Conflict activities for literary analysis: Let’s have fun with this divisive literary device.
Conflicts in literature: They give our stories movement. Identifying examples for different types—human vs. human, self, nature, society, and the supernatural—is the focus of many class discussions. In literary analysis, conflict remains a cornerstone because every character sees conflicts differently, encounters them differently. Other characters are unaware of certain conflicts, making the implications larger.
As you discuss a story’s conflict, you’ll naturally expand and connect conflicts to other pieces of the story. Many standards ask students to examine how conflicts move the theme forward or how conflicts reveal characterization. Over the years, I’ve honed several conflict activities for literary analysis that are easy to implement and switch around. Plus, they work well for review. When I provide student choice, students latch to an activity that will individually help them understand literature more than they did before.
Before I dive into a large literary analysis essay, I might use one or two of these activities as a springboard. Once students experience success with analysis, they are willing to expand their thoughts. I’ve included all of these activities (plus many more) in a free download. Access it here:
Here is a list of free, no (or little!) prep conflict activities. Some may fit better with novels and others better with short stories. Adapt as needed!
Add sticky notes.
Give every student one or two sticky notes. Have them write one conflict per note. Organize different sections around the room—man vs. man, society, and on—and have students file their sticky notes in the appropriate area.
Students can see what the most common conflict was and what the most common type of conflict was. Organizing the conflicts will give students a visual, and you can ask them to explain why some readers see the same conflict, but put them in different categories. Since sticky notes are movable, you can rearrange the conflicts as your discussions grow.
You can also analyze which category has the most: is this indicative of the story’s time period? the author’s life experiences?
Finally, leave the sticky notes on the wall or poster board. Bring the conflicts back to students as you learn more about the story and discover other literary elements.
Provide a ‘big picture’ of conflict.
Choose one type of conflict to look at throughout history. (This works well for man vs. government.) Students will throw down wars, prohibition, witch trials, voting rights, and segregation. Create a master list from students’ ideas.
Are any remnants of this history seen in the current story? Probably so. Turn that realization into a speech, paper, or additional research. Was the author intentional in bringing the story to life to address societal ills such as slavery or racism? If not, look at how the conflicts from the story are regarded by today’s standards.
Brainstorm ideas about a particular conflict.
Choose a conflict, or have students pick a conflict for further study. Have students decide which character (or force) from the story is ‘correct.’
Look at dissenting sides together, possibly moving students on different sides of the room. Then ask students to write about the opposite of the ‘correct’ character they originally chose. (Bonus: discuss empathy.) Discuss the author’s choice in portraying the conflict as it is. Move students to higher thinking to evaluate the author’s choices.
Think: Not a conflict? Are you sure?
Reread earlier portions of the story, not only to review, but to find seemingly innocuous events between characters and forces that we now know have conflicts. Read these events with a fresh set of eyes. If the story is long, you might list out pages and jigsaw the activity.
This works well with longer novels or plays. When students first read a story, they naturally don’t catch details that add to conflicts.
Take A Separate Peace for example. When readers first meet Phineas and Gene, they might not notice the subtle expressions from Gene. This initial stage of their conflict leads to the story’s climax and ultimately Gene’s realization that there never was an enemy. Students will see that the conflict was always there, before they knew it was.
Write about literary analysis.
Provide a variety of writing prompts for students that will inspire them to connect pieces of literary analysis together. Not every writing prompt will inspire students, so allow them to choose what make sense to them.
Part of the purpose (and fun) of literary analysis is realizing what other life experiences and beliefs bring to literature. After students write, partner or group students so they can share their ideas. Since brain-based learning tells us to get brains working together, I utilize the writing prompts to accomplish that. Students personalized their analysis, and every student will experience a different angle concerning the story.
Exclude a conflict.
List conflicts in the story. What happens if a conflict were to disappear, big or small: How would the story change? Would readers understand a character less? Would the story be less interesting? Was the conflict unnecessary? (Are you sure?) Could it have been more interesting? Involved another character? Connected to the theme?
By asking these questions after taking a conflict away, students will realize how that conflict shaped other pieces of the story and moved the story along. And if it didn’t—well, that is a huge activity on its own.
Write a correspondence.
I see students use this choice to examine the history behind famous events. For instance, if a novel is set during World War II, students can draft letters between officers from the story.
I’ve also seen students write email correspondences between coaches when they read Mike Lupica books. The emails allow students to analyze the conflicts between players, coaches, and other characters.
Draft a break-up song or poem.
Is a conflict a broken heart? Write a song or poem from the distraught character’s point of view. Include key elements from the story as lyrics.
File a police report.
A police report works well if a physical conflict is involved. I’ve also seen students take a humorous turn with this option, like with “The Monkey’s Paw.” Students will try to explain the situation (which is impossible!) to an outside source.
As a slight alternative, students have also created an insurance report for a car accident. In Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, the car accident is a crucial part of the story. Not to spoil the story, but the car accident is reviewed multiple times.
Research authentic parallels.
A conflict might be in a book because real events inspired the author. For instance, Angie Thomas modeled Khali from The Hate U Give after several incidents of police killing unarmed black men.
Conflict activities for literary analysis may need specifically tailored for individual stories, and variations of these start discussions. For when you need a quick activity to study a novel or short story’s conflicts, I hope this list gets you started.
Looking for extra, ready to print and teach materials to teach conflict? This Conflict Graphic Organizer Bundle will work work with any novel or short story to set students up for success with literary analysis.