In June 2021, we will begin publishing new units for 9th and 10th grade ELA. This is the first stage of revising our entire high school ELA curriculum, which will take place over the next year and a half.

In her essay "Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature," writer Toni Morrison explains that "invisible things are not necessarily ‘not there;’ … a void may be empty, but is not a vacuum." This quote in large part inspired the vision and approach for the revision of Fishtank ELA’s high school curriculum. At Fishtank, we think of black, brown, Asian, and indigenous voices and perspectives as those invisible things in literature.

With this in mind, we are seeking to make the invisible visible in our revised high school curriculum by paying particular attention to those invisible people, cultures, voices, and perspectives that are typically neglected and absent from the traditional literary canon. The voices will be coupled with texts from the traditional literary canon so that students are provided with mirrors and windows — mirrors that allow them to see their own identities, experiences, and motivations and windows that allow them to gain insight to build empathy for the identities, experiences, and motivations of others.

The following tenets are guiding the redesign and redevelopment of the Fishtank ELA high school curriculum:

  • We believe in the power of diverse, relevant, and rigorous texts.
  • We believe in reading and experiencing whole texts (novels, nonfiction books, and dramas) authentically before discussions and analysis commence.
  • We believe in discussing what we read, write, and think.
  • We believe in using writing as a means for brainstorming, processing, explaining, synthesizing, and arguing ideas.
  • We believe that grammar including rhetorical skills and syntax structures should be taught in context and used to develop a writer’s unique style.
  • We believe that assessments should be performative, authentic, varied, and applicable to the real world whenever possible.


9th Grade: Invisible Humans: Literature Of The Marginalized And Othered

In the preface of Marc Lamont Hill’s Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, Hill defines what it means to be othered and a nobody: “To be Nobody is to be vulnerable. In the most basic sense, all of us are vulnerable; to be human is to be susceptible to misfortune, violence, illness, and death [...] Unfortunately, for many citizens—particularly those marked as poor, Black, Brown, immigrant, queer, or trans—State power has only increased their vulnerability, making their lives more rather than less unsafe. An individual’s vulnerability and the tension of being there but not being seen are at the heart of this 9th grade English course including its texts, themes, and essential questions. It’s also the place in which many students find themselves at the beginning of high school - searching for a place, desiring to be seen, feeling overlooked and not heard, and searching for self. While students will read a plethora of contemporary, traditional, and multimedia texts about underlying themes of invisibility, marginalization, and otherness, they will also examine the structures and institutions that show how race, class, nationality, gender, sexuality, and community shape the extent to which someone is visible. Students will read, speak, and write about fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama and can expect to write a compelling literary/rhetorical analysis essay by the end of the year. Students will also be able to write in other modes, styles, and genres.

The Essential Questions of this course are:

  • What does it mean to be invisible?
  • How are people or groups made to feel “invisible” or marginalized by society, social institutions, and the “majority?
  • In what ways do invisible people become visible?

Unit 1: Now You See Me: Visibility & Invisibility in Short Texts

Unit 2: Power, Alienation, & The American Dream: Of Mice and Men and The Central Park Five

Unit 3: Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Unit 4: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Unit 5: Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

10th Grade: Freedom And Social Responsibility: Literature Of Society

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. boldly proclaims, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Our humanity and interconnectedness with other individuals and society that Martin Luther King Jr. highlights for the clergy are integral to this 10th grade English course including its texts, themes, and essential questions. This course calls on students to examine the tension between being selfless and selfish, between being an individual and being part of a community. Through reading of core texts from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, students will consider the following question: what, if any, is our social responsibility? Additionally they will examine the things, people, and places that motivate people to act in the best interests of others. Students will engage with a variety of writing assignments including analytical essays, personal response essays, and creative writing and participate in weekly seminars to discuss and share their evidence based ideas about the texts they read.

The Essential Questions of this course are:

  • What is the individual’s responsibility to society?
  • To what do we owe society and the world? To what do we owe individuals?
  • In what ways are all humans interconnected?
  • What motivates people to act in the best interest of others? Is it altruism or self interest?
  • Why is it important to know we are all connected? How are we all interconnected?

Unit 1: What Do We Owe Others? Interconnectedness in Short Texts

Unit 2: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Unit 3: Sula by Toni Morrison

Unit 4: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Unit 5: Angels in America by Tony Kushner

Please note: All of our current 9th-10th grade English units will be available in our Archives.

Have any questions? Please contact us at [email protected].