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Man or Monster: Frankenstein in the Classroom

October 08, 2015 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Say the name 'Frankenstein' in your class, and it will spark a reaction in every student. They might have a general idea of the story or they might associate the name with the monster in the book. Your students may know little, but they will have an image of the story. It is one of the most inspiring Gothic novels of the 19th century and it won't disappoint the readers in your class.

Just like every story, this one also offers several paths of interpretation and investigation. Before starting any kind of interpretation, let the story speak for itself and offer focus points for your students to follow throughout the reading. This way each student will find something different and engaging in it. If they are into science and science fiction, this is the perfect story for them. If they like travelling, they can explore half the world through this novel. If they are philosophical, they can contemplate the ideas of creation, the moral questions of science, human behaviour, revenge and the concepts of beauty and monstrosity.

Helbling Readers Blue Series Classics Frankenstein

Let's see some project ideas you can offer to your students. You can ask your students to do research individually or in groups, and focus on one or more topics. Use our ideas to introduce the research topics in class.

Read more about the Helbling Reader edition of the story:

The figure of the scientist

Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life. Mary Shelley, the author of the novel was influenced by the hot topics of the early 19th century: galvanism and electricity. What is galvanisation? Do some research to learn about it.

  • Research focus 1: Learn about galvanism in science.

There have been several scientific attempts to make a living creature. Can you think of other examples from novels, films or scientific studies?

You can read about a 16th-century physician, Cornelius Agrippa in the novel.

  • Research focus 3: Research the Internet for Agrippa, and write down all his occupations.

Map Frankenstein's travels 

Throughout the novel, Frankenstein is constantly travelling, either to find himself or to run away from his creation. Where does he travel? Create a Google Map and add information about the plot to each spot.

Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Sign in to (or create) your Google account.
  2. Go to Google Maps.
  3. Click on the left side of the search box on the Map.
  4. Click on My Maps.
  5. Type in the first place, which is the North Pole in the novel, and mark it. Then carry on with pinning places.
  6. Edit your locations and add some information under the name of the place.

These are the places we can read about:

the North Pole - Geneva - Lake Como - Naples - Lake Geneva - Ingolstadt - Plainpalais - Montanvert - Mont Blanc - Chamonix - down the Rhine to Rotterdam - London - Perth, Scotland - Oakley Islands - Northern Ireland - Geneva - Evian - Rhône - Mediterranean - Russia - the North Pole

Narrative structure: Chinese box

In our earlier post about plot twists we talked about the Chinese box narrative structure. There are two famous classics, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which use the same technique.

Use cornflakes boxes or Russian dolls to present the idea of this narrative structure, and ask your students if they can think of other examples (films, novels, cartoons) where they have seen the same structure.

Research focus 4: Films, novels, cartoons which use the Chinese box narrative structure

The best, the monster

What similarities can you find between the stories of Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast? They both talk about how we see ugliness and monstrosity.

Research focus 5: Stories about people who were defined as monsters by society.

  • Why are we afraid of them?
  • How do we define beauty?
  • How can we turn another person into a monster?

Film tip: The Elephant Man by David Lynch (1980)

Discussion point: We often identify Frankenstein with his creation, calling the creation by its creator's name. Why do you think this has happened? Are there any similarities between Frankenstein and his creation?

The author 

How much do you know about Mary Godwin Shelley? Where did she get the idea for this novel? Where did she start writing it?

Research focus 6: Visit the website of the British Library, and find out about the following things.

  • Villa Diodati
  • 'The Year without a Summer'
  • Ghost stories

Research focus 7: Find out why the book was published anonymously for the first time.

Plus a new film adaptation

Challenge yourself to read the novel before watching the latest film adaptation 'Victor Frankenstein' starring James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Jessica Brown Findlay. Compare the original story and the new film version of it.

Visit the IMDB page of the film and watch the trailer.