Examining Plot Conflict through a Comparison/Contrast Essay

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


Students explore picture books to identify the characteristics of four types of conflict: character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. nature, and character vs. society. Next, students write about conflict in their own lives and then look for similarities among all the conflicts shared by the class, ultimately classifying each conflict into one of the four types. Finally, after investigating the compare and contrast format, students conclude with a compare and contrast essay that focuses on two conflicts—one from their own experience and one from a picture book or story that they have read.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

"Where do good writers come from? . . . [T]hey develop through creative instruction, caring adult models, well-structured peer interaction, and lots and lots of practice. But we also know, both from composition research, and from our own lives, that good writers also grow by reading" (58).

This testimonial from Harvey Daniels speaks directly to the power of using literature to teach writing. In this lesson, students are doing just that-They look at examples of plot development and conflict resolution as they grow into their own definitions. Building bridges from literature to writing, students then write their own piece about conflict resolution.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology



  • In preparation for this lesson, students should have experience with personal reading response journals.
  • Arrange for a computer and projector to show the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Prepare a 4-column chart, using chart paper or an overhead transparency, that matches the Conflict Type Chart. You'll record class details on this chart during the sessions. If desired, you can duplicate the Chart for students to record their observations on individually as well.
  • Preview the PowerPoint presentation and download a copy to your machine, if desired, to share with your class. You can also make copies of the PowerPoint slides to distribute to students.
  • Compile books from the booklist. Select the passages or illustrations to use to illustrate plot conflict.
  • Make copies or overhead transparencies of the Comparison/Contrast Rubric.
  • Test the Story Map, Online Comparison and Contrast Guide, Compare and Contrast Map, and Venn Diagram Student Interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • make predictions about the conflicts in the selected pieces of literature, based on selected illustrations from the stories.
  • identify four types of conflict in literature (character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. nature, character vs. society).
  • make personal connections to plot conflict.
  • discuss specific conflicts as a small group or whole class.
  • identify the variables that contributed to the conflicts through completion of a graphic organizer.
  • write a comparison/contrast essay, comparing a conflict they have had to one that a character has in a story they have read.

Session One

  1. Ask your students to respond in writing or verbally to the question, "What is plot conflict?" If they respond in writing first, follow the writing session with a general discussion of students' understanding of the literary element.
  2. After students have discuss plot conflict, craft a working definition of plot conflict in their notebooks or reading responses or writing journals.
  3. Using their initial definition of plot conflict, ask students to write their interpretation of each of the above types of conflicts. Students can also add examples from literature of events that fit into the four categories.
  4. Help students work through their definition of plot conflict by viewing the Plot Conflict PowerPoint Presentation (or hand out copies of the slides to the students).
  5. After examining the PowerPoint presentation, invite students to revise and add to their working definitions.
  6. As a class, create a working definition and record the definition on the board or chart paper.
  7. Using a book from the booklist, read a selected passage or show an illustration which demonstrates one of the types of conflict.
  8. Ask the students to write short sentences about each passage or illustration in their journals or notebooks. In addition, ask the students to identify the type of conflict and the reasons for the category they have chosen.
  9. Ask students to share what they have written for each illustration in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class. Listen to the discussion to assess the students' understanding of the conflicts.
  10. If there is time left at the end of the session, allow students to explore the picture books from the booklist. Listen for any comments students make about the plot or the illustrations.

Session Two

  1. Write the following prompt on the board, "Have you ever had a problem or conflict with another person? Write about a problem or conflict, and include an example."
  2. Explain that the problem or conflict does not have to involve physical confrontations.
  3. Provide an example for students, such as disagreement with a friend, to ensure that students understand the question.
  4. Allow students five to ten minutes to respond in their reading response or writing journals.
  5. Once students have written their responses, ask them to share their responses with the class or in small groups.
  6. Explain that like the problems they have had in their own lives, characters in the stories we read also experience conflicts and challenges.
  7. Divide students into small groups. Be sure that the working definition of conflict is posted on the board for the class to view.
  8. Ask each group to make a list in their reading response/writing journals of three examples of conflicts in literature.
  9. Once students have gathered their examples, ask each team to share their findings. Record the examples on a sheet of chart paper or on the board.
  10. Once the list is compiled, ask students to identify any similarities they see among the conflicts.
  11. Post your Conflict Type Chart where all students can see it. Ideally, create a chart paper or overhead transparency version of the chart. If desired, distribute copies of the chart to students or ask them to create similar charts in their notebooks or journals.
  12. Ask students to categorize the conflicts on their list by placing them on the Conflict Type Chart, under the appropriate column (character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. self, or character vs. society).
  13. Listen to students' discussion and assess their ability to categorize. You should be able to determine if they understand the differences between the four types of conflict. If your assessment shows that the students need further practice identifying the kinds of conflicts, follow this session with the activities on the Using Picture Books to Teach Plot Conflict handout. This additional practice will require multiple, additional sessions.

Session Three

  1. Ask students to select a picture book from the booklist. Give them time to read the books they've chosen.
  2. Introduce the Conflict Map, which can be found on the Story Map interactive. If you prefer that students work offline, pass out copies of the print Conflict Map. Note that this step may need to be completed in a separate setting depending upon scheduling and availability of computers.
  3. Once students understand how to use the interactive, ask them to complete the graphic organizer using the Story Map interactive. If students are working offline, ask them to complete the print Conflict Map.
  4. As students complete their graphic organizers, invite them to share their observations and books in small groups or with the entire class.

Session Four

  1. Make sure that the charts about conflict from previous sessions are still posted.
  2. Ask students to make a list of conflicts they have had in their lives in their reading response or writing journals.
  3. As the students create their lists, they should identify what type of conflict they had in each case. For example if a student identifies an argument with a friend as a conflict, next to that idea he should write "character vs. character."
  4. Begin a list of your own on the board or on a transparency to model for students. Use "think aloud" to demonstrate how to refer to the posted charts for help as needed. Continue adding to your list as students work on their own lists.
  5. After students have had time to create their lists, explain that you'll use the list to find a topic for a comparison/contrast paper that focuses on a conflict they have gone through and one that a character has gone through in a story they've read.
  6. Before continuing with the lesson, make sure students have a good understanding of the terms compare and contrast. If students need additional support, use chart paper to post the definitions of the words in the room for reference.
  7. Using an LCD projector, or in a computer lab, view and discuss the Compare and Contrast Guide.
  8. After viewing the Compare and Contrast Guide, ask students to revisit their brainstormed list and identify any of the conflicts that are similar to those of characters they have read about.
  9. Invite students to share their responses.
  10. Choosing one of the conflicts from your list, use the "Think Aloud" strategy to share the reasons that the conflict reminds you of a conflict that a character has in a story that the class is familiar with.
  11. Use the "Graphic Organizer" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide to introduce the 2-Circle Venn Diagram. Alternately, you can use the Compare and Contrast Chart Graphic Organizer if you prefer. Use your "Think Aloud" example to model through the process of gathering information using the graphic organizer.
  12. Open the Venn Diagram Student Interactive. Alternately, you can draw a simple graphic organizer of a Venn diagram (two overlapping circles) on the board. Label the circles-one for your personal conflict and the other for the conflict from the story.
  13. Brainstorm characteristics about the two conflicts and drag them to the appropriate circle. Print your finished organizer to complete your demonstration.
  14. Use the "Organizing a Paper" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide to introduce the Similarities-to-Differences structure.
  15. Demonstrate how to use the structure to organize ideas with the Compare and Contrast Map. Alternately, you can open a new word processor file and compose the first sections of an essay as a group.
  16. Model for the students how to cut, copy, and paste commands for your word processor software.
  17. Use the "Transitions" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide to introduce the use of transitional words to increase coherence.
  18. As you read back through the sample that you've written as a class, note the existing transitional words and add transitions as needed.

Sessions Five and Six

  1. Introduce the Comparison and Contrast Rubric so students know what expectations are for the writing project. Answer any questions that they have about the guidelines. Alternately, you can use the "Checklist" tab from the Comparison and Contrast Guide to explain the requirements for the finished essay.
  2. Explain that during these sessions, students will complete complete Venn Diagrams.
  3. Remind students of the details for the project that are posted around the classroom.
  4. While students work, circulate through the classroom, aiding students who need help.
  5. After the graphic organizers are complete, students can at their own pace go on to the next steps in the writing process including, drafting, self editing, peer editing, self editing and re-drafting.
  6. As appropriate, point students to the Comparison and Contrast Guide online, which they can use for reference as they work.
  7. When the students have completed their compare/contrast essay, ask them to read through their draft with the rubric in mind. Encourage students to make revisions to their work, in line with the requirements listed in the rubric, before submitting their work.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Take students’ oral and written responses into consideration to gauge which students need more individual attention for the following lessons.
  • Use the Conflict Map from group work to determine how well a student understands plot conflict and the four different types of conflict that have been introduced. If a group has trouble with this exercise, revisit the topic with small groups, using an additional picture book to provide students with more experience with plot conflict.
  • If possible, read each students essay individually with the student and provide direct feedback. When this option is not available, constructive written comments are helpful. As you read the essays, keep notes on the aspects to review and share with the class later. For more structured feedback, use the Comparison and Contrast Rubric.
  • After you have finished responding to the essays, review them with the class, adding advice as needed. You might go back and model an area where students needed more practice. Alternately, you can use the Comparison and Contrast Tour to review the area.