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Frankenstein Unit Plan for High School

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein does not lend itself to being organized and structured into instructional segments.  Nevertheless, whether you are teaching AP students or developing readers, you must develop a practical Frankenstein unit plan.

The Frankenstein unit plan shown below breaks the novel into four readings.  Three follow-up lessons accompany each reading.  There are also pre-reading and post-reading lessons to frame the unit.

Frankenstein Unit Plan:

  • Pre-reading (Nobody Says, “It’s Alive!”)
  • Reading 1: Letters – Chapter 5 (The Frame of the Tale)
  • Reading 2: Chapters 6 – 12 (Isn’t it Romantic?)
  • Reading 3: Chapters 13 – 10 (Becoming Frankenstein’s Monster)
  • Reading 4: Chapters 20 – 24 (A Tale of Two Wretches)
  • Post-reading (Shelley’s Themes)

Frankenstein Unit Lessons

Here are the lessons that I include in my Frankenstein unit plan for high school.  I also make time after each reading for Frankenstein discussion questions in small groups.

Pre-reading: Nobody Says, “It’s Alive!”

It is important to present some context at the start of your Frankenstein unit.  I want students to think about key theme subjects, Romanticism, and science fiction as a genre.

Nobody Says, “It’s Alive!” (anticipation guide)

Common Core standard: SL1 Comprehension and Collaboration (discussion)

In this lesson students think about popular conceptions of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster.  They use the anticipation guide to engage with the theme subjects explored in the novel.

Frankenstein Anticipation Guide (PDF)

Frankenstein essay question table - Edited 1

NOTE: This is the time to introduce the unit goals and culminating task.  I find that students do better when they know what to expect from the start.  In this case, students might want to “cheat” by taking notes on the development of a particular theme as they read.

Getting Romantic with Art

Frankenstein pre-reading activities featured

Common Core standard: SL4 Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

This lesson asks students to think about the themes and ideals of Romanticism through fine art.  After a short exploration of Romanticism, student groups analyze and present one famous painting from the movement.

Romanticism in Fine Art: 8 Examples (PDF)

Giving Sci-fi a Try

Common Core standard: RL3 Key Ideas and Details (interacting elements)

This Frankenstein lesson plan is receptive and creative.  Students think about science fiction as a genre, analyze a famous example (e.g,. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury), and demonstrate mastery by suggesting their own original example of sci-fi.

The important take-away for students is that modern science fiction moralizes or prognosticates in regards to current scientific developments.  Students should understand that the genre and the development of themes are inextricably linked.

Giving Sci-Fi a Try Handout (PDF)

Reading 1: The Frame of the Tale (Letters – Chapter 5)

Frankenstein frame tale
Ice Dwellers by William Bradford

After the first reading, students should take a close look at Shelley’s structure and her use of structural effects (creating tension, mystery, suspense, and surprise). How do frame tales work? Why does Shelley choose Captain Walton to tell the doctor’s story?  How does she use structure to manipulate time and create foreshadowing?

The Frame of the Tale

Frankenstein Unit Plan High School Frame Tales AP

Common Core standard: RL5 Craft and Structure (narrative structure)

The fact that Shelley uses the captain as an intermediary for the stories of the doctor and the creature is key.  Before students can analyze this structural element in Frankenstein, they must understand frame tales in general.  Through literary and pop culture examples, students explore the use of the framing device.

By the end of the lesson, students apply what they have learned about the framing device to Frankenstein.

Foreshadowing Doom

Common Core standard: RL5 Craft and Structure (effects of structure)

From the very beginning of the novel, Shelley’s foreshadowing is fast and furious.  Students should be noting and analyzing the examples.  Students in high school should take their analysis of foreshadowing further by breaking down the different types.

  • 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.

Foreshadowing in Frankenstein Handout (PDF)

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Common Core standard: RL9 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (source material)

Of the many allusions in Frankenstein, the big three source materials are the myth of Prometheus, The Bible / Paradise Lost, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” plays a large role early on, and it is probably the source material with which the students have the least familiarity.

In this Frankenstein lesson, students think about the role of allusions generally and the thematic, literal, and tonal connections between Frankenstein and this particular poem.  The language of the Coleridge’s poem is challenging, and I find that the illustrations by Gustave Dore aid students greatly.

Reading 2: Isn’t it Romantic? (Chapters 6 – 12)

Dr. Frankenstein in his lab

After the second reading, students think about the features of Shelley’s word choice, the doctor as a narrator, and the theories of personality development demonstrated by the creature.

Isn’t It Romantic? (word choice)

Common Core standard: RL4 Craft and Structure (word choice)

After studying up on Romanticism (especially the style of the language) students apply their understanding.  It is beneficial to analyze a Romantic poem as a class before working in groups.

Part 1: Find an excerpt from Frankenstein that demonstrates Shelley’s word choice. Share the excerpt and your analysis of word choice.

Part 2: Write your own example of Romantic literature. Combine your knowledge of word choice and Romanticism and your creativity. (It can be poetry or prose.)

Doctoring the Evidence (point of view)

Common Core standard: RL6 Craft and Structure (point of view)

Now that the doctor has taken over the narration, it is important to evaluate him as a narrator. How much can we believe? How might his point of view create bias in the telling?

Is the doctor a martyr or a miscreant?

  • He ignores his “beloved” family for years.
  • He shows no care for the creature.
  • He allows the creature to become other people’s problem.
  • He offers lame excuses for failing to save Justine from execution.
  • He focuses on his own emotions rather than the harm he has caused.
  • He often blames fate or “the angel of his destruction.”
  • When his family is in jeopardy, he spends time on the lake or in the Alps.

Download the complete resource:FRANKENSTEIN unit COVER

Are Monsters Made or Born?

Common Core standard: RI2 Key Ideas and Details (central idea development)

This Frankenstein lesson plan incorporates non-fiction texts.  Each group analyzes and presents one article on psychology and personality development.  Some of the articles relate current psychological understanding and others explain theories from the past.

By the end of the lesson, students relate what they have learned to Shelley’s portrayal of the creature.  She bases the creatures mental state largely on philosophies from John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Reading 3: Becoming Frankenstein’s Monster (Chapters 13 – 10)

Frankenstein unit plan image 1

Following the third reading, students should analyze the characterization of the monster, make key connections to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and explore how Shelley creates powerful imagery.

Becoming Frankenstein’s Monster

Common Core standard: RL1 Main Ideas and Details (textual evidence)

Students use textual evidence to put the character of the creature under the figurative microscope.  What details bring the creature to life in our imaginations? What are his key traits? How is this creature different from pop culture depictions?

More creative options in thinking about Frankenstein’s monster:

  • Adapt the monster’s explanation into a dramatic monologue.
  • Write a poem that uses Frankenstein’s monster as the speaker.
  • Create an art piece inspired by the original monster.

Finding Paradise Lost 

Common Core standard: RL9 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (source material)

The monster finds a copy of Paradise Lost by John Milton in a duffel bag, and he gives the doctor a book report. Shelley includes this discussion of famous literature for a reason. She includes each book that the creature finds to make a point, and she gives special attention to Paradise Lost.

Reading the entirety of Paradise Lost is probably beyond the scope of your Frankenstein unit plan.  Nevertheless, students should have some familiarity with Milton’s poem to fully understand the novel.  The creature’s identification with both Adam and Satan is part of what makes the novel ingenious.

Writing with Imagery

Common Core standard: W3D Writing Narrative (imagery)

Analyzing and demonstrating imagery is the focus of this Frankenstein lesson.  Students analyze how Shelley creates imagery and then demonstrate their own mastery of imagery in creative writing.

“‘As the night advanced, 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 and reflection. I lighted the dry branch of a tree and danced with fury around the devoted cottage, my eyes still fixed on the western horizon, the edge of which the moon nearly touched. A part of its orb was at length hid, and I waved my brand; it sank, and with a loud scream I fired the straw, and heath, and bushes, which I had collected. The wind fanned the fire, and the cottage was quickly enveloped by the flames, which clung to it and licked it with their forked and destroying tongues.’” (Shelley 88)

 Reading 4: A Tale of Two Wretches (Chapters 20 – 24)

Frankenstein discussion questions cover

As students form a complete picture of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, they should connect all the complex elements of characterization.  The similarities between the creature and the doctor are paramount.

A Tale of Two Wretches

“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.”

Common Core standard: RL3 Key Ideas and Details (interacting elements)

Why are authors and audiences interested in the doppelgänger device? Why are we fascinated with evil twins, mirror opposites, double personalities, and alter egos?

It is not surprising that many mistakenly refer to the monster as Frankenstein.  Shelley wants the two characters to be distorted images mirroring one another.  What is the effect of this approach?

Students will create a Venn diagram to compare Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. This will be an spatial Venn diagram with each person representing a data point. One side of the room is for the creature’s statements, the opposite side is the for the doctor’s statements, and the center of the room is for shared statements.

Foiled Again! (characterization)

Common Core standard: RL3 Main Ideas and Details (interacting elements)

This Frankenstein lesson plan asks students to explore character foils in the novel.  How do the other characters help illuminate the character of the doctor through similarity or contrast?

Foil characters in Frankenstein:

  • Frankenstein’s parents (Alphonse and Caroline)
  • Henry Clerval
  • Captain Walton
  • The creature
  • Elizabeth
  • Mr. De Lacey

The Modern Prometheus

Prometheus statue - small

Common Core standard: RL9 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

We know that Shelley is all about the Old Testament, Paradise Lost, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but let’s think about her original title: Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.

Students review the myth of Prometheus and make connections to Frankenstein.  What impact would these connections have on the knowledgeable reader?

Prometheus and Frankenstein

  • Rebelling against a father figure
  • Creating a new race of beings
  • Upsetting the proper order (ambition)
  • Horrible creations
  • Absence of forethought
  • Failed rebellion
  • Falling from grace
  • Curiosity
  • Keeping secrets
  • Intense suffering
  • Temptation
  • Duality of humankind
  • Forbidden knowledge
  • Gifting knowledge
  • Cursed gifts
  • Origins of evil
  • Fire
  • Hell (different names and forms)

Post-reading: Shelley’s Themes

Symbolism in Frankenstein

Common Core standard: RL2 Key Ideas and Details (theme development)

In some cases, the symbolism in Frankenstein is quit subtle.  Nevertheless, symbolism plays an important role in developing Shelley’s themes.  This lesson asks students to work in groups to analyze one symbolic element and how it plays a role in theme development.

Frankenstein Unit plan lesson on Symbolism

Shelley’s Themes

Common Core standard: RL2 Main Ideas and Details (theme development)

In wrapping up your Frankenstein unit, ask students to present or write formally on Shelley’s development of themes.  I like to have students present on separate themes and then recognize the connections between them.  Students should be able to incorporate all that they have learned about characterization, allusion, Romanticism, symbolism, and the rest.

Download the complete resource:FRANKENSTEIN unit COVER

The Complete Frankenstein Unit and Teacher Guide

I hope that you have found something in this unit plan that you can use in teaching Frankenstein in high school.  Whether you are teaching advanced placement (AP) students or developing readers, organizing a literature unit is a challenge.

This post provides a helpful overview, but if you would like detailed Frankenstein lesson plans, reading quizzes, assignment pages, and exam banks, check out my complete Frankenstein Unit and Teacher Guide.