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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Metamorphosis

A transformative experience.

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Bugs are icky—there's no disputing that. Especially giant, human-sized ones. But teaching Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" doesn't have to be.

In this guide you won't find an industrial-sized can of Raid, but you will find

  • an activity that puts the Samsas on trial.
  • pop culture connections, including something called "The Meowmorphosis." (It's as good as you think.)
  • discussion questions analyzing the allegory of the transformation.

And much more.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
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Instructions for You

Objective: This activity has two main goals. First, it encourages students to consider the significance of Kafka’s choice to have Gregor transformed into a gigantic insect. Second, it also allows students to exercise their own imaginations by writing original stories of “Metamorphosis,” in which their characters transform into something other than a bug.

Teachers should allocate one class period for discussion and brainstorming, and a second for students to read from their stories. (In lieu of a second class period, students could post their stories to a Blackboard site or message-board.)

Materials Needed: Web-enabled computer to show video of “Frantz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” [For alternate activities: a copy of Coleridge Cook’s “The Meowmorphosis” or Ovid’s Metamorphoses]

Step 1: Teachers show video of “Frantz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.”

[This activity could also use, as a jumping off point, Coleridge Cook’s “The Meowmorphosis,” which begins with the following transformation of Kafka’s memorable opening line: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that he had been changed into an adorable kitten.” For a more advanced class, teachers could also introduce students to Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a classical source for Kafka’s story.]

Step 2: Lead a discussion about Kafka’s choice to have Gregor turn into an insect. Some questions to pose might include:

  1. What is the significance of Kafka’s choice to turn Gregor into a gigantic insect? Why does Kafka choose an insect rather than, say, a banana or a kitten? What kind of connotations do bugs, insects, cockroaches, and beetles suggest?
  2. What kinds of reactions does Gregor’s new form provoke in the other characters in the story? How would you react if you found your brother turned into a giant dung beetle?
  3. What point might Kafka be making about the way we respond to insects? What about how we treat other people?
  4. What particular problems does being a beetle pose?
  5. Are there any “up sides” to being an insect? How would some other kind of transformation be a better one?
  6. Is this story an allegory? What might Gregor’s metamorphosis to an insect symbolize?

Step 3: Introduce students to the assignment. Students will spend the rest of class time in pairs or small groups, brainstorming about other things that a person could be transformed into – and what the consequences of that transformation would be.

For homework, students write a short story, in which they describe a main character that undergoes a Kafkaesque transformation into something other than a bug, and the events that follow that transformation.

[Optional: Students can also be asked to write short essays to attach to their stories, reflecting on how writing their stories caused them to better understand or rethink the significance of Kafka’s choice of an insect.]

Step 4: Students read their stories in class, or post them on a course website or discussion board.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 1.1, 1.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.7; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 2.4; 11th & 12th grade Reading 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.6; Writing 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Ever have a “case of the Mondays” when you just dread getting out of bed? Try waking up as a dung beetle. Would it be better to wake up as something different? Worse? In this activity you’ll have the chance outdo Kafka by creating your own story of a fantastic transformation. Let your mind run wild: your character can change into anything you can imagine.

Step 1: Watch a video clip from the quirky movie “Frantz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” Check out the different possibilities this film’s Kafka tries out before settling on a bug.

Step 2: Join your teacher and classmates in a discussion about Kafka’s choice to have Gregor turn into an insect. Some questions to consider include:

  1. What is the significance of Kafka’s choice to turn Gregor into a gigantic insect? Why does Kafka choose an insect rather than, say, a banana or a kitten? What kind of connotations do bugs, insects, cockroaches, and beetles suggest?
  2. What kinds of reactions does Gregor’s new form provoke in the other characters in the story? How would you react if you found your brother turned into a giant dung beetle?
  3. What point might Kafka be making about the way we respond to insects? What about how we treat other people?
  4. What particular problems does being a beetle pose?
  5. Are there any “up sides” to being an insect? How would some other kind of transformation be a better one?
  6. Is this story an allegory? What might Gregor’s metamorphosis to an insect symbolize?

Step 3: Spend the rest of class working in pairs or small groups, and brainstorm about other things that a person could be transformed into. What would be the consequences of that transformation?

Step 4: For homework write a short story, describing a main character that undergoes a Kafkaesque transformation into something other than a bug, and the events that follow that transformation.

[Optional: Write a short essay to attach to your story. How did writing your story cause you to rethink the significance of Kafka’s choice of an insect? Use evidence from Kakfa’s story to show how being an insect provokes a particular set of reactions, and poses particular problems for Gregor.]

Step 5: Next class, share your story with your classmates.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6

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