Frankenstein the monster teaches itself, but Frankenstein the novel does not. Whether you are teaching Frankenstein for the first time or you are a seasoned pro on the AP Literature and Comprehension level, here are some tips to consider.
The original Frankenstein disappoints some students. I suppose that they expect more gore and less talk about feelings. My overarching advice for teaching Frankenstein is to keep students engaged with fun connections, interesting discussions, and outlets for creative expression.
Teaching Frankenstein Tip 1: Get Romantic with art.
Even people who love language may be visual learners (myself included). Fine art, especially art from the Romantic movement, offers an excellent opportunity for engagement.
Students can apply what they learn about Romanticism using fine art. I assign each group a work from the Romantic movement so that they can analyze and present. This enables visual learners to see the ideals of the movement.
Later in the unit, students might connect their knowledge of Romantic art to the literary elements of novel. As part of a choice board, I give students the option to produce Frankenstein-inspired art in accordance with the principles of the Romantic movement movement.
Teaching Frankenstein Tip 2: Get nerdy with science fiction.
Since many consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the first example of science fiction as we know it, it makes sense to get students thinking about the genre. Students should understand that modern science fiction prognosticates and/or moralizes over scientific and technological advancements.
Help students see the connections between this 1818 example and the science fiction of today. Contemporary examples may not be concerned about developments in galvanism (using electricity to bring things back to life), but there are obvious connections in terms of genetic modification, artificial intelligence, and longevity (or even immortality).
I want students to get creative by forming an original science fiction premise. The development of their theme and the science fiction premise must be inextricably linked. In other words, the genre enables the theme.
Teaching Frankenstein Tip 3: Don’t ignore pop culture; use it.
Students are surprised by the sensitivity and intellect of the original monster. Rather than dismissing the portrayals found in pop culture, ask students to explore the similarities and differences.
For example, you might have students compare the original novel to the 1931 film by Universal Pictures. What elements do the two works share in terms of plot, characterization, theme, and tone? What are the key differences and how do they reflect the purposes of the respective authors? (NOTE: The comparisons of the two interpretations address Common Core standard Reading Literature 7.)
I also like to use pop culture when helping students understand the framing device. Since frame tales are so common in popular culture and literature, it is important that students evaluate the effects of this structural device.
Tip 4: Don’t fall down source material rabbit holes.
The school year marches on. I always run out of time before I run out of literature. If you want to finish teaching Frankenstein in a timely manner, you must avoid falling down source material rabbit holes. It is impractical to spend a great deal of time with Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno, so how can you make sure that students grasp the connections?
Focus on the big three.
Paradise Lost, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and the myth of Prometheus are the most important source materials when it comes to Shelley’s allusions. Without knowledge of these works students will miss important thematic and stylistic connections.
Use summaries when appropriate.
Students can certainly read the Prometheus myth, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” or even “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” However reading Paradise Lost, The Book of Genesis, or Dante’s Inferno is beyond the scope of teaching Frankenstein. Written summaries or even videos enable students to contextualize the allusions without waylaying the study of Frankenstein.
Jigsaw research on source materials.
If you want students to have familiarity with most or all of the allusions in Frankenstein, consider jigsawing research. Assign each group one source material to research and present. They may not have to read the entirety of the original work, but they should be able to inform the class about the author, context, key themes, and importance.
Tip 5: Spark debate.
If opinions are like bellybuttons (everybody has one), then my students must be covered in bellybuttons. Nothing gets them fired up like the opportunity to express their views on important and/or controversial issues.
Sparking student debate can take many forms. I like to engage students with the important theme subjects of the novel before they even open the book with an anticipation guide. I also create a set of discussion questions to follow each assigned reading. Questions range from interpreting characters actions to analyzing the author’s style.
Frankenstein Discussion Questions (4 sets)
As you wrap up teaching Frankenstein, students might express there opinions more formally in a debate or argumentative essay. Students might debate the culpability of the doctor or form a position on Frankenstein from a feminist perspective.
Tip 6: Use the novel to inspire creative writing.
Allow students to great creative as they study Frankenstein. Students might create an adaptation that takes the elements in a new direction. They might imitate Shelley’s writing style through imagery, figurative language, or allusion. You could challenge students to write their own example of Gothic horror, Romantic poetry, science fiction, or a frame tale.
Creative writing ideas in teaching Frankenstein:
- Romantic poem
- Descriptive essay (imagery and sensory details)
- Frankenstein adaption (one plot event for the stage or screen)
- Gothic horror short story (with structural effects like suspense)
- Frame tale (emphasis on point of view)
- Character monologue (e.g., the monster reflects on his first murder)
- Science fiction premise
Teaching Frankenstein Tip 7: Get dramatic.
My students love to perform, and many of them show real talent. For these students the opportunity to perform creates an incentive to think deeply about the novel and its elements.
Student performances must be about more than fun. Acting out a scene from the novel to demonstrate comprehension is not enough. Student must analyze the literary elements that are being explored, emphasized, or even altered.
Performance ideas in teaching Frankenstein:
- Monster monologues (a soliloquy from one character)
- Romantic poetry open-mic
- Adaptations for the stage or screen
- Opening statements (Dr. Frankenstein on trial)
- Theme scenes (e.g., a one-scene play about personal ambition)
Tip 8: Incorporate compelling non-fiction.
Analyzing non-fiction texts is not as fun or interesting for me as a teacher. Nevertheless, the students need consistent and rigorous practice with non-fiction texts to prepare for future endeavors. Teaching Frankenstein presents some great topics to explore though non-fiction texts and research.
Non-fiction and research topics when teaching Frankenstein:
Science Gone Too Far
Students read articles on artificial intelligence, genetic modification, longevity, and other topics connected to the novel.
Psychology connections (personality development and behavior)
- Theories that informed Mary Shelley (Locke and Rousseau)
- Current views on personality development
- Psychopathy and Sociopathy
Historical and literary context topics
- The Enlightenment
- The Age of Reason
- The Industrial Revolution
- Gothic literature
- Science fiction
- Realism (follows Romanticism)
- Gender in 1818
- Mary Shelley’s life
- The legacy of Frankenstein today
- The 1816 scary story contest
Teaching Frankenstein Tip 9: Focus on textual evidence in exploring literary elements.
In exploring the key literary elements of the novel, students must focus on the textual evidence. Whether they are working deductively or inductively, using textual evidence in forming conclusions is an essential skill.
For me, the essential literary elements of the novel are…
- Characterization (especially character foils)
- Structure (e.g., framing devices)
- Structural effects (e.g., suspense)
- Word choice
- Theme development (including symbolism)
In studying each of these elements, students should base their analyses and conclusions on textual evidence.
Despite the brevity of the novel, there is a great deal to cover. Even if you are an expert on Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, getting organized to teach Frankenstein is no small task. If you have found “9 Tips for Teaching Frankenstein” helpful, check out my complete Frankenstein Unit and Teaching Guide.
TeachNovels unit overview:
- Introduce the unit and goals with pre-reading activities.
- Follow the reading schedule (4 readings) and administer reading quizzes.
- Engage students after each reading with a variety of standards-based lessons.
- Extend learning with enriching challenges.
- Assess mastery with performance tasks and/or a final exam.