Wakefield'sEnglish Department strives to awaken in each student his or her deepest intelligence. By offering literature of depth and complexity and by emphasizing both the power of solid rhetoric and the skill and discipline required to create it, we graduate students for whom reading, thinking, and writing are inextricably linked, and for whom these activities are not simply academic subjects, but indispensable tools for living.


Wakefield's English program is unique in that composition is taught as a separate discipline, equally weighted in the curriculum with math, science, social studies, languages, and fine arts.

In ninth grade, students work on argument and analysis through small structured essays. Tenth grade composition requires students to think deeply and critically about the impact and importance of style. The grammar component of both the ninth and tenth grade courses aims to enhance students’ current knowledge of the English language for practical use in both written and oral communication.

Eleventh grade composition is devoted to the study of literary criticism and to the writing of the junior thesis, an extended paper requiring both research and original criticism, successful completion of which is required for advancement to the senior year. The whole process culminates in twelfth grade with the Senior Thesis course, which charges students with the year-long process of “creating something that satisfies intellectual curiosity.”


In literature, students pursue varied and broad areas of study, specifically mythology and ancient literature, philosophy and literature, and surveys of American, British and world literature. Emphasis is placed upon the link between history and literature and on understanding how an era's philosophies both drove its history and fueled its writing.

Nonetheless, readings are also selected to reflect the ever-expanding literary canon and include the work of contemporary writers. Students are encouraged and are generally required to complete summer reading assignments. As in the composition courses, teachers use the study of literature to promote deep and independent thinking.


Our school-wide, nationally-recognized literary magazine, Talisman, testifies to the success of consistently integrating a strong composition program. Traditionally the recipient of Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s highest awards, Talisman is praised each year by the judges for the quality of the students’ writing, the originality of its content, and the technical merit of its design and execution. We believe the students possess these skills because they have been emphasized and honed in the classroom and by the curriculum.

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