types of conflict in literature

If you’re looking for creative and engaging ways to teach your students about the different types of conflict in literature, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got four slam-dunk lesson plans that will help get you rolling. But first, let’s take a quick look at the different types of conflict in literature.

There are four main types of conflict in literature: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. self. Each type of conflict presents its own challenges and opportunities for character development. By teaching your students about the different types of conflict, you’ll help them understand how to learn from complex and interesting characters and, hopefully, create them in their writing!

short story for the types of conflict in literature

Tip #1) Hook with a Picture Book

You can’t go wrong by hooking students with a good picture book. Reading aloud a story is one of the most powerful ways of engaging all students, and using a mentor text creates a shared experience from which you can anchor the learning. 

When teaching students about types of conflict in literature, “Greyling” by Jane Yolen is a great picture book to use. The story follows a young rabbit named Greyling who must overcome his fears to save his family from a hungry dragon. Through Greyling’s journey, students will be exposed to all the different literary conflict types.

After reading the story, complete an anchor chart together where you discuss Greyling’s experiences with character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. nature, and character vs. society conflicts.

Tip #2) Get Creative With Comics

Differentiating between the types of conflict in literature can initially be difficult for students, but it is an essential skill for understanding the story elements. One fun way to give your students additional practice with the four types of conflict is through the use of comics.

Display a comic on the board or create a slideshow with different comic images on each slide. The students should write a brief story to pair with the picture. They must use one type of literary conflict in each short story, which must be obvious (without being directly stated) through the creative use of language. This additional practice gives students time to process the different types of literary conflict and understand how they contribute to the overall story.

conflict comics
types of conflict task cards

Tip #3) Put Their Knowledge to the Test with Task Cards

Before increasing the complexity of the task or turning over more responsibility to the students, try giving them additional practice identifying the different types of conflict using task cards. Task cards are low in rigor, so students can focus on the basics, and the repetitions are high, so they can master the skill. Plus, task cards get students up and moving around the room, which is always a bonus! If you’re interested in trying them, I have a set of conflict task cards you can purchase here.

Tip #4) Gradually Release Students with a Short Story

“Dragon, Dragon” by John Gardner is a short story that is perfect for having students practice identifying the different types of conflict. The story centers on a young boy named Harold who discovers a dragon in his backyard. Harold must then decide whether to tell his parents about the dragon or keep it a secret. This story provides great opportunities for discussions among students. Is the conflict between Harold and the dragon an example of person vs. person conflict? Or is it an example of person vs. nature conflict? Either way, “Dragon, Dragon” is a great choice for this lesson. Have your students read the story whole class, in small groups, or with a partner. By working through the conflict in the story, they will be better prepared to identify conflict in other pieces of literature.

Another great short story option is “The King of Mazy May” by Jack London. The story is about a young boy, Scruffy, who finds a wounded coyote and decides to nurse it back to health. However, when the coyote starts to recover, it becomes clear that it is not content to be kept as a pet and soon makes its escape. While the story is fairly short, it contains several examples of conflict, both internal and external. For instance, Scruffy must conflict with his own fears in order to take care of the coyote, and later, he must confront the reality that the coyote does not want to be domesticated. As such, “The King of Mazy May” provides an excellent opportunity for students to practice identifying and understanding conflict in literature.

As you teach your students about the different types of literary conflict, don’t forget to tie the conversations back to the story’s theme and the main character’s development. I hope you find some of the ideas from this article helpful and that your students will be well equipped to identify and analyze the conflicts that arise in the stories they read!

Happy Teaching!