject—not only incorporating characters and plotlines and settings from historical events, but interrogating and drawing attention to the constructed nature of historical narrative itself. Narrative fiction based upon historical events is nothing new, but in the latter half of the twentieth century, novelists began to blur the boundaries between imaginative fiction and factual history in increasingly playful ways. In the postmodern era, fiction and history intersect to an unprecedented degree, and this course will engage students in some of the challenging questions this intersection raises: What are the consequences of acknowledging the degree to which the traditional methods of writing history overlap with those of imaginative fiction? How might an imaginative novel compel its readers to reexamine our understanding or interpretation of a historical era or event? In what ways might such fiction generate more active interest in history as an interpretive, critical discipline? And in what ways does the use of history enhance the fiction’s illusion of reality, the sense that “this really happened”?
The reading will include the following novels: Ragtime, by E. L. Doctorow (1975); Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed (1972); Libra, by Don Delillo (1992); Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (1968); and Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler (1979).

Poetry: British and American

(Two sections, Spring)
(1/2 unit)

The main goal of this course is to help students find poetry they love and to help them enjoy what is playful, life affirming, strange, funny, and powerful about poetry. We begin by exploring a sample of contemporary poets and considering the current state of poetry and proceed by considering the importance of poetry to cultures throughout human history and exploring the role of poetry in the modern English-speaking world. The semester will include a brief survey of British poetry from Shakespeare to the Romantics and a look at the increasing importance of American, African-American, and Irish voices in English poetry as the twentieth century progresses. As we read, we will explore the central role poetry once played in American life––poetry being published in newspapers and popular magazines, people of all ages learning poetry by heart as a matter of course both in and beyond school––and question why poetry has become less central. To this end, we look closely at recent projects that aim to increase poetry’s visibility and vitality in contemporary American life, and analyze their respective levels of success. We will also explore how slam, spoken word, and hip hop draw on and revitalize the poetic traditions of the past, as well as reviving and amplifying poetry’s popularity in recent decades. Students will end the semester by creating their own multimedia project aimed a publicizing and promoting poetry in their community (either the Uni community or the entire C-U community).

The Short Story

(Two sections, Spring)
(1/2 unit)

This course will look at the short story as a genre, exploring a diverse range of styles and approaches from its emergence in the nineteenth century to recent developments in the twenty-first. We will read individual stories from a range of authors from various backgrounds, and we will also look at published collections of stories by a single author, to explore how stories grouped together can take on a distinctive identity as a book, with thematic and 10 stylistic coherence. In addition to a photocopied packet of individual stories, required texts may include James Joyce’s Dubliners, Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help, James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, George Saunders’s The Tenth of December, and the recent collection of short fiction written by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Fire and Forget. The course will be discussion-based, with a strong emphasis on participation, and written assignments will include both literary-critical analysis and creative writing.

English Electives

Creative Writing I

(10th - 12th grade)
(1/2 - 1 unit; may be repeated for credit)

Creative Writing is an elective course, which focuses on the analysis and composition of various literary genres. By offering some class time to engage in directed writing or free writing each day, this course encourages students to develop a daily writing practice. Creative writing also provides opportunities to read works by contemporary and classic authors and to discuss these texts as writing. Throughout the semester, students have the chance to experiment with narrative, poetic, dramatic, and mixed-genre forms in their writing. A workshop approach with regular sessions of peer and instructor review gives students the benefit of multiple perspectives on their writing and allows students to develop their critical capacities by reading other students’ writing. The first semester focuses on prose and poetry. Students have the opportunity to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November during fall semesters when the class elects to do so.

Creative Writing II

(10th - 12th grade)
(1/2 - 1 unit; may be repeated for credit)

The second semester continues work on prose and poetry, and adds an additional focus on drama and other performance-oriented writing.

Students may enroll in either semester or for the full year of Creative Writing.


(Fall and/or Spring)
(9th - 12th grade)
(1/2 unit, may be repeated for credit)

The journalism class is a hands-on, writing-intensive class where students participate in every aspect of producing Uni High's school newspaper, the Online Gargoyle. Students learn to tell compelling stories in traditional and multimedia formats, to edit their own and others' work, to conduct research and interviews and to take photos. In addition to the hands-on work, there is a classroom component that involves reading both good and bad journalism, discussing current issues in the media and exploring the First Amendment and media law.

Advanced Journalism: Editors

(Fall and/or Spring)
(11th - 12th grade)
(1/2 unit, may be repeated for credit)

After two semesters, students may sign up for advanced journalism and apply to be an editor. Editors will continue to work on their writing skills while exploring more complex journalism topics such a narrative journalism, broadcast and other areas according to students’ interests. They may also serve as Gargoyle editors, where they will be responsible for the content of the Gargoyle, Facebook and Twitter, and will learn advanced editing skills. Students can also choose to compete at the IHSA Journalism sectional and state championships. This class may be taken fall semester, spring semester, or both semesters.

Gender Studies

(10-12th grade)
(1/2 unit)

This semester-long elective for Sophomores through Seniors will provide an introduction to Gender Studies as an academic subject, offering an overview of the history of feminism, delving into biological versus cultural aspects of sex and gender, and considering the ways that an issue of gender affects race, class, ability, sexuality, and 11 religion. Assignments will include weekly reading and vigorous participation in discussions, blog presentations, a gender fieldwork assignment, a presentation of a creative project relating to race, class, gender, ability, or sexuality, and a service learning component. Students will be asked to complete service learning hours after school and on weekends, but this time will be counterbalanced by a weekly study hall. One hour per week would be the average that students would need to complete; however, depending on the student’s availability and the schedule and needs of the organization, students might complete several hours in one visit (i.e. two hours every two weeks, four hours on one day during the month, etc.).

Current Topics in Social Justice

(10th-12th grade)
(1/2 unit)

Current Topics in Social Justice I is a semester elective open to seniors, juniors and sophomores. Students enrolled in Current Topics in Social Justice do weekly volunteer work in community social service agencies. Students must be interested in and committed to the volunteer component. Various readings, lectures, guest speakers, and special assignments add to the students' experiences. Group discussion and journal writing play a key role.


Dr. Phillip Ernstmeyer (pernstm2) teaches Sophomore English. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is assistant coordinator of the Writing Center, and sponsor for both Philosophy Club and Political Activism Club.

Carol Lombardi (clombard) teaches two sections of Journalism, is the Gargoyle advisor and works for the Advancement Office. She earned a B.A. from the State University of New York at Oswego and an M.S. from the University of Illinois.

Letitia Moffitt (letitiamoffitt@gmail.com)
teaches 19th Century English.

Dr. Elizabeth Majerus (emajerus) is the Executive Teacher in the department of English. She teaches The Nineteenth-Century Novel, Non-Fiction Writing, Poetry, Native-American and Chicano Literature, and Creative Writing. She earned her B.A. in English and Integrated Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The blogs for her classes are the following:

Matthew Mitchell (mtmitch) teaches Language and Literature 2 (Freshman English), African American Literature (Junior/Senior), and History as Fiction (Junior/Senior). He earned his B.A. in English at Rutgers University in 1994 and his M.A. in English at the University of Illinois in 1997. His current class blog is: https://historyasfiction2020.blogspot.com/

Valerie O'Brien(vobrien2@illinois.edu)
teaches Freshman English and Nonfiction writing.

Kathleen Rodems (krodems) teaches Subfreshman English, Gender Studies, Social Justice, and Nonfiction Writing. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield and her M.A. in English from Eastern Illinois University.

Gale Walden (grwalden@illinois.edu)
is the creative writing instructor for the 2019-2020 school year. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and an MS in journalism from the University of Illinois. She has taught creative writing at several Universities including Salem State, Roosevelt, and the University of Illinois. She is the author of two poetry books.