English is a cornerstone of our curriculum. At every level, your English class is built around reading, discussing, and writing about great literature.


In the course of a year, you will read many books that are widely accepted as classics (including plays by Shakespeare) plus a selection of modern works. You’ll learn to appreciate fiction, poetry, drama, and philosophy, and you will learn to express your thoughts about the books in a coherent way, backing up your ideas with evidence. Debates that started in English class have often kept going at the lunch table and beyond!


Learning to write well is supremely important for your success in college and beyond. In addition to essays and other writing assignments, you will gain the benefit of TJ’s unique daily writing-skills program called Outside Reading. Four days each week, you will read a passage in an extra book assigned by the teacher and then write a short summary of it. The teacher will check your English and give it back for corrections (if any). This steady practice will eventually make you a skilled writer – a rarity these days.

Besides reading and debating literature and performing some passages that you have committed to memory, you will attend six play productions each year at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis along with the rest of the TJ community. Other theatre experiences around St. Louis are offered as weekend options, and you may also take part in one of the play productions that our students put on.

Both the junior- and senior-year English classes are at the Advanced Placement level. Juniors take the English Literature and Composition AP exam; seniors, the English Language and Composition exam. International students typically start out taking English as a Second Language; in a later year, they join their peers in regular English classes.


Sample Reading Lists

English 7 develops language and thinking skills through the study of literature. In reading, the emphasis is on comprehension—clear understanding of plot, character, and setting—and the importance of reading carefully and attentively. Students learn to appreciate the techniques and narrative elements that writers use to make their works come alive. The reading list cultivates an enjoyment for reading, introduces a variety of genres and writing styles, and demonstrates the lasting influences that some great works have had on modern literature and culture. Grammar study focuses on the building blocks of the sentence, and vocabulary study connects to their work in Latin 1.

English 8 introduces a variety of literary forms—novels, short stories, non-fiction, poetry, and plays—with the themes of growth, coming of age, and gender roles. Special emphasis is placed on drama, reading and acting out plays, attending the theater, and finally performing a play for the entire school. Students learn how to be good critics, both of their own work and the work of others.  With daily work in grammar and vocabulary, students’ practice formulating and expressing opinions clearly and concisely, both in writing and in discussion. 

English 9 is peopled with heroes, monsters, and villains who take great journeys, rise to the occasion, and, at times, fall short of expectations, and the themes that remain constant throughout will enable students to make connections despite the centuries that separate them. Sentence diagramming and daily writing exercises (called Outside Reading) allow students to learn and internalize standard grammar through mechanical and creative processes. The reading list encourages both analytical interpretations and explorations of human nature throughout millennia, and students engage in literary analysis through class discussion nearly every day. 

English 10 begins by developing literacy with what many westerners understand to be sacred texts, the Torah and Gospels. Students’ appreciation and understanding of the later readings will depend upon their understanding of the traditions that the writers or characters come from (or are trying to escape). Students then explore the long narrative poem, the novel, the short story, drama, and the formal lyric poem. The central issues connecting the reading include justice, mercy, love, death, and religious belief. Students wrestle with problems of interpretation, the formation of character, and the relationship between writer and writing.


AP English Literature and Composition examines books of great subtlety, so critical reading, precise note taking, and thoughtful discussion are absolute prerequisites.  Students will identify and interpret such components of imaginative literature as repetition, juxtaposition, connotative language, tone, and irony. In other words, they will understand what is said by paying close attention to how it is said. The course consists of lengthy reading assignments, animated class discussion, extensive prosody study, analysis of expository prose, recitation of poetry, challenging essay questions, and meticulously written Outside Reading entries. United, these elements prepare students for the AP exam each May, the English classes they’ll take in college, and their future as a readers of serious literature. 

AP English Language and Composition prepares students in rhetoric (the classical art of persuasion) through Socratic discussion in class; through nearly daily writing practice in narrative, argumentative, analytical, and expository discourse; through imitation of model forms; and through reading a hefty list of both contemporary and classic authors (mostly non-fiction). Thematically, the course explores identity and happiness in three expanding circles of immediacy: the home, the city, and the universe. These models, this list, and these methods are meant to jolt the student into backing claims with detailed evidence, into investigating assumptions about the most important matters, into putting one’s ideas and stories in the most arresting and convincing manner.

The art of accurate, lively, persuasive writing benefits from daily practice and watchful coaching, and the small number of students in TJ English classes allows for teachers to conduct the daily control on learning that is Outside Reading (O.R.). Four days per week, students turn in a 40-word summary of an assigned number of pages, or in upper-level courses a response to a question on the reading. The goal is to write a stylistically mature entry with no errors in usage, spelling, punctuation, or reporting. This constant process of drafting and revising produces excellent writers, and our graduates often cite this exercise among the most beneficial aspects of their TJ experience.