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Education Lesson Plans

Frankenstein’s Science

  • Grade level: 9–11
  • Subject: literature and science & technology

Time Needed

Two 45-minute class periods


In this lesson, students evaluate their assumptions about “Frankenstein” and compare them to what they learn from short excerpts from the 1818 novel and 1931 film. Afterwards they explore specific scientific works popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Class 1, students use short excerpts of the novel and a clip of the 1931 film Frankenstein to examine what Dr. Frankenstein and his science have represented. They also compare their prior knowledge and what they have learned from the excerpts, then articulate any differences between the two. In Class 2, students use the online exhibition, Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature and learn about several science topics that served as a backdrop to the novel and the film. Applying their understanding of the “Frankenstein” metaphors, students consider and research current debates over accountability or unintended consequences of scientific or technological discoveries/tools.

  • learning outcomes

    Students will be able to:
    • Compare and communicate how a literary story may be changed as it is adapted into a film.
    • Identify the metaphors that “Dr. Frankenstein” and his creature represent.
    • Recognize that scientific and technological progress can be affected by social issues and challenges, and name at least two examples.
    • Develop an understanding of the importance of scientific literacy among individuals in an increasingly technologically-driven society.
  • Background Information

    The online exhibition, Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature looks at the world from which Mary Shelley came, at how popular culture has embraced the Frankenstein story, and at how Shelley’s creation continues to illuminate the blurred, uncertain boundaries of what we consider “acceptable” science. Teachers are encouraged to preview all sections of the online exhibition. This lesson plan specifically draws its instructional materials form the “Boundary Crossing/1818” and “Boundary Crossing/1931” sections of the exhibition.

    In addition, teachers may review the following online resources to expand on or adapt the lesson plan to meet the needs of students’ interests and levels:

  • Vocabulary

    The following words may be introduced or incorporated into the lesson:

    • Frankenstein excerpts: convulsive, catastrophe, delineate, wretch, endeavoured, inanimate, traversing, lassitude, tumult.
    • Boundary Crossing/1818 resuscitating, reanimating, astonishment, transfusion, bellows.
    • Boundary Crossing/1931 resonate, ascendency, incubator, perfusion, perfuse, devised, apparatus, sterile, determinism, eugenics, speculation, implication.
  • Materials

    Print All Materials
    • Excerpts from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (PDF)
    • Frankenstein in the Novel and Film (PDF, MS Word)
    • Teacher’s Frankenstein in the Novel and Film (PDF)
    • Science & Scientists in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature (PDF)
    Other materials and set-ups:
    • a display set-up for class—e.g. interactive whiteboard, computer connected projector, or flip chart/whiteboard
    • materials for class display include all student handouts listed above
    • a copy of the 1931 film, Frankenstein, staring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, or available online at (accessed 10/01/2014)
  • class 1 procedures

    1. Assess students’ prior experiences with and assumptions about “Frankenstein” by posing questions such as:
      1. Who is Frankenstein?
      2. How did you learn about him? (a play, movies, the original novel, commercials, etc.)
      3. What did ‘Frankenstein’ represent in those encounters?
    2. Record students’ prior knowledge and assumptions on a chart, while guiding the class discussion to clarify the following key points:
      1. Frankenstein is the doctor in the story who brings to life and creates his ‘monster.’
      2. The Frankenstein story debuted first as a novel written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and published in 1818 under the title of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
    3. Tell students that this class will examine the moment when Dr. Frankenstein succeeds in bringing his creature to life in the novel and in a film from 1818 and 1931, respectively.
    4. Display Excerpts from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus for the class and note that the excerpts are from Chapter 5 of the novel. Read aloud the excerpts as students listen.
    5. Show the clip from Frankenstein (1931), starting where Dr. Frankenstein explains to Dr. Waldman about his discovery of “the great ray that first brought life into the world” and ending where Frankenstein exclaims “…now I know what it feels like to be God!” [Note: The clip is about 4 minutes.]
    6. Hand out copies of Excerpts from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and the Frankenstein in the Novel and Film worksheet to each student. Review the worksheet as a class.
    7. Allow students to view the film clip once more and to re-read the excerpts as they work in pairs to complete the worksheet.
    8. Guide the class discussion by having students share with the class their observations and responses from the completed worksheet. See Teacher’s Frankenstein in the Novel and Film for suggested discussion guide.
    9. Follow up with reviewing students’ prior knowledge and assumptions about “Frankenstein” that were recorded from the first class discussion. Have students compare their assumptions and observations from the novel and film.
    10. Assign students to fill out an exit slip, completing the following two sentences:
      1. The differences between my earlier assumptions about Frankenstein and what I observed from the novel and film excerpts are…
      2. The difference may be due to…
    11. Class 1 Evaluation: Use student participation in the class discussions, and their completed Frankenstein in the Novel and Film worksheet and exit slips for evaluation.
  • class 2 procedures

    1. Return students’ completed Frankenstein in the Novel and Film worksheets and exit slips from Class 1, and students review them independently as a reminder of their work from the previous class.
    2. Tell students that both the novel and film feature scientific knowledge and excitement of their times. Inform students that they will examine several real scientists and their works at the time of the novel’s publication and the film’s debut in 1818 and 1931, respectively.
    3. Display Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, and tell students that they will use this online exhibition to examine several real scientific works from early 19th and 20th centuries that served as a backdrop in Frankenstein the novel and the 1931 film.
    4. Put students in working pairs and divide the pairs into two, 1818 and 1931, groups. Have pairs in the 1818 group investigate the Boundary Crossing/1818 and the 1931 group the Boundary Crossing/1931 sections of the website. If needed, provide student pairs appropriate printouts of the sections.
    5. Hand out copies of Science & Scientists in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. After reviewing the worksheet as a class, allow students to work in pairs to complete the worksheet.
    6. Place two blank class displays of Science & Scientists in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. Have student pairs to get into their 1818 or 1931 groups in order to discuss and consolidate their findings. Afterwards, have the two groups record their consolidated findings on the class displays. Review and summarize students’ findings using the two completed class displays.
    7. Display the introduction of Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, and read aloud the three paragraphs: “On a dark and stormy night in 1816…challenge our traditional understanding of what it means to be human.”
    8. Ask students to consider and name current debates over scientific or technological discoveries and applications that reflect consideration over their “unchecked power and self-serving ambition” or “challenge our understanding of what it means to be human.”
    9. Record their ideas on the class board—e.g., stem cell research, cloning, security and surveillance, etc. Display the following questions and have students share how they may answer the following questions for each item on the list:
      1. Is the new discovery/capability inherently problematic? Why or why not?
      2. How do we assess and determine whether the new discovery/capability is beneficial and acceptable?
      3. What is your role and responsibility, as a member of the society, in determining whether a scientific or technological advance is acceptable and beneficial?
    10. Have students select one or more topics on the board or propose a new topic for a research essay that addresses the question: How do we decide whether (chosen topic) benefits or harms the human community and society at large?
    11. Wrap up the class by providing the research essay assignment criteria—e.g., rubrics, draft and peer edit processes, final paper submission.
    12. Class 2 Evaluation: Use student participation in the class discussions and collect completed Science & Scientists in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature worksheets for evaluation.
  • evaluations

    In addition to observing and assessing students during class discussions, teachers can evaluate student progress and understanding by reviewing completed Frankenstein in the Novel and Film and Science & Scientists in Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature worksheets from each student.

  • extension activities

    1. Have 3-4 students form a debate team and conduct debates based on students’ research essays.
    2. Provide students with the cartoon illustration from 1802 titled, “The Cow Pock-or-the-Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!.” Have students analyze the illustration from the perspective of the tension between a new scientific discovery and social debates surrounding it. Allow students to present their analysis in a poster or multimedia presentation.
  • Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts and Literacy

    Reading: Informational Text

    • Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
    • Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

    Literacy in History and Social Studies

    • Determine the central idea or information of a primary or secondary source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • Next Generation Science Standards: Understandings about the Nature of Science

    Science is a Way of Knowing

    • Science is both a body of knowledge that represents a current understanding of natural systems, and the processes used to refine, elaborate, revise, and extend this knowledge.
    • Science knowledge has a history that includes the refinement of, and changes to theories, ideas, and beliefs over time.

    Science is a Human Endeavor

    • Scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor, imagination, and creativity.
    • Scientists’ backgrounds, theoretical commitments, and fields of endeavor influence the nature of their findings.
    • Science and engineering are influenced by society, and society is influenced by science and engineering.

    Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World

    • Not all questions can be answered by science.
    • Science and technology may raise ethical issues for which science, by itself, does not provide answers and solutions.
    • Science knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems—not what should happen. The latter involves ethics, values, and human decisions about the use of knowledge.
    • Many decisions are not made using science alone, but rely on social and cultural context to resolve issues.