How can we expect students to write great essays when we never invite them to read great essays?


My name is Ellen Finnigan.

I have a B.A. in English from Boston College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing / Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana, where I won the Merriam-Frontier Award for distinguished achievement in writing.

My essays have been published in a wide variety of venues both online and in print, including in an educational anthology called Humor: A Reader for Writers published by Oxford University Press.

I've been teaching homeschooled kids online since 2008, and this is the class I have always wanted to teach.

We will study the art of Creative Nonfiction, what Gay Talese called the "the literature of reality," through the study of Great Essays.

We will read, study, discuss, imitate, and experiment!

Time & Place

We will meet on the first three Thursdays of the month at

12:00-1:00 p.m. PST
3:00-4:00 p.m. EST

in Ms. Finnigan's online classroom.

Topics, Deadlines, & Dates

March: Personal Essay

March 5: Turn in first draft

March 7, 14, 21: Live classes

March 27: Turn in revised essay

April: Argumentative Essay

April 2: Turn in first draft

April 4, 11, 18: Live classes

April 23: Turn in revised essay

May: Expository Essay

May 1: Turn in first draft.

May 2, 9, 16: Live classes

May 22: Turn in revised essay

June: Personal Essay

June 4: Turn in first draft

June 6, 13, 20: Live classes

June 25:
Turn in revised essay

July: Argumentative Essay

July 2: Turn in first draft

July 4, 11, 18: Live classes

July 23: Turn in revised essay

August: Experimental Essay

July 30: Turn in first draft.

August 1, 8, 15: Live classes

August 20: Turn in revised essay

Parent Testimonial

"In Ms. Finnigan you have the stellar combination of a great teacher and an amazing person. Being at the same time professional and warm-hearted, she inspires her students to bring their best into her literature and writing classes. She meets students where they are ability-wise, and brings out the best in them with her encouraging and detailed feedback. She has a great grasp of the literature she teaches and the human nature that lies behind it. She came alongside my daughter in many ways in her life during her high school years, and we are forever grateful."

-- Amy Grasso

Recommended for Students Who:

  • are 16 and up*
  • are ready to move beyond formulaic, academic writing
  • need inspiration for college application or scholarship essays
  • want to try a new kind of creative writing (i.e. not fiction or poetry)
  • wish to foster a love of the written word
  • are ready to move beyond the five-paragraph essay!
*Younger students may enroll, but parents should read the "Note to Parents" first. (Scroll down)

Purchase today! Your enrollment can start on the 1st of the month.

Want teacher feedback each week? Select "More Feedback!" at checkout!

Note to Parents -- Please read!

I will select essays that I believe are appropriate for high school students. I will stay away from essays that are written in poor taste, essays with explicitly adult or sexual themes and foul language, as well as contemporary essays about "hot button" social and political issues. I will try to select "classics" that have withstood the test of time and are widely recognized as great writing.

However, most great essays are written by adults for adults, and are probably in some way provocative, in the best sense of the word. We will not be studying essays only written by Christians (though many of the great writers were Christians); therefore I can't guarantee a Christian worldview in every essay, though, as a Christian myself, I will steer clear of essays that would be, on their face, an affront to Christian parents and a scandal to their children.

In general, we want to read essays that point us toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (though what is True is often controversial!) In the end, our task will be to learn more about the craft of good writing, not to discuss or argue the point of the essay.

All of this naturally demands more maturity on the part of the students, which is why I recommend the course for juniors and seniors.

Thank you for your understanding!

How the "Great Essays" Class Works

1 Write

Student writes an essay in response to a prompt, just to get something down on paper, and have something to work with.

Turns it in to teacher for accountability. (No feedback given with the basic pricing plan.)

2 Read and Discuss

Student reads 1-2 Great Essays per week for three weeks.

We meet in class to study, learn, and discuss.

Ms. Finnigan suggests one writing exercise each week for play/practice.

(Student does not turn in work with basic pricing plan.)

3 Revise

Student revises original essay during final Writing Week. (No class)

Student will be encouraged to experiment, perhaps imitating new techniques or playing with a different voice, approach, structure, or style.

Turn in final essay for detailed teacher feedback.


Feedback and Grades

If you wish to receive feedback on all assignments, including the initial draft, select "More Feedback!" at checkout. ($35)

I don't usually give grades, but if this is something you need, reach out to me before you sign up. I can likely make accomodations.


Course Texts / Additional Purchases

I will aim to select essays that are free online, that you can print yourself.

If I can't find a free version, I will give those enrolled enough time to be able to check it out from the library.

If an additional purchase will be required, I will be sure to give a month's notice.


Questions? Email me at:

contact at teachtothetext dot com

Parent Testimonial

"Ms. Ellen Finnigan is one of those rare teachers who effectively combines deep subject knowledge, abundant joy, engaging inspiration and captivating creativity in her approach to teaching children. For over six years, Ms. Finnigan instilled a love for literature and writing to four of my children through her classes in Greek literature and creative writing. Her writing tutorial has been indispensable to preparing my children for college level writing. Ms. Finnigan’s joy for teaching is genuine and made every class exciting and enjoyable for the children. She enabled her students to recognize the deeper meaning of the great literature of the past and draw on its impact on their lives and its meaning in the modern world. I would sincerely and enthusiastically recommend Ms. Finnigan to any parent as their child’s teacher."  

--Greg Simia

More Parent and Student Reviews

"We covered a lot of content this year as far as poetry, short stories, and writing. The classes were always a great balance of covering the material, having discussions, and doing writing exercises. Mrs. Finnigan gives a lot of encouraging and helpful feedback on writing and assignments and is always fair in her grading."

--Student, Spring 2022, Professional Review

"Engages all students intellectually in the classroom and encourages critical thinking skills. Students are being challenged to think and make connections through both the instructional activities and discussion questions…Treats each student with charity and compassion."

— Parent, Spring 2022 Professional Review

"When Mrs. Finnigan has a specific activity planned class runs very smoothly, and even when things don't go as expected, she can effortlessly tailor the activity to what the class needs."

— Student, Spring 2022 Professional Review