Four Types of Story Conflicts

One of the standards listed in our district for fifth graders is to learn about the four types of story conflicts.  Remember them? Person vs. person; person vs. nature; person vs. self; and person vs. society. I didn’t learn about them until junior year in High School when we discussed Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter.  That difference, in when we teach certain literary elements, makes me wonder if we aren’t pushing curriculum down too much too fast, but I’ll save that argument for another day.  Because kids may someday get “tested” on these conflicts, then teach them we must.

I like to start out just chatting with the students about some books that several kids in the class have read or ones that have been read aloud to the whole group in previous years.  They easily realize that Harry Potter vs. Voldermort and the Narnia kids vs. the Ice Queen fall into the first category.   Many students have heard about Number the Stars and realize that it falls into the last category because of the people who fought against the Nazi society.  Any story of survival against the forces of nature, like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, is identified as a person vs. nature conflict. Then we discuss several picture books that have been read in the last few weeks and the kids decide that Ish is about the boy gaining confidence with his own artistic abilities, thus a person vs self text.

Over the next few weeks we read and discuss picture books in relation to these conflicts.  Below are some ideas you may wish to use.

Person vs. Person:

Dogzilla (Dogzilla vs. the mice army of Mousopolis)

My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother (a Polacco favorite)

The Three Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (a spoof on the 3 Pigs)

The Mysterious Giant of Barletta (giant vs. advancing army)

Suddenly (Preston the pig vs the menacing wolf)

Person vs. Self:

Koala Lou (realizes his mom loves him no matter what)

Owl Babies (conquer their fear of being left without Mom)

Edward the Emu (any story like this works – where the character is not comfortable being who he is and wants to be something else.)

Person vs. Nature:

Brave Irene (fights the blizzard in order to deliver the dress)

Ghost Eye Tree (the little boy fears the spooky tree)

Person vs. Society:      Holocaust books work well here (Let the Celebrations Begin, the picture book version of the Diary of Anne Frank,  The Lily Cupboard.)

Books about racism towards African Americans: Teammates; Freedom Summer; Freedom School, Yes!

Books about the Japanese Internment camps during WWII: The Bracelet, Baseball Saved Us, The Lucky Baseball, Journey Home

I suppose even the issue of homelessness would be considered a societal issue: Fly Away Home, Lady in the Box.

I’m going to do a part II of this post in a day or two to talk about some questions that arise in discussions with kids around these four story conflicts.  Please comment or list some other titles that come to mind that you have used.


  1. Thanks for the great title examples for sharing conflict. I teach 6th graders and always use picture books for teaching strategies and skills. It is less intimidating for students to read a small piece of text before ventruing into their novels. I agree with the fact that our students don’t have enough deep teaching and that is why they are not prepared for the secondary level. It is a common probelm in reading and writing. Too little time and too much curriculum.

  2. I don’t think I’ve thought explicitly about these types of conflict since high school. So interesting to read about your work with the fifth graders, Pat. Makes me think about what my kindergartners will be doing/reading/thinking about in not so many years.

  3. Pingback: Story Conflicts Continued « Catching Readers Before They Fall

  4. I’ve recently taught this standard to my fifth graders in TN as well. Our standards are vs person; vs self; vs environment; and vs technology. I’ve asked a dozen people and no one is really clear on how to tackle the technology one. Makes no sense to me whatsoever.

  5. Pat- I found your sessions at the Ohio Literacy Conference to be a much needed reminder of how to meet the needs of my struggling readers. I took away a lot of new things, too, that will improve my instruction. Your book is a book that I could read over and over every year. Thanks so much for your passion in helping our youngest learners.
    Wish I could go to the RR Conference this year!
    Kari Dommer

  6. My son is in third grade, in the gifted class, and he has a project due in two weeks on ALL FOUR types, and it is supposed to all come from the same book… I also didn’t learn about these until at least 6th grade, and i’m amazed that it is part of his curriculum IN THIRD GRADE… HELP!!!! I can’t even think of books in his reading comprehension that encompass all four!!!

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