Yesterday’s Operation game is a good lesson for your tactile learners. Here’s another one that appeals to the kids who need to stick their fingers into things to understand them: Before you teach conflict, pick up a few cans of Play-Doh.
Start by defining “conflict” (I explain it as “the problem or struggle in the story”) and listing the classic literary conflicts — man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. technology, and man vs. the supernatural — on the board for the kids to copy down. Ask the kids to give an example of each type of conflict. Once they seem to understand, hand out cans of Play-Doh, call out a conflict, and give the kids about five minutes to create a visual representation of that conflict using the dough.
Depending on your kids’ personalities, you may need to lay down some ground rules before you start: Don’t throw the Play-Doh. Don’t mix the Play-Doh colors together. Don’t eat the Play-Doh. Don’t make obscene sculptures with the Play-Doh. You get the idea. My current bunch is pretty sedate and didn’t need to be told how to act, but a larger, livelier group might.
When they finish, go around the room and ask them to explain their sculptures. Be prepared for a lot of laughs and a lot of creativity. I once had a kid represent man vs. nature by sculpting a little man and a tree and shaking her desk until the tree fell over onto the man. A few years back, zombie invasions were a popular way to represent man vs. the supernatural, and man vs. technology often involves marauding robots and malfunctioning computers.
This is a good lesson to break out on a day when your boss is observing your class, the accreditation auditors are visiting, or a local politician has decided to use your school for a photo op, because it tends to minimize behavior problems (there’s something innately therapeutic about manipulating Play-Doh), and it’s so much fun that it virtually guarantees 100 percent engagement.