This part of class looks the same almost every time I check in the logs. I make my way around to each student and meet one on one. We confer around the logs. I also ask specific questions about their reading. Many of them are finishing up their memoirs, so one great question could be: what did you think about the ending of the memoir? Were you satisfied? What could have made it better? What in particular worked for you?
Also, since we're beginning to talk about conflict, I confer and ask questions about the conflict. What types of conflicts are you noticing in your memoirs? How do you know?
Typically, I start at a different table each time I confer. I let the kids move around the room after we've talked a little about their books. This ensures that different students are getting to move around the room first each day, and therefore getting a crack at priority seating. I tend to have longer conversations with the people whose work I check-in first, and they get quicker as I'm checking the clock. This isn't a problem because I make a note to start at a different table each week.
After the kids return to their seats, I have them review their notes from the day prior: What's Your Problem? Then I have a review for all students where we go over each type of conflict. I ask them to read from their notes the types, so we can all hear the four types plus examples.
(Person vs. Person, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Society)
Next I'll ask the question: "Why do we study conflict in this class?" Please turn and talk about it at your tables.
Typically I'll get a range of answers: "We all have them." To this I'll say, "you're so right, but why specifically do we talk and learn about them in Literature?" We'll piece together the answer that all stories have conflicts or problems; it is what makes them interesting. They are what keep us engaged and reading.
I pass out a Post-It Note to every student. I say, "think about any problem you've ever had in your entire life. It could be very small, as in, I lost my pencil; it could be very large, as in I hate middle school because there is too much homework. I want you to describe it on the Post-It. Don't worry about the type, just describe the conflict on the Post-It Note."
I then show them the table that should be taking up the entire smart board. It is easy to modify with a white board by simply drawing this table on the board. It will have four large sections and each section will have a title: person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. self, person vs. society.
I explain to them that they will be sorting their conflicts based on what category they think they belong. It is better, I add, not to be exactly sure where your Post-It should be placed. This elicits discussion, which is the point of the whole exercise.
I go first. My conflict that day happened to be that I lost my voice. I lost my voice due to illness. All illness and disease goes in the nature category. Therefore, I post my sticky note on person vs. nature. Then I ask who wants to go next. Everyone goes. I recommend taking breaks because kids get antsy sitting and listening for long periods of time. Sometimes I give two stretch and chats on these days.
Part of the fun of this activity is the debate that goes along with it. For example, a common conflict is: I have too much homework. I can never get it done because I have too many after school activities. Some kids are quick to place this one under person vs. society, because with our definition of society, school falls under it, and completing homework is a school rule. But others ask the question, whose decision was it to sign up for all the extra activities? And aren't you really struggling with a decision whether to complete your work or to participate in these activities, so wouldn't that be person vs. self. This discussion element is fabulous and pushes the kids to think deeply about owning their conflicts, their own lives, and the question: where is the real root of my problem?
When we finish, I ask the kids to study the visual on the board. Where are the majority of our conflicts? What does that tell us about our class? And us as individuals?
At the end of the lesson, I introduce the terms external vs. internal conflict. First, I see if we have any background knowledge on the words. I let them talk at their tables first to see if they can figure out what kinds of conflicts these might be. I circulate and monitor conversations. Often, they're not sure. So I ask, who has ever heard of an exoskeleton? Many students have background knowledge on this word. They tell me the definition is a skeleton on the outside that you can see. I use this as context clue for understanding external.
External conflict is a conflict you can see. Internal goes on inside your brain.
Than I ask, which types of conflicts are typically external? They give me all three except person vs. self. This year a student said something really powerful. She said internal conflicts go on inside the character's brain. There isn't a lot of concrete evidence. You can't always see proof of these conflicts happening.