Even advanced students benefit from a few intro activities before engaging with a text. Here are 15 Frankenstein pre-reading activities to get students engaged before they open the cover of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.
I include a variety of Frankenstein pre-reading activities and lessons, so that you can choose what works for your classroom and goals.
Frankenstein Pre-reading Activities preview:
- Anticipation Guide: Introducing Key Themes
- Getting Romantic with Art
- Key Excerpts Preview
- Giving Sci-Fi a Try
- Scenes of Ambition
- The Frame of the Tale
- The Incomparable Mary Shelley
- Romantic Poetry Open-mic
- Effects of Structure: Foreshadowing
- Science Run Amuck!
- Front-loading Frankenstein‘s Allusions
- Frankenstein in Context
- Titanic Struggle: The Original Prometheus
- Are Monsters Made or Born?
- Pre-viewing the Final Task
Choosing the Frankenstein pre-reading activities that meet your goals
Which literary elements and themes are essential to your exploration of Frankenstein? Are you focusing on Shelley’s use of allusions? A particular theme? The Romantic movement? The crafting of effects like mystery, tension, suspense, or surprise? Figurative language and imagery?
1) Anticipation Guide: Introducing Key Themes
A practical way to get students considering theme subjects is by having them respond to a list of debatable statements – an anticipation guide.
Discussion topics: Science fiction, ambition, nature vs. nurture, the value of science and industry, emotions, appearances, spending time in nature, revenge, parenthood, narrative effects, and prior knowledge of Frankenstein’s monster.
1) Complete the Frankenstein Anticipation Guide on your own.
2) Share and discuss responses in a small group.
3) Choose one discussion to share with the class.
2) Getting Romantic with Art: What Does Romanticism Look Like?
This Frankenstein intro activity uses fine art to get students acquainted with Romanticism. Briefly review the ideals and context of the movement and ask them to analyze artwork in small groups.
8 Awesome Examples of Romantic Art (PDF ready-to-print or project)
Frankenstein pre-reading lesson:
1) Choose one piece of art to analyze.
2) Write your analysis. (Don’t get frustrated, have fun with it.)
- Purpose and audience
- Subject (what is being portrayed)
- Emphasis (What aspects are the main foci? How do you know?)
- Tone (the artist’s attitudes toward the subjects)
- Feeling or theme
- Style (the techniques the artist uses to communicate)
3) Research the work (if time allows).
4) Present your expertise. Connect the art to the ideas of Romanticism.
Helpful clip: “Introduction to the Romantic Movement” (10 minutes) by Martin Travasse
3) Key Excerpts Preview
Get students to predict, theorize, and anticipate by using a list of key quotes from the text. Ask each group to present their assigned excerpt and offer inferences (or even wild guesses) and analysis.
- Which character and/or narrator might be speaking?
- What might be the context of this quote?
- What does this excerpt imply about the events of the novel?
- What are the key literary elements? (e.g., imagery, theme, symbol, characterization, word choice, tone, plot, effects on the reader, and so on)
“The wounded deer dragging its fainting limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die, was but a type of me.”
“…a few shattered pines were scattered around; and the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial nature was broken only by the brawling waves or the fall of some vast fragment, the thunder sound of the avalanche…”
“‘Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hand of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator… Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition….’”
“‘…a fierce wind arose from the woods and quickly dispersed the clouds that had loitered in the heavens; the blast tore along like a mighty avalanche and produced a kind of insanity in my spirits that burst all bounds of reason…’”
“He was alive to every new scene, joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence a new day. He pointed out to me the shifting colors of the landscape and the appearances of the sky. ‘This is what it is to live,’ he cried…”
“‘Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you.'”
“I abhorred the face of man. Oh, not abhorred! They were my brethren, my fellow beings, and I felt attracted even to the most repulsive among them, as to the creature of an angelic nature and celestial mechanism. But I felt that I had no right to share their intercourse… How they would each and all, abhor me and hunt me from the world did they know my unhallowed acts and the crimes which had their source in me!”
“‘And now, behold, with the first imagination of danger, or, if you will, the first mighty and terrific trial of you courage, you shrink away and are content to be handed down as men who had not strength enough to endure… Oh! Be men, or be more than men…”
4) Giving Sci-Fi a Try: Thinking about Genre
This Frankenstein pre-reading lesson is receptive and creative. Students think about the characteristics of modern science fiction by reading and analyzing a short story. Students then get creative in conceiving their own sci-fi premise.
Giving Sci-Fi a Try handout (PDF)
● Read “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (8 pages) by Brian Aldiss.
● Discuss the story in order to complete the analysis page.
● Share your response to the last section with the class.
● Brainstorm a list of ideas to inspire an original sci-fi story.
● Choose an idea and create a plan for the narrative.
If you prefer students that approach the topic through nonfiction articles, have them argue the value of science fiction as a genre.
“Why Science Fiction Authors Can’t Win” (5 pages) from Galactic Brain
“Why Science Fiction Matters” (4 pages) from New America Foundation
“Science fiction triggers ‘poorer reading’, study finds” (3 pages) by Alison Flood
“Why Science Fiction is the Most Important Genre” (3 pages) from WIRED
5) One-scene Themes: Ambition
Ambition is a key subject in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In this pre-reading assignment, each group will write and perform a one-scene play focused on the theme subject of personal ambition. The theme on personal ambition (positive or negative) is up to the group.
Common Core Standards:
- W3 Narrative Writing
- SL1A Comprehension and Collaboration (preparation)
- SL1B Comprehension and Collaboration (decision making)
1) What is your view on the positives and negatives of personal ambition?
2) Brainstorm three ideas that could form a scene on your theme.
3) Choose your best idea and identify…
- Plot / conflict:
1) Set rules for decision making and discussions and record them.
- How will you share ideas and select a final choice?
- How can suggestions be offered by everyone?
- How will roles and responsibilities be determined?
- How will disagreements be settled fairly?
2) Share proposals.
3) Plan the final idea (one of the proposals, an adaptation, or a new idea).
4) Make sure to emphasize a clear theme.
5) The theme must develop through one or more elements (character motivations, setting, plot, conflict, symbol, etc.)
6) Set roles and responsibilities.
7) Compose the script.
Frame Tales Pre-reading Lesson:
A frame tale is when the central story or stories are told within an outer story that sets the stage. In The Canterbury Tales, for example, a group of travelers decides to hold a story contest; the contest creates the frame for the other stories. (Note that the outer story can also frame a single narrative.)
Identify one story (movie, short story, novel, episode, etc.) that uses the framing device. Briefly describe how the frame works for the telling. Why do you think the author decided to frame the main narrative in your example?
Frankenstein has frames within the frame (nested story). Rather than a box full of smaller boxes (e.g., The Canterbury Tales), each box has a box inside (think of nesting dolls). Captain Walton’s story frames Dr. Frankenstein’s story. Later in the novel, we go one level deeper as Dr. Frankenstein frames the creature’s story.
Read “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain. How does Twain use the framing device? (In this case, Twain uses the frustration of the narrator at being a captive audience [the frame] to increase the humor. The outer story rather than framed story conveys the theme.)
Frame a story. Form an idea for an original narrative that is set within an outer story. Briefly explain what effect the frame will have on the telling. Be ready to share your idea.
7) The Incomparable Mary Shelley
Assign non-fiction readings to help students contextualize the author.
- “How a Teenage Girl Became the Mother of Horror” (3 pages) from National Geographic
- “Who was Mary Shelley and what inspired Frankenstein?” (2 pages) from Independent
- “How Romanticism rebelled against cold-hearted rationality” (4 pages) from The Conversation
- Connected clip: Crash Course Literature 205 (13 minutes)
8) Romantic Poetry Open-mic
Frankenstein pre-reading assignment
Romanticism isn’t just about supernatural horrors and emotionally tortured heroes; it’s also about poetry! Of course, there are sensibilities shared by Romantic novelists and Romantic poets.
You will write your own example of Romantic poetry. You will be graded on how well you imitate the subjects, moods, and style of poetry from the Romantic movement.
What matters to a Romantic poet?
● Sublime experiences (moments that transcend the self)
● Imagination (horror, fantasy, dreams…)
● Idealism (rejection of dehumanizing industry)
● Subjectivism (Intellect and reason are lame; my feelings are everything.)
● Medievalism (Medieval times were cool.)
● Hellenism (Classical Greece is cool.)
● Melancholy (Sadness is cool.)
● Romance (romance with a lower-case r; kissy stuff)
● Ornate language
5 famous Romantic poems:
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth
“Sonnet on being Cautioned against Walking on a Headland” by Charlotte Smith
“Darkness” by Lord Byron
“Oh, Come to Me in Dreams, My Love” by Mary Shelley
“Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley
Pre-writing your poem:
- Speaker / point of view:
- Main theme or feeling:
- Romanticism elements: (See list above.)
- Select the poetry elements that you will emphasize:
❏ Structure (how you chose to organize the lines and stanzas)
❏ Imagery / sensory details
❏ Allusions (references to famous works)
❏ Figurative language (metaphor, personification, simile, hyperbole, idiom, etc.)
❏ Connotations (the feelings and thoughts associated with particular words)
❏ Sound devices (repetition, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.)
❏ Sense of time and place (dialogue, dialect, allusions, and references)
❏ Tone (the speaker’s attitude toward the subject)
❏ Mood (the feeling created for the listener)
9) Effects of Structure: Foreshadowing
Prepare students for the structural effects of Frankenstein (mystery, suspense, tension, and surprise) by reviewing foreshadowing with a short story.
Types of Foreshadowing:
Chekhov’s gun / concrete foreshadowing: A material item is shown so that the reader will remember it for later (e.g., the kitchen knives shown early in the horror film).
Word choice: The author might clue you in to what type of story this is through word choice. (Why did the author describe the ocean as blood red instead of wine red?)
Prophecy / direct foreshadowing: A knowledgeable source tells you exactly what is going to happen (e.g., the chorus in Romeo and Juliet).
Flashback / flash-forward: The author wants the reader to be aware of events from another time.
Symbolism: Imagine a gangster story that starts with a bunch of rats killing each other in an alley – they all die. The author started this way for a reason. A symbolic story is called an allegory.
Red Herring: A red herring is misleading foreshadowing. The author wants you to guess wrongly. Many readers think that these fishy clues stink.
Suggested short stories:
“After Twenty Years” by O. Henry (3 pages)
“The Interlopers” by Saki (6 pages)
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell (15 pages)
10) Science Run Amuck!
W1A Writing Argument (organizing claims, reasons, and evidence)
W1B Writing Argument (addressing counterclaims)
W1C Writing Argument (connections and transitions)
Write an argumentative essay on the topic of “SCIENCE RUN AMUCK!” Think about an example of scientific, technological, or industrial development that is going too far. You will be graded on how well you organize a complete argument, address counterclaims, and connect ideas with transition words and phrases.
Note: You can do some research to help your argument, but this is an opinion essay, not a research paper. Focus on expressing your ideas persuasively.
Organize your argumentative essay:
● Introduction (Introduce the topic, state your claim, and preview the reasons.)
● Reason 1 and evidence/explanation
● Reason 2 and evidence/explanation
● Reason 3 and evidence/explanation
● Address counterarguments somewhere within the essay body.
● Closing (Restate the claim, summarize the body, and explain the significance.)
You need to recognize opposing points of view and offer a response. You might put these ideas in a separate body paragraph.
1) State the opposing claim: Some conclude that…
2) Recognize their reasons: They form this conclusion due to…
3) Give your response: This does not change the fact that… This conclusion is incorrect because…
Make connections and transitions:
11) Front-loading Frankenstein‘s Allusions
Prepare students for Shelley’s use of source materials and allusions. Assign each group a source material to research and present. Of course, it is not practical for students to read the entirety of Paradise Lost, but they should be able to relate the gist and importance of the work.
Allusions in Frankenstein
- The myth of Prometheus
- “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
- Paradise Lost
- The Bible
- The Sorrows of Young Werther
- “Mutability” by Percy Shelley
- Plutarch’s Lives
- “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”
- One Thousand and One Nights (Chapter 4)
- Dante’s Inferno (alluded to in Chapter 5)
- The myth of Icarus (alluded to in Chapter 24)
- “The Old Familiar Faces” by C. Lamb (alluded to in Chapter 3)
12) Frankenstein in Context
To fully understand Frankenstein, one must understand the ideological and historical context. Each group will conduct a short research project to analyze and present on one contextual topic of Frankenstein.
Frankenstein research topics:
- The Enlightenment
- John Locke (philosopher)
- Jean Jacques Rousseau (philosopher)
- Gender in 1818
- Gothic literature
- The Age of Reason
- The Industrial Revolution
- Hellenism (ancient Greece)
- The Age of Reflection
- Science fiction as a genre
- Mary Shelley’s life
- The legacy of Frankenstein today
- The 1816 scary story contest (proposed by Lord Byron)
- Realism (a later movement)
13) Titanic Struggle: The Original Prometheus
Consider Shelley’s full title, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by learning about the original Prometheus. What do we already know about the myth of Prometheus? What might be Shelley’s reasons for making this connection? What effect does it create for the knowledgeable reader?
Shared viewing :
“Prometheus Myth” (2 pages)
14) Are Monsters Made or Born?
These non-fiction texts prepare students for one of Shelley’s thematic questions: How do people become evil? Students will explore current psychological theories and the popular philosophies of Shelley’s time.
Each group will present an objective summary of one article. (Objective means that you do not agree, disagree, or evaluate.) The summary should identify the central ideas, explain how they are developed, and share the most important details.
● “Are Killers Made or Born? Both” from Psychology Today
● “Nature vs. nurture: Do genes influence our morals?” from Medical News Today
● “Not-so blank slates: What do infants understand about the social world?” from American Psychological Association
● “John Locke: An Education Progressive Ahead of His Time?” By Peter Gibbon
● “Rousseau’s Philosophy” from The-Philosophy.com
● “Listening to Killers” from American Psychological Association
● “Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference?” from WebMD
● “The Mind as a Blank Slate: Hopeful but Wrong” from Psychology Today
● “What Are the Essential Characteristics of a Good Parent?” from LiveStrong.com
Helpful clip: “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’: Nature vs Nurture” (9 minutes) from MrBruff
15) Pre-viewing the Final Task
Although it may not be an an exciting activity, it is worthwhile to spend time introducing the culminating task. Students will be more likely to analyze as they read when they have a clear objective. Whether you are focusing on allusions, theme development, characterization, style, or symbolism, give students a clear picture of how they will be assessed. I have found that this improves student performance considerably.
After Frankenstein pre-reading activities: moving forward with the novel unit
Using one or more intro activities can set your novel unit up for success. I hope that you have found something in my 15 Frankenstein Pre-reading Activities that you can use.
If you have, please check out my Frankenstein Unit and Teacher Guide. It includes more detailed support for these activities and much more.