Taking the Fear out of Teaching Frankenstein

by Melissa Smith

To make Frankenstein relatable to our world today, I have students read and discuss various science articles. I do this lesson within the first couple of weeks of reading as an introduction to some of the overarching messages of the novel. For this activity, you will need large pieces of butcher paper (one for each group), markers, and links to the articles accessible for students. I have articles linked here to use, but it’d also be neat to find some additional articles that are locally interesting to your school or region.

Designer babies

Frankenfood

Head transplant – always a favorite!

Cloning

Stem cells

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In groups of four or five, students will sit around a large piece of butcher paper with a circle drawn in the middle. Each person selects one of the articles (with each student reading a different article) to read quietly to themselves. As they read their individual article, they should take notes on the butcher paper in one of the corners closest to them. (approx. 15 minutes)

Once it looks like most students are wrapping up writing notes for their individual article, instruct groups to go around in a circle and share what their article is about. Once each member has shared, they should discuss overarching ideas they see running through all of the articles and write those ideas in the circle in the middle of the paper. (approx. 20 minutes)

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As a last step, students will then review all of the ideas in the circle and discuss which ones apply to Frankenstein. If it applies, they should place a box around the idea. Students can discuss if they think this idea would be an accurate theme seed or theme statement for the book, or even take the idea and transform it into an official theme statement.  

The class can then come together for a whole class discussion to share their boxed ideas and how they see them operating in the novel thematically. As an additional step, groups could also identify and share out specific scenes in the novel that illustrate each of the ideas/themes.

by Beth Whinnem

Before I jump into Frankenstein, I spend about a week talking about Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution. This really opens the doors for connections not only between the time period and the writing but between then and now. Students are always quick to point out how the problems of the technological/digital age that we are in now echo some of the same problems of the industrial age. I have had several students who are devoted minimalists and see themselves in the Romantics. It also really helps them see the foil of Henry Clerval to Victor Frankenstein.

So, when we get to chapter 10 of Frankenstein, I give them a copy of “Mutability” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Students will have read the chapter for homework and it’s always interesting to see who recognizes it from the reading or looked up those “strange italicize lines” on their own. We spend the period taking apart the poem in relation to the text, always focusing on the question: Why did she choose to put this excerpt from her husband’s poem here? It generates great discussion and reconnects them to poetry.

Then, they are primed and ready for the same activity in chapter 18 with “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abby”

by Susan Barber

Teaching Frankenstein means two things to me: the Romantics and Russian nesting dolls.

I always start my Frankenstein unit with an overview of Romantic poetry which I introduce with art. Read, Write, and Think has a fantastic lesson titled An Exploration of Romanticism through Art and Poetry. I’ve used bits and pieces of this lesson throughout the years but love using art to discuss the basic tenets of Romanticism. The first picture The Raft of the Medusa is used before we read while Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog is used during reading in chapter 10 when Victor finds solace in nature and The Nightmare is viewed after reading chapter 23 when Elizabeth is murdered by the creature.

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So what’s up with the Russian nesting dolls? This is how I choose to introduce framing. I love the visual that all of these dolls stack within each other revealing layer after layer. After showing these, we discuss movies that use framing such as Inception, The Princess Bride, and The Notebook along with several others that I am unaware of because I’m too busy grading to watch movies. I then introduce students to the main characters in Frankenstein and show the graphic below to help understand how the story will be told. After reading the letters, we probe into what themes are being introduced in order to trace these through the frames. Like the nesting dolls, each frame reveals another layer. Next we compare Walton’s first letter to Chapter 1 – Victor’s story. Students are given a copy so they can mark while they are thinking on this. The work of unpacking continues layer by layer, theme by theme.

Walton's letters

I have also found these Crash Course videos helpful especially when reviewing the novel.

What is your favorite Frankenstein activity?

One thought on “Taking the Fear out of Teaching Frankenstein

  1. Dear Ms. Barber,

    Do you find that reading the novella “Frankenstein” is also good preparation for the use of language in Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”?

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