K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students should be able to explain the symbolism of Gregor’s metamorphosis moving beyond a literal view of “he turned into a bug” into the idea that society/family/stress/environment led to his abstract reaction. Students will analyze many interrelated literary elements in conjunction with discussing the universal themes presented.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

4–6 weeks


The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka


  • Discuss the meaning of isolation and being outcast.
  • Discuss what human conditions/situations may lead to isolation in contemporary society, even within the microcosm of the school.
  • Don’t tell students what Gregor is! As you read, ask for predictions. These will be interesting!
  • Read the novel. With lower level students, it may be necessary to read aloud with them so they understand the vocabulary and concepts. Higher level students can handle independent reading.


  1. Students should keep a reading response journal. Each day, class should begin with a response to a question geared toward the reading of the previous class meeting or homework. This allows for very personal reactions towards Gregor’s developing plight. Examples:
    • What did you first think Gregor was as you began reading? Why?
    • Have you ever felt isolated from a person or group? Why? How did you feel?
    • As Gregor loses his humanity, do you think Kafka is really saying something about society and the effects we have on others?
    • Tell me your thoughts about…
  2. After reading the first few paragraphs, we have the setting and our main character. Have students predict Gregor’s ailment. Discuss the things in Gregor’s bedroom, especially the picture of the girl. Once the ailment is discovered, students can draw Gregor in his bedroom.
  3. Define symbolism. Now that the symbol has been revealed, discuss why Kafka chose to have Gregor change into a dung beetle. Students react in various ways to this change. This is a great discussion point. Evaluate what has affected Gregor so negatively. Make sure students understand this is a symbol! This may require a discussion of cliches or symbols they already know.
  4. As the story progresses, Gregor’s family responds in a way which surprises many students. They expect kindness and maybe curiosity, but not fear and hatred. Look at the family as a catalyst for his change and his continual loss of human memory and instinct. This evaluation covers character motivation. Look at the motivations of each family member.
  5. Pay attention to the setting. Gregor’s environment changes, beoming more empty. Why is his sister removing furniture. What emotions are evoked in Gregor?
  6. Gregor’s father is especially violent towards him and provides a terrible physical injury. What may this symbolize? Apply this injury to things in the students’ lives which feel as painful. The starvation could also be symbolic.
  7. After completing the novel, have students evaluate the novel’s ending. They must give their point of view regarding Kafka’s choice of death and support their point of view with reasons from the text and personal opinion.
  8. Students should rewrite the ending of the novel. The length of this assignment can certainly vary. Students must include the parents and sister in this ending in addition to Gregor. Be vague in content expectations to allow for creativity and originality.


  • Students should write an explanation of the symbolism Kafka offers. They should address the literal and absurd as well as the underlying symbolic meanings which have been inferred and discussed in class. Teachers should look for an inclusion of at least one literal and one absurd meaning from the text. They should then elaborate on these. Depending on your main objective, grades can be focused on structural/grammatical or whether or not the paper addresses the question and offers info from the text as well as individual thought to explain.
  • Students should be asked questions addressing the development of the plot and the use of suspense. An essay addressing the effectivenes of this literary element in conjunction with the development of characters would provide a chance for the student to evaluate the writer’s craft. Grading should once again be focused on addressing the question and each of its parts. Defining suspense would be expected as well as targeting the development of at least one major character.
  • Based upon the reading and the discussions in class, students should be able to address Kafka’s intentions in writing this story. Why did Kafka choose the ending we have? How would the effect of the story differ if Gregor lived happily ever after? These questions lead to a critical analysis of the book, the writer, and the elements incorporated.
  • Students will produce a visual and prepare a presentation evaluating the novel and its parts. This will require an understanding of all objectives and should give a true picture as to the student’s overall synthesis of the novel.
  • Ask students to decide on a guilty party in this story as if a trial were to be acted out. Have students write a statement defending the guilty party and a statement for the state reviewing Gregor’s maltreatment.
  • Reading journal will also be used as a form of assessment. This will mainly assess the characteristics of the reader. It will be opinion and fact based. Assessment will focus on whether or not the student addressed the question offering both personal opinion and reaction as well as response to Gregor and his situation. These reponses will show both the commonality and diversity of human experience.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Language

        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. 9-10.L.5.1 Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text. 9-10.L.5.2 Analyze nuances in the...
        • Reading: Literature

          • 9-10.RL.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
          • 9-10.RL.10 By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend...
          • 9-10.RL.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 9

  • Goal 5: The learner will demonstrate understanding of various literary genres, concepts, elements, and terms.
    • Objective 5.01: Read and analyze various literary works by:
      • using effective reading strategies for preparation, engagement, reflection.
      • recognizing and analyzing the characteristics of literary genres, including fiction (e.g., myths, legends, short stories, novels), non-fiction (e.g., essays, biographies, autobiographies, historical documents), poetry (e.g., epics, sonnets, lyric poetry, ballads) and drama (e.g., tragedy, comedy).
      • interpreting literary devices such as allusion, symbolism, figurative language, flashback, dramatic irony, dialogue, diction, and imagery.
      • understanding the importance of tone, mood, diction, and style.
      • explaining and interpreting archetypal characters, themes, settings.
      • explaining how point of view is developed and its effect on literary texts.
      • determining a character's traits from his/her actions, speech, appearance, or what others say about him or her.
      • explaining how the writer creates character, setting, motif, theme, and other elements.
      • making thematic connections among literary texts and media and contemporary issues.
      • understanding the importance of cultural and historical impact on literary texts.
      • producing creative responses that follow the conventions of a specific genre and using appropriate literary devices for that genre.

Grade 10

  • Goal 1: The learner will react to and reflect upon print and non-print text and personal experiences by examining situations from both subjective and objective perspectives.
    • Objective 1.02: Respond reflectively (through small group discussion, class discussion, journal entry, essay, letter, dialogue) to written and visual texts by:
      • relating personal knowledge to textual information or class discussion.
      • showing an awareness of one's own culture as well as the cultures of others.
      • exhibiting an awareness of culture in which text is set or in which text was written.
      • explaining how culture affects personal responses.
      • demonstrating an understanding of media's impact on personal responses and cultural analyses.
  • Goal 2: The learner will evaluate problems, examine cause/effect relationships, and answer research questions to inform an audience.
    • Objective 2.03: Pose questions prompted by texts (such as the impact of imperialism on Things Fall Apart) and research answers by:
      • accessing cultural information or explanations from print and non-print media sources.
      • prioritizing and organizing information to construct a complete and reasonable explanation.