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


My name is Ellen Finnigan. I taught high school literature and composition for 10 years at an online, classical school, where my senior year Creative Writing class was very popular.

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. This is the class I have always wanted to teach. In this class, we will study Creative Nonfiction, what Gay Talese called the "the literature of reality," through the study of Great Essays.

This course will open soon for enrollment. Subscribe to the newsletter to stay informed!

"Great Essays"
recommended for grades 11-12:

  • to help with college or scholarship application essays.
  • to leave formulaic writing behind.
  • to try a kind of creative writing that is not fiction or poetry.
  • to foster a love of writing.

How the "Great Essays" Class Works

Students are welcome to participate in the live classes without turning anything in ($45/month). If you'd like your student to be able to submit writing for teacher feedback, you can add "Submit Writing" at checkout.

Week 1: WRITE: Students will write an essay in response to a prompt.

Weeks 1-3: READ and DISCUSS: Students will read one Great Essay each week for three weeks. I will select essays that are available for free online or give plenty of notice so they can be ordered from the library. We'll meet on the first three Thursdays of the month to study the techniques used by the writers. We'll see what lessons we can glean from their work.

Week 4: REVISE and SUBMIT: The last week of the month will be a writing week. Students will be encouraged to revise their essay, imitating some of the techniques we studied and using the essays for inspiration. If students have upgraded to "Submit Writing," students can send their revision to me by the 4th Friday and I will respond within one week with feedback.

If students want to continue for another month, they can choose to start a new essay or continue working on the same one. (I don't usually assign grades but if you need that for some reason, please reach out and I'll see if I can accommodate you.)

Note to Parents:

Only high school students ages 16-18 will be able to enroll in the "Great Essays" class.

I will only select essays that I think are appropriate for high schoolers. 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 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.

Thank you for your understanding!

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

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