Teaching Conflict to Middle & High School Students

January 31, 2021

Use these ideas for teaching conflict to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Without conflict there really is no plot, no substance to a story. That plot "mountain" becomes a flat, straight line. When examining the conflict in a text with students, I go beyond just identifying the type of conflict and describing the forces opposing each other to push students to see the impact of the conflict on all of the other events. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce conflict in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Reinforce Conflict Types With Movie Trailers
In this blog post from Book Units Teacher, six different types of conflict are defined: person versus self, person versus person, person versus nature, person versus society, person versus supernatural, and person versus technology (I usually focus on teaching the first four types in sixth grade and then bring up other types as needed). The blog post links to a series of blog posts, each focusing on a specific type of conflict with embedded Youtube movie trailers for reviewing that type. Because her blog targets upper elementary teachers, all of the examples are school appropriate (G or PG rated movies).

Make It Visual With Color Coding
In this blog post from Teaching in Room 6, one of the strategies she uses to help students differentiate the parts of plot is to have students highlight each part of a short story with different colors. The same idea could be used to have students identify conflict. You can find several short (one page) stories here that would be perfect for that. Similarly, you could have students use different color sticky notes to mark the different types of conflict in children's books.

Analyze with Graphic Organizers
It seems like secondary language arts students can always identify the conflict in a story. Sometimes, they need prompting to analyze and tear apart the finer points. With graphic organizers, students can articulate the individual components of a conflict and see how they all interact. Teachers can meet standards. With a variety of organizers, teachers never need to use the same one twice per school year.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom
 
Use these ideas for teaching conflict to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Make Self To Text Connections
This lesson from Read Write Think provides repeated opportunities to practice identifying, describing, and categorizing conflicts. Students first brainstorm examples of conflict from stories, TV, movies, and the real world, briefly describing each. Then students work in small groups to categorize their examples. Each group shares an example from each category to create a whole class brainstorm. As a whole class discuss similarities and differences between conflicts. This process is repeated with personal conflicts that students have experienced (and feel comfortable sharing). Instead of discussing similarities and differences between personal conflicts, students will choose a conflict from the first brainstorm and a personal conflict to compare and contrast. This can be done using a Venn Diagram and even extended into an essay.

Emphasize The Central Conflict
After students have had lots of chances to practice different types of conflicts within a text, ask them to write the central conflict. Emphasize that a story can be made up of many conflicts, but only one is the central conflict. The central conflict is the one that drives the plot and ultimately gets solved by the end of the story (I always remind my students that a conflict can be resolved positively or negatively). You may also have students create web to show the relationship between conflicts in a text. The central conflict should be at the center of the web with other related conflicts branching out from there.

You can find all of my resources for teaching conflict here.

Use these ideas for teaching conflict to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.


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