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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » High School Classes

Author Topic: High School Classes
Robert Nowall
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I've been writing a story mostly set in a high school...but it's been so long since I went to high school I've forgotton most of what I did and when and how I've done it...and, besides, I'm not even sure my experiences are all typical or normal (it was a private high school)...

Anyway, I've lined up a brace of classes for a typical day (and only one day of it). As of right runs:

English Literature
American History
English Composition

(An hour each with a half hour for lunch.)

Do these look all right to you? Too few, too many? Some other classes? I'm amenable to interesting suggestions, if anybody's got any...

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I went to public school (10 or so years ago), and that seems like the right number of classes. I don't think I could take two English classes at the same time, so that looked odd to me when I looked at the schedule. Also, depending on what year in high school the character is, Calculus may be too advanced--I took Calculus my junior year, but I know a lot of people who didn't take it until senior year or when they got to college.

Oh, and it was always really hard to get out of Physical Education (P.E.), so that might be one to add. Other possibilities include: Econ, Shop, Home Ec, Psychology, Chemistry, Physics.

[This message has been edited by RedSakana (edited January 14, 2006).]

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Why not take a little field trip to a local high school office for a typical schedule? My mother teaches junior high and whenever I pay her a visit it brings up a stir of memories. It may help your POV.
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In my high school, calculus was offered senior year, and the science class was physics - biology was in 10th grade. The other required classes (for college track kids, which I am assuming is what you're interested in b/c of the calculus) were history, english, and gym. After that you got into electives: music theory, band, chorus, Spanish, shop, home economics, probably a few others that I have forgotten. I think we had 7 classes that were 50 minutes each, with 1/2 hr for lunch. This was a small rural school without a lot of options.
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I don't think they offer sociology in high school. Maybe psychology.
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We had what was called 'block scheduling'...different from the more common 7-8 class period organization. Our four classes (which changed halfway through the year) were 80 minutes long, except for the third period class that was cut back to 50 minutes to incorporate a 30 minute lunch. The setup was nice, mainly due to the fact that it is far easier to keep track of four classes than eight.

The first half of my senior year looked something like this:

Period A: Strength Training
Period B: (College Prep) Pre-Calculus
Period C1-C2: Teacher's Aide, C3: Lunch
Period D: (Advanced Placement) European History

It might be useful to note the four categories for most classes: Applied, College Prep, Honors, and Advanced Placement (ordered from lowest to highest in terms of difficulty). I'm not sure of your character's academic level, but class types like these might help with the exposition. Also, if one passed a course-encompassing test at the end of the year, college credit could be awarded for Advanced Placement classes. Many colleges accept these, as far as I know...it's very helpful, too. I got all of my university-level history out of the way before I ever stepped foot on a college campus.

Hope some of this overly-detailed information can help.

"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."

[This message has been edited by Inkwell (edited January 14, 2006).]

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Why not just find a high school similar to the one your setting this story in and check out the graduation requirments from the handbook? It's almost certain to be available on the school's website.
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That's too many classes. At the high school I went to, we had 7 class periods, one of which was a lunch hour. A typical day would then consist of 6 classes and a lunch hour (unless you had off hours, but that makes things more complicated). With the number of classes you have listed plus half an hour for lunch, that would be a 7 and a half hour school day and typically school days are between 6 and a half and 7 hours depending on the school--that's including an hour for lunch.
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We had six periods. 4 were science, English, math, and history. 2 were "other," such as foreign language, art, shop, or PE.
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At my high school, most students took 6 hours, with an optional seventh hour earlier in the morning. (It's amazing--I got up at 4:50 each morning back then. Now it's a struggle to coax myself awake before 10!) I think we had sociology, but it was only for upper-classman, and I switched to a non-traditional school after sophomore year, so I can't tell you much about that. Calculus was also a senior-level course, though most only went through pre-Calc.

My only recommendation would be, since this appears to be an upper-classman schedule, is tack some numbers to the end of the classes. Like, Spanish 3 or maybe Advanced Biology (not a number, but I know most schools teach biology your freshman or sophomore year).

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I went to more than one high school. As you can probably see from the above replies, there really is no standard, so it's hard for your setup to be "wrong" or too strange.

My first high school had 6 periods per day, with a lunch either between third and fourth or fourth and fifth. This was because our cafeteria wasn't nearly large enough to fit all students in there at once. What lunch you had depended on what class you registered for fourth hour (which is what it was called there, not fourth period, as seems to be the term in many other places). This school actually ran on a trimester system, where the year was divided into three terms. Most classes were two terms long, AP classes being the only exception (they were the entire year). So when I took trig, it was only the first two terms. Other classes were only the second and third terms. Some elective cources were only one term long. It was pretty confusing at first, but you got used to it.

My second high school was a normal two term system, with (I think) seven periods in the day. They didn't even have a cafeteria. Everyone ate at the same time. You either broght food from home, bought it from some fast food venders who appeared on the grounds every day at lunch time, or if you had a car you could run off and find something. (I was usually in the first group).

Another school in the same area (where my dad used to teach) had a two term rotating days A/B system, in which they had four 90 minute periods in a day (the A day), and then four completely different 90 minute periods the next day (the B day). Students there actually had 8 classes at a time, only they'd only meet in any given class every other day, twich or three times during the week depending on which week it was.

As far as the subject matter is concerned, it really depends. I, personally, took Calculus as a sophomore, but I'm just weird (and I don't think anybody else had done that in a while). Normal, as had been said before, is as a Junior or Senior or not at all. Taking double English would have scared my in high school (I always hated English calsses, which is kind of funny being the wanna-be writer that I am) but I think I had some friends who would have done that kind of thing.

As for the person who mentioned PE, I would say that I never took PE in high school, but I think it was generally required of everybody else (I didn't exacly follow the system very well). I could be wrong about that though.

What age is the person in the story? Is he/she a gifted student? Most of the smarter seniors (and many juniors) took AP classes, at least they did in the places I was. Also, Driver's Ed was very popular of the 16 year olds in many places. Home Ec appears to have been extinct in all the schools I was at long before I got there.

I second the suggestion that was made before: call up or get on the website of your old high school, the one in the place you are currently living, or one that fits the profile of the one you are trying to write about, and see how their system is.

However, I go back to what I originally said, which was that there appears to be so much variation that you don't need to worry too much about being "right" or realistic, since somewhere in the country there's probably a school that does whatever you could possibly come up with.

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franc li
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I've never seen separate English Composition and Literature classes. Another resource might be to look up the "Achievement" national tests, which fall in various subjects.

Keyboarding is required in some places. I'm certainly glad it was.

We got biology freshman year, then chem, then Physics. A kid taking Calculus would typically be taking AP Biology.

Six classes was normal in Virginia, 7 in Utah but that was so people could register for a religion class taught off campus. Kids who didn't do that had a study hall or another elective.

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My daughter's in high school right now. It's a public school, but one in a suburban setting.

They don't have a single day class schedule. She has A days and B days. One class -- band, she plays the clarinet -- is considered a two-period class and is held both A and B days. The rest are, English; biology; health/Ace (academic career excellence -- how to evaluate and make a career choice...total waste of time according to both my daughters who had to suffer through it) both of these were one semester courses; BCIS:computer literacy; math; and world geography.

Here in Texas band includes marching band during the fall. They start practicing at band camp 3 or 4 weeks before school starts. They practice four days a week until 8 or 9 at night. We won state, though, and always come in near the top of contests so I guess the work pays off. Despite the hard schedule the band students are usually very good academically. They say it teaches them to make goals and reach them.

Anyway, that is right-at-the-minute high school around here.

Oh, high school students here can take one or two classes at the local community college for free and a lot do. Get a head start on college.

They have some weird classes, too. I mean that ACE class? They have several levels of computer skills/programming and then there is the Future Farmers of America stuff. Three years of culinary classes (my older daughter took those. She wants to be a chef and is going to the CIA in upstate NY for a bachelor's degree in culinary arts and restaurant management. The PE department offers ballet as an option. They have a brass and drum corps and a jazz something or other for school credit.

We moved out here for the schools.

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited January 15, 2006).]

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Robert Nowall
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Thanks for a broad range of options and opinions. Let me see what I can add to it.

Due to the circumstances of my story, Phys. Ed. isn't an option---my character is "walking wounded" and I was going to fudge matters by simply not having it that day. As I recall (and my once mighty memory grows vague even on details of my own life), we didn't have it every day.

The person in the story is sixteen but she doesn't yet have her licence---and couldn't drive due to a leg injury. (Bullet wound---it's a "school shooting" story.) She's bright but not gifted.

I must've been thinking of my early college days, where English Comp. and English Lit. were separated.

I was planning a lunch hour somewhere in there---actually written the scene. Or would a lunch half-hour be more appropriate?

Sidebar on that: Would it be appropriate, in a modern public high school, to ditch the lunch room and hang out in the library? I did...but I went to a small private school, and, chances are, in a place like that, "everything not compulsory is forbidden."

Arriki: I actually used to live near the CIA in upstate New York and used to drive by their campus two or three times a week. I even ate there once. Come to think of it, they used to rent an unused dorm building on our high school campus for their overflow population.

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I went to high school just over ten years ago. We were on the trimester system which meant that we had five classes for seventy minutes a day, with about an hour for lunch. The classes ran for thirteen weeks and then our schedules changed. We got through fifteen classes a year. Even when we were on the semester system and had seven classes a day, the classes were about fifty minutes or so and lunch was about an hour.

In terms of skipping lunch and going to the library, it wasn't a common thing to do, but definitely possible. (It's what I did in junior high and high school.)

As for classes, some of these things have already been commented on, but here's my two cents. The way things were set up, English literature and composition were one class until we were seniors, and then one had to take two credits of English their last year -- one had to be in writing (advanced composition, or creative writing, or regular composition) and one had to be in literature (e.g. fantastic literature, American literature, AP literature, etc.). Because of the possibility of having all one's required credits completed by the time one was done with their junior year, it would be possible for someone to take several English classes in one trimester, but only when one was a Senior, and usually the counselors would try to avoid this. (In special cases a junior could do this, but it was uncommon.) From how you describe your character, even though she's bright enough, even if she had the inclination to do such a thing, the counselors might discourage it? Only you can say.

As mentioned, calculus is unlikely, unless one is really smart. When I was in school, most took geometry or algebra II at this age (depends on the year in school). If it's the end of 10th, one might be in Algebra I.

I know a lot of people who had sociology as an option in their high school. (We had psychology). This became an option when one was a junior.

As for PE, we had to have only so many credits of PE when we graduated. Most people took them in 9th and 10th grade so by the time they were in 11th and 12th they never had to take a PE class again, unless they wanted to (and then they could take weights or life sports or something). Occasionally an upperclassmen would end up in PE with the younger students, but that was rare.

I think that a lot of this depends on the school itself and the administrators, the district, the state and what the federal government requires at the time.

Good luck fleshing out your character's day at school .

[This message has been edited by electricgrandmother (edited January 15, 2006).]

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My day went something like this. It was 14 years ago, but I still remember my schedule. I only had a semester of senior year.

1st hour: Study Hall. I did all my homework for the day here, so my mom never saw any books.

2nd hour: Man and Myth. It was an elective. It introduced me to Greek mythology. It was a fun class.

3rd hour: Journalism. It was my English credit I needed, so I took it.

4th hour: Accounting. I don't know what caused me to take this, but I did.

I believe it was after this class I had lunch. I think it lasted an half-hour.

5th hour: Home Ec. What more do I have to say. Sham class.

6th hour: American Government. It was a required class for me. I think I pulled an A in this one.

7th hour: Psychology. This was my Social Studies class requirement. I pulled a B in this class.

So as you see, no matter where you go to school you have certain required classes you need to take.

Hope this helps a bit.


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The length of the lunch period should depend on how crowded the school is. If it takes a half hour to get through the line (and this is not uncommon) then students need a full hour. If not, go for the half hour.

My brother is a sophomore in high school right now. His schedule is:

Algebra II
World History
Computer Programming I
English II

He's trying to get ahead in math so he can take Calculus senior year, hence the two math classes. Most kids would probably be taking a foreign language instead of Algebra II. Computer programming counts as a practical art, the same division home ec. was always put in. I think our school still has a home ec. class, but it's called something else.

I took P.E. during the summer so I didn't have to deal with it during the school year. This is VERY popular in my school district, because not many teens like having to get sweaty during the school day.

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Most of the time, a high school class schedule will also have a study hall.

Typical public high school schedule:

-One science class, either biology, physics, or chemistry

-One math class: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus. Also remedial math. Some schools also have Consumer Math (balancing checkbooks, doing taxes, stuff like that) and Business Math.

-One English class: Usually just called English. Most public schools do not seperate into literature, grammar, and writing. A lot of schools do have college writing classes, though, but it's offered as a replacement for English class; you wouldn't have college writing and English on your schedule at the same time. Creative writing is also offered sometimes as an elective.

-One history class: Either world history or American history.

-Gym (gag me)

-An elective or two (art, theatre, band, pottery, shop, home ec, etc.)

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I usually ditched lunch and ate outside, leftover time was spent as I liked, sometimes just sitting outside, sometimes in one of the club/class rooms, sometimes in the library. We couldn't eat anywere in the building other than the cafeteria, though, so spending the whole time in the library meant not eating. I regard that policy as probably basic, at least during school hours (after school the club people would always wander around eating as they pleased, drama folks were probably the worst). There might be a little bit of eating overlooked in some of the club rooms, but not a lot.

I never had any conventional P.E. courses in regular high school, but I believe that they're usually required.

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High school is way different in australia
None of your subjects sound realistic if it were set here -- but I guess that point is moot.

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I hated the standard PE classes in high school (particularly the one they called 'wellness'...which was actually an unimaginative waste of time the state of Pennsylvania required every student to pass).

However, I loved strength training (which I took for a somewhat unusual three years). I first had the class in 10th grade, weighing in at only 115-120 lbs. and measuring only 5'6" (that's 52-54 kilos and 1.6 meters, for you metric folks)...I could barely put up 100 lbs. on the bench press. By the end of my senior year I weighed 160 lbs., stood close to 5'8" (no great increase, I know) and could bench 225. Besides the drastic increase in strength (from only 9 months of total workout time), I felt more confident as a guy of generally smaller stature. I've always recommended at least basic exercise to (significantly) younger friends and relatives. It can be a great confidence booster in the right, safe environment. Oh, martial arts, too...and if they ever planned to try both (as I did), lots of stretching in-between workout sets.

Anyway...yeah, I hated the stock PE. I think they stuck a Mr. Potato-Head at the head of the school board conference table and asked him for input during the planning phase (taking everything he said as pure gold, of course!).

"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."

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Robert Nowall
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Oh, yeah, I hated P. E. too. Occasionally something would engage me. We had archery in high school and college, and I liked doing that. (If fencing had been available at any point, I think I would've liked that, too.)

The *last* Phys. Ed. course I took was bowling, of all things, taken in college only because I had to make up one more high school requirement. I improved my score from mid-fifties to mid-one-hundred-fifties. But when I bowled my last frame, I swore that I would never pick up a bowling ball and hurl it down an alley again as long as I lived. And so far, I haven't.

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Question: Does the story take place during the years you went to high school, now, or sometime in the future?

Something I haven't seen mentioned. I went to a school with three lunches -- A, B, C. A-lunch was before 4th period. B-lunch in the middle. C-lunch after 4th.

[This message has been edited by Karloff (edited January 18, 2006).]

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Robert Nowall
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Oh, definitely the here-and-now. Though the slow pace it's come out that may yet be some years from now. (Conception: about six years ago. First draft: last year. Second draft: finished just this month. Next draft: some time in the really near future.)

Another good reason to see that any classes described (and most are just mentioned in passing) actually look like they belong there.

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If you look at the entrance requirements for state colleges, you'll get a general idea of how many of each class that area assumes the average high school student will have. For example, the UC system in California requires 4 years of English...blah blah.

You can generally find details on university websites.
For CSU Fullerton:

While in high school, you must complete the following
A–G course pattern with a “C” or better:

• U.S. History and Social Science: 2 years; including one year of U.S. History or U.S. History and Government

• English: 4 years

• Mathematics: 3 years required, 4 recommended: algebra, geometry and intermediate algebra

• Laboratory Science: 2 years required, 3 recommended (1 biological, 1 physical): biology, chemistry or physics

• Language, other than English: 2 years in the same language (3 years recommended)*

• Visual and Performing Arts: 1 year: art, dance, drama/theatre or music

• Electives: 1 year selected from college preparatory subjects listed above and from the social science


juniors and seniors in my school sometimes had as few as 3 or 4 courses per semester, because in freshman and sophomore years they would complete a lot of those requirements. freshmen and sophomores had a full courseload, which included 6 periods, a lunch, and the optional 7th (for yearbook, athletic teams, etc.)

[This message has been edited by nimnix (edited January 18, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by nimnix (edited January 18, 2006).]

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Well, I'm 18, and a senior in High School Right now, so I might be able to help.

What people have already written about there only being one English is true, although there is more variety to it now. For example, you can take AP English, IB English (Only at International Baccalaureate Schools or those offering the IB Diploma), Honors English, and College Prep English. AP and IB are the most advanced (they're pretty much ranked equally, but they focus on different stuff. AP is more about grammar and persuasive writing while IB is more about literature and academic writing, especially international literature.)

Right now I'm in AP Calculus (also IB Mathematical Methods at my school), however I could have taken last year as well. The reason I didn't is that my pre-calculus teacher didn't think I would do well in it.

My science sequence was like this: (In order of Freshman to Senior Year) Honors Biology, Honors Chemistry, IB Environmental Science, and IB/AP Chemistry. However, it's not set in stone. I know that where I live, you are required to take a Biology, a Chemistry, an Environmental, and a lab science to graduate.

Don't forget languages. A requirement for me to graduate is two language credits. (For the IB Diploma, I have to have four years of the same language)

Sociology is a class, but it's not very well publicized. Psychology is much more popular, and it is an AP class which means you get a larger weighted grade for your GPA.

You have to take a U.S. History Class to graduate, and you have to take a Civics/Economics class to graduate as well.

Home EC was dumped a while ago. They don't even offer it anymore, but we do have some classes such as Masonry,Health Team Relations, etc. (more career oriented stuff)

Also, they don't really do study halls anymore, at least where I am. Either they make you take a class you don't want to fill a hole in your schedule, or you work in the office or run errands for the counselor's office during that period.

Hope this was helpful.

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What you want to be sure of is, if this is fiction set in our world (or in a popular city, etc.), that you follow whatever structure the local school board has set up.

If not, then don't worry about a strict adherence to some schedule. In Chicago, at least, I know that half of the above doesn't apply--I took about seven English courses in Highschool, and there were more that I could have taken. That was in the course of a normal school day, of course (but pity me, because I think I might have taken all of four science classes, and only three-and-a-half math classes. Shame).

So long as you emphasize the lunch hour/half-hour/whatever, then your story should ring true. Lunch is a big deal. It's one of the few openly social times of the day for highschoolers, and they take advantage of that.

Of course, depending on the school (and this is just a millieu choice, so don't sweat it if it's not a huge deal), you'll have different disciplinary paterns. Some highschools enforce, for example, the no skirts above the knee rule. Mine did not until our Assistan Principal went to another school. Then suddenly it became a big deal.

The atmosphere of the school will be largely determined by the disciplinary structure. That atmosphere will effect the MC.

My $0.02.

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