“Take out your books and share your vocab words!” announced English Teacher Carlynn Houghton ’96. Sitting in groups of 3-4, Class 8 students pulled out Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and began conferring with their classmates.
They started by sharing their “What’s In” lists (vocabulary and questions from the previous night’s reading) before selecting their favorite new vocabulary word and adding it to the white board.
Once each group finished this activity, the four words on the board were physiognomy, dogmatism, protracted and intrinsic, followed by the definitions and parts of speech. Ms. Houghton had students vote on their favorite – dogmatism emerged victorious – which was then added to their class-wide list. (Which students would be quizzed on at a later date.)
Having just finished Chapter 3 of Frankenstein, the students had reached the part in the novel when the main character, Victor Frankenstein, becomes fully immersed in his ‘project.’ “What does Victor learn to do at Ingolstadt? How does he figure it out?” Ms. Houghton asked.
“He learns how to make a dead person come alive again,” one student said, initiating a conversation around one of the novel’s main themes of life and death. “He learns this secret of life, but it’s messy and uncomfortable,” another added.
They also discussed the character of Walton and the structure of the story. Written as a frame narrative, or a story within a story, Frankenstein provides three alternate perspectives.
“Let’s look at the word ardour – using the British spelling since the author is English,” Ms. Houghton transitioned. “Find three places where it occurred in last night’s reading. What do you think this word means?”
After skimming through the pages, students raised their hands to read paragraphs aloud and offer their thoughts. Some suggested unremitting, constant or relentlessly as the definition for ardour, which Ms. Houghton added to her notes on the board.
“What does ardour seem to lead to?” Ms. Houghton prompted.
“Ardour seems to signify passion,” one student suggested. “But it also led Victor to his fate, which has been hinted at not being very good.”
The character of Victor often speaks about the danger of knowledge – he won’t tell Walton his research – their teacher noted. “Where is the danger?” she asked.
Students provided astute answers, again paging through the text to find the evidence to support their ideas. “He defied nature with his discovery,” one student stated. “Which might make him crazy in the end. He’s addicted to the knowledge.”
As this informative study continues, students will strengthen their critical thinking skills as they dive deeper into Frankenstein’s complex analysis of ethics and morality.