The Types of Conflicts and Reading "Thank You, M'am"

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Students will be able to analyze the conflicts in "Thank You, M'am" by using a reference sheet, acting out conflicts, and citing evidence on a plot diagram.

Big Idea

The problem is inside you until it becomes an external conflict.

Types of Conflicts Reference Sheet

20 minutes

My textbook has some details about the types of conflict, but not much. I compiled the passages on a handy-dandy sheet, and added some information about the six types of conflicts to create this conflict reference sheet.

I asked students to read through the paragraphs and as they read, ask themselves what the author wanted them to know about the different types of conflicts. For my co-taught classes, I also read the paragraphs aloud to meet their needs. I pretty much read everything aloud to my co-taught classes, have them read aloud, and read silently. We're all about repeated readings.

After the reading(s), I asked students to respond in writing. I asked students to write a paragraph that explains what the six types of conflicts are and how internal and external conflicts are different.

I gave students five minutes to write their paragraphs, and then asked students to read their paragraphs to their group members. Then I asked one person from each group to talk about what they'd read.

Some of the key things that students brought up were that internal conflicts happen inside a person's mind and external conflicts happen outside.  Another student commented that person vs. nature conflicts are conflicts where a character fights against nature and they listed ALL THE WAYS a character could struggle against nature--tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, bears, polar bears, grizzly polar bear hybrids, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, diseases, droughts, and on and on.  Another student asked about person vs. technology and what constitutes technology. Technology depends on setting, and so technology can be a computer, a computer virus, technology that hasn't been invented yet (hello, science fiction), and if the story is taking place in the past, it could be one of the first automobiles.

One conflict that students struggle with is person vs. society.  I hinted very strongly that we would see person vs. society conflicts when we read The Hunger Games later in the year, which totally got them excited and off topic. A person vs. society conflict happens when a character fights against injustice--racism, unjust laws, traditions, etc.

I also asked students what a person vs. person conflict was. I asked them to show me by standing up and pretending to have a person vs. person conflict with an imaginary antagonist. Most students started throwing punches, which is certainly one way person vs. person conflict can go down.  However, a person vs. person conflict can also be a simple verbal argument.  I like to pull out The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and read the passage where Tom argues with the new boy in town, but no punches are thrown.

I defined person vs. society conflict as when a character struggles against the laws, customs, values, etc. of their community.  I hinted that we would see this type of conflict when we read The Hunger Games later in the year, which got them quite excited (and a bit off topic!).

Person vs. god conflicts always make students a bit uncomfortable, at least at my school.  They don't quite get the separation between church and state meaning that teachers can't shove religion down a students' throats, but students can talk about religion. But in terms of literature, a person vs. god conflict would include books like the Percy Jackson series, where the Greek gods are involved.  They can also include the Christian or Muslim god, any of the Hindu gods, or even fate and according to some, the supernatural (angels and demons).

Actively Reading "Thank You M'am"

40 minutes

A couple of year ago I took a Literacy Leadership class with some of my fellow teachers.  One of those teachers, Barb Campbell, introduced me to the Say Anything reading strategy.  I introduced the strategy today so my students could use the strategy while reading "Thank You, M'am."

I provided a quick overview.  Each group would get a baggie with six cards.  [I had copied the cards on different color card stock and laminated the cards the week before.] Each card had a particular reading strategy on it (predict, clarify, connect, evaluate, question, and comment) with sentence stems to prompt students. Students were to read the text aloud together, stop when I rang the triangle, and choose a card.  They would then have a discussion prompted by the cards they selected.  I specifically told them that everyone needed to respond to everyone's comment.  After a few minutes, I would tell them to continue reading until I rang the triangle again, and they would choose another card.  The process repeats until the story is done.

In addition to the items on the card, I asked students to look for examples of the different types of conflicts. For my co-taught classes, I gave them a huge hint--they would really only find person vs. person and person vs. self.

I rang the triangle at five different parts of the story as outlined below.

  • when Mrs. Jones kicks Roger in the "blue-jeaned sitter"
  • when Mrs. Jones says that Roger will remember "Mrs. Louella Bates Washington Jones"
  • when Mrs. Jones says that Roger could have asked her for money instead of stealing it
  • when Mrs. Jones tells Roger to comb his hair
  • the end of the story

Of course, not all groups got to those plot points at the same time.  When I heard three or four groups get to that part of the plot, I rang the triangle.   As they chose their cards and "said something" I walked around and listened to their conversations.  Some groups struggled with commenting on someone else's comments and needed some prompting to respond to each other.  It was, of course, much easier to just say their comment, question, etc.  They did get used to the process, and at the end of the activity, every group was still talking about the story.  You can see two groups' videos here and here.

Visualizing Conflicts

15 minutes

While they were still in their groups, I asked students to write down one conflict that they saw in the story on a sticky note. I collected those and they became the basis for our next activity--acting out conflicts so students could visualize the difference between internal and external conflicts. Each group was assigned a conflict from the story. Some groups got the same conflict, but that's okay. I also made sure as I handed the conflicts out that they were truly conflicts in the story so we didn't run into trouble.

I divided students up in to new groups of three.  One student would play Roger, one student would play Mrs. Jones, and one student would be the narrator who would explain what was going on in the scene and what type of conflict it was.

These were the conflicts the students acted out:

  • Roger tries to steal the purse, but the strap breaks and he falls down.
  • Mrs. Jones asks Roger why he did it and he denies meaning to.
  • Mrs. Jones puts Roger in a half-nelson and drags him home.
  • Roger decides whether he should stay at Mrs. Jones' house or run away.
  • Roger decides what he should say after Mrs. Jones gives him the money.

By the end of the activity, students clearly understood that a person vs. self conflict occurs in a character's mind and that a person vs. self conflict occurs with another character.  They also understood that external conflicts could be verbal or physical.

Responding in Writing

10 minutes

The last thing I asked students to write about was the central conflict.  Like our reference sheet said, a story can be made up of many conflicts, but only one is the central conflict.  And so, out of all the conflicts that we enacted, which one is the central conflict? Which of those conflicts drives the plot?  And does it ultimately get solved by the end of the story?

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