How to Teach the Literary Element of Conflict

Most works of literature centre around the element of conflict, which is used to develop a story and its characters, and the ultimate resolution of this conflict is used to bring the story to a conclusion. Teaching students about the element of conflict in literature can not only help them understand a particular work of literature better, it can also help them hone their ability to contend with any contention and strife in their own lives.


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    Start by introducing students to the different types of conflict that can occur in a literary work – this can be a conflict between two characters, an internal conflict within a single character, a conflict between a character and nature, and a conflict between a character and society. Once they know what it is and how it occurs, they will be better equipped to find it. Make sure you explain each type, and list them all as headings on the board.

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    Once they are familiar with the types, have the whole class engage in a discussion, and ask the students to offer up examples of conflict. They might have come across these in books, movies, TV shows, and even in real life. List each conflict the students come up with under the appropriate type on the board.

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    After this, students should be completely familiar with conflict and its types, and they are now ready to study it in literary texts. Search for novels (or if the course is of a short duration, then short stories) that contain each type of conflict, and assign these to the students. Ask them to read at home, and discuss the stories in class. Make a “Somebody... Wanted... But ... So...” chart, and either ask students to complete this as an assignment, or fill it in as a collective activity in class. Here, you will be dissecting each character in the novel, and analysing their conflict: Somebody (character) wanted (desire or goal), but (conflict), so (outcome/resolution).

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    Finally, to round off the study of conflict, assign the students a final project – ask them to compose a short story which contains a particular type of conflict. You can either assign the conflict types yourself, or ask students to choose. This will serve as a fitting finish to the study of the literary element of conflict.

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