American Literature

(8 customer reviews)

From: $98.00 / month for 8 months

Grades:  9th–12th

Live Class:  Tue 12:30–1:30 p.m. ET

Level:  Regular or Honors

Dates:  Aug 26, 2024–May 9, 2025

Prepaid:  $699 (R) $749 (H)

Instructor:  Susan Spivey

View a sample of one of Susan’s classes

See Reviews of Instructor Susan Spivey


Course Description

American Lit Syllabus

This live online American Literature course is a college prep high school-level survey of American authors, poets, and essayists. On completion, students may earn college credit by taking the American Literature Clep Exam.

The course provides students in 9th through 12th grade with the skills necessary to interpret and evaluate a variety of genres found within the body of American Literature. By reading novels, short stories, and poems, students will gain a clearer understanding of how the written word portrays the values and beliefs of the country in which it was penned. Together we will take a close look at the American writers, as well as their works, to aid our understanding of how literature reflects both the person who wrote it and the period in which it was written. From early Native American myths to modern essays, students will be able to envision the many challenges and joys that went into building this nation.

Literary genres and techniques are explained so the reading that follows allows for fuller comprehension. Students will learn to note specific patterns and writing styles employed by authors and then be able to provide their own explanation of the meaning of the work being discussed. Learning to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, is vitally important and a goal I have for each of my students. This is an excellent course to help students expand their vocabulary, as well as whet their appetites for further reading. It works well on its own but is also a terrific accompaniment to an American History course.

Some of the literary techniques and devices we will explore include symbolism, characterization, plot lines, summarization, narration, background knowledge, cause and effect, rhyme, foreshadowing, flashbacks, archetypes, and figurative language, to name just a few.

Course Structure

This is 32-week course. Our live class meets once a week on Tuesdays. Students are expected to be in class unless they have notified the teacher that they will be absent. Students who miss a class are expected to watch a recording of the class as soon as they are able. Participating in class discussions is highly encouraged and is one of the ways students can learn to express themselves confidently as they prepare for future academic course work. Students can also respond to questions posed during class by posting in the chat box.

Each week students will be assigned reading which we will discuss during our next class session. Reading assignments will typically range from 20 to 60 pages. Homework, either in the form of answering comprehension questions found in the textbook or responding to prompts provided by the instructor, can be expected each week. This prepares students to come to class ready to engage with the instructor, as well as their peers, as they analyze that week’s reading selection. Students can also interact with peers by responding to the occasional Discussion Board prompts posted. Here students can share ideas and questions about the subjects we are exploring.  Some weeks students will be assigned longer essays (one to three pages) to allow for a deeper analyzation of a topic. This also provides an opportunity for the instructor to offer students guidance on writing original and thoughtful literary responses. Additionally, there is one creative project assignment for this course that permits students to respond to literature in a non-written form. This has been the highlight for many former students who have created artwork, short films, costumes, musical arrangements, and other unique expressions showcasing their talents.

Students are expected to submit their work on time via our Canvas page. Arrangements to submit work late should be made in advance for cases such as vacation or other academic commitments. The time commitment for this class is approximately 5 to 10 hours per week.

Upon completion of this course students will understand the various literary and social movements that have helped shape American writing since its founding. Students will see how historical events impacted writers and the works they created, will be able to identify literary elements and techniques, they will be able to distinguish the unique traits found in a variety of literary genres, and be able to analytically respond to a work of literature.

Honors Level

Highly motivated high school students may choose to enroll in the Honors level of this course. Honors level students will complete two longer interpretative papers of a literary subject of their choosing. For the longer papers, I offer a deep evaluation of both style and content. Students will have their papers back with my suggestions within 2 to 3 weeks of submission. Former students have said these evaluations have been beneficial as they prepare for higher level writing in college. Honors level students will also have additional essay assignments through the course of the year. Students will also be supplied with additional (supplementary) reading suggestions.

Who should enroll?

Any student in grades 9 through 12 may take this course. There are no prerequisites, but students should be comfortable reading up to 50 or more pages per week.

Technology Requirements

  • High speed, broadband Internet
  • Sound card and microphone (for live sessions)
  • Streaming video capabilities to watch recorded lectures

Evaluation and Feedback

Students can expect their homework to be evaluated and graded weekly. Most homework, if submitted on time, will earn full credit. Since homework is due the day of live class sessions, I try to have all homework graded before the next class.

I provide written feedback on all essays (short or long). If a student has a question about the homework or anything else regarding the class, they are encouraged to send me and email. I normally respond within 24 hours.


Parents and Students are welcome to communicate with me via email, and I will respond within 24 hours Monday through Friday.

Examples of Student Projects


Class Sample: (edited to protect student privacy)



Required Texts


Any unabridged version of the following:

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

8 reviews for American Literature

  1. H. Lee

    Overall, I really enjoyed American Literature with Mrs. Spivey, and would highly recommend this course to any student looking to take a literature course. Below is a more detailed review of and information about the course that I think (and hope) will be helpful for prospective American Literature students:

    | Style of Teaching |
    Mrs. Spivey is very open to different interpretations of works of literature, so I felt free in exploring different perspectives in analyzing different literary works, which, in turn, led me to reflect our weekly readings on my own experiences in life and also on other writings I read in the past. It is often the case that literature teachers want students to find certain messages, so students end up going on scavenger hunts to find the message of the week as time goes by in order to get the “correct” answer. Mrs. Spivey does not do this, and instead guides her students to be independent in how they interpret literature.

    | Assignments |
    The means through which students are directed to express their opinions about the readings are not limited to just flat out answering questions. Throughout the year, students get to express their interpretations of the assigned readings through art, music, poetry, feature-length essays, et cetera in the style and structure of the student’s choosing. I personally found that this diversity in the styles of the homework assignments allowed me to explore literature in a more creative way. This year (2020-2021), we (students) had the chance to share our Creative Projects with each other through Canvas, and I was very impressed at all the different approaches my peers took to share their experience of literature and also at their diverse talents!

    | Textbook |
    The readings in this course is not limited to the texts in the textbook, but the textbook does guide the overall flow of the course. Following the chapters of the textbook, the class starts from Native American literature and work its way towards modern American literature. Along the way, students read novels that are representative of the time period they are learning about, and the historical background of the time period is also included in the textbook to help students better understand the readings that are presented to them. Relatively more modern literature that is related to the literature of a particular time is grouped together with the literature from that time in the textbook (despite not being from the same time period) so as to allow students to further explore certain styles of literature and see how it developed over time.

    |Time Allocation |
    The average time block that should be allocated each week for this course is about five to six hours each week, depending on the length of the assignments for the particular week. Larger projects can take about eight to ten hours. Most reading assignments have free audiobooks available online (YouTube), so if you are a student who reads better with the input of an audiobook, you can go ahead and find it online and read along.

    I hope you found this information helpful!

  2. Hoyoun L.

    Through my nine years of being a student, I have learned repeatedly that when it comes to teachers in humanities subjects, it is quite rare to meet a teacher who is truly open to different interpretations of the class materials. Often, literature teachers force a specific interpretation they believe to be “valid” on to the students, and the literature course becomes a guessing game. But not Mrs. Spivey! Mrs. Spivey encourages her students to explore different possible meanings of works of literature, and this allowed me to extensively investigate literature in directions I hadn’t considered before. Mrs. Spivey also gives her students detailed, insightful feedback for each assignment, which really helped me improve my writing this year. The general structure of the course was very well established, and through this course, I walked through American history at a more personal level compared to history classes, which presents history rather than telling it. I highly recommend this course to students looking for American Literature courses or just a literature course to enjoy.

  3. E.D. (British Literature Student)

    I took Mrs. Spivey’s 2017-2018 British Literature class, and I absolutely loved it! I have always been a lover of literature, but this class taught me so much more about poetry and novels. We read books from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and, my personal favorite, Charles Dickens. We also had many exciting activities in this class. Over the year, we had two creative projects to complete. For my first project, I made my own Queen Elizabeth costume and recited the speech she gave before defeating the Spanish Armada, which was one of the pieces we read in the first semester. I had so much fun creating this project, and in every other part of this class. Mrs. Spivey is an amazing teacher, and she brings the literature we read to life. British Literature was my favorite class this year!

  4. R.S. (British Literature Student)

    British Literature has been a great class! Not only did I get to read many great pieces of British literature, I also learned a lot about the history of Western Europe. Mrs. Spivey has a very engaging teaching style; she does not only lecture, but also asks the students questions and invites discussion. In addition, she also explains literary interpretations of the pieces we discuss, clarifying their meaning.

    A specific example of a subject Mrs. Spivey enlightened me on was English metaphysical poetry. When I first read the poetry and prose of John Donne, Ben Jonson, and the other metaphysical poets, I did not contemplate the meaning behind the verses enough to realize the special characteristics of metaphysical poetry. However, after attending class, I understood metaphysical poetry far better, and even enjoyed rereading the poems!

    Not all of learning with Mrs. Spivey has been strictly academic. One of my favorite experiences in her class has been the creative project, in which I illustrated characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While imagining them engaging in lively conversation as I read the book was entertaining, drawing them brought them to life in a way that I could not have done by reading.

    While usually the reading assignment is in the book, Mrs. Spivey also assigns books, plays, and online resources to read on occasion. In her class, I’ve had the opportunity to read many classics like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Pride and Prejudice, Shakespeare, and Auguries of Innocence. Taking Mrs. Spivey’s British Literature class has taught me a lot, and surprised me sometimes with the prevalence of British literature references – ranging from ubiquitous Shakespeare to lesser-known authors like Elizabeth Barrett Browning – in everyday life. Whether reading newspapers or consuming pop culture, British literature is everywhere. I am very glad I chose to take this class and definitely feel like it has made me much more knowledgeable about British literature!

  5. G. Beaumont

    (Mrs. Spivey) has a vast knowledge of writing, is extremely friendly and kind, and super understanding. Not many teachers WANT their students to learn, they just want them to pass and be done with. I know she genuinely cared about how I did.

  6. E. C.

    I enjoyed reading many different kinds of writing from a wide array of authors and eras. I also enjoyed class discussion. Mrs. Spivey always made class time interesting and informative by providing direction where needed but also opening up time for discussion of our own perspectives and interpretations, allowing us to grow further.
    Mrs. Spivey is very passionate about what she teaches, which makes this course very fun. She asks engaging question and encourages the class to be readers that meditate on the works they read and analyze the contents. Mrs. Spivey is open to new perspectives form her students and never ignores or discounts a persons thoughts.
    This course taught me how to analyze a work of literature and form an extensive understanding of it. This course also gave many opportunities for practice of creating well-developed and detailed papers about a piece of literature. -American Literature Student

  7. Parent, PA

    Susan Spivey does an excellent job of instilling the love of learning and literature into her students. I have had two children participate in her English/Literature classes, and even though they enjoyed reading before, Susan was able to unlock areas of interpretation that allowed them both to understand more fully what the authors are attempting to convey. Her writing assignments challenged them to think deeply and put into their own words portions of specific text. Susan also challenges her students by assigning projects that may not be in their particular strength. For example: Not only do the students write, but some assignments may require them to perform a dramatization or an art project. She realizes that not all the students have the same strengths, but she motivates them to branch out and try something new. Susan also wants each of her students to succeed and encourages them to use whatever gifts or abilities they have to do their best. Thank you, Susan, for using Literature to help my children to mature and flourish.

    parent, PA

  8. J.S., PA

    Mrs. Spivey’s literature class challenged and equipped me for college in a way few other high school experiences did. The class, which I took at a homeschool co-op during my senior year, surveyed great Christian literature with a diverse and challenging reading list. Our class meetings were a chance for Mrs. Spivey to push her students to think critically about the material we read; she encouraged us to reevaluate our presuppositions and validated our thoughtful opinions, even when she didn’t share them. This open discussion stood in contrast to many high school classes that shielded authors from critique. Mrs. Spivey’s approach to in-class discussion helped prepare me for college literature and writing classes, where criticism of an author and their worldview is encouraged. Her love of literature was apparent in everything she did; from her enthusiasm in class to her warm invitations to continue discussions and reading outside of it, Mrs. Spivey was a hugely influential teacher who was instrumental in my decision to pursue English and writing as a part of my college and career.
    J.S. PA

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Instructor Bio

Susan Spivey

Susan Spivey is a member of the Aim Academy Online leadership team and an English teacher. Susan is enthusiastic about sharing her love of literature with students and finds tremendous joy in teaching. Susan earned her MA in English from Arizona State University and her BS in Journalism from the University of Maryland. She worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for several years before starting her family. Susan also worked as a freelance writer for magazines and as a substitute teacher in public schools. She has taught English for many years and has been teaching for Aim Academy Online since 2015. When she is not reading a book, discussing a book, or teaching about books, you can find her in her garden, likely with a book nearby. Contact: sspivey[at]


All classes taught by Susan Spivey