Teaching Tone and Mood in Literature

Stacy Zeiger
Family reading together

Learning to identify the tone and mood of a piece of literature helps improve comprehension. Once your children have successfully mastered the ability to identify the tone and mood in major literary works, they have the ability to further analyze literary works and create their own pieces to evoke a specific tone or mood.

Activities for Teaching Tone and Mood

Before teaching tone and mood, it is important to define what tone and mood are for your children. Tone is the author's attitude toward a literary work while mood is the feeling the reader takes away from a piece of literature. Understanding the difference between the two is one of the essential components when teaching tone and mood in literature. To help your children understand the difference between tone and mood and correctly identify these elements in a piece of literature, you must provide them with a wealth of examples.

Tone and Mood in Short Stories

Select a short story, excerpt from a novel or children's novel with an easy to identify tone and mood to introduce the concepts. Short stories from Edgar Allen Poe or selections from a book of ghost stories often work well when beginning to teach tone and mood because those elements are often obvious. As you read the story, pull out the words that evoke the suspenseful or scary tone and mood to help children see how the concepts are developed.

Tone Words

Provide your child with a list of feeling words to use when describing tone and mood in the classroom. A large list of feeling words will help your child use more advanced vocabulary than simply describing a piece as "funny" or "scary" and begin using words such as "melancholy," "sarcastic" or "foreboding."

Tone and Mood in Music

Use music to introduce the concept of tone and mood. Choose pieces of classical music that evoke different tones and moods and have your children describe how they felt while listening to those pieces. For example, you may compare the tone and mood of Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" with the tone and mood of his "Ode To Joy" or the different feelings found in excerpts from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

Changing the Tone

Change the tone and mood of popular fairy tales, nursery rhymes or other works of literature to help your child understand the importance of tone and mood in a piece of literature. Search for recut movie trailers on a video sharing website to share clips of popular movies where the tone or mood has been changed to illustrate the concept. Then task your child with rewriting a popular fairy tale or summarizing a favorite movie using the same strategy.

Role Play

Give your child a common scenario and a tone/mood word and have him role play that scenario to evoke a different tone or mood. For example, role-play missing a curfew with a humorous tone, indifferent tone and joyous tone.

Creative Writing

Assign your children tone words and have them create poems or short pieces that reflect those words. Having children create their own pieces will show you whether they grasp how an author incorporates a specific tone or mood into a piece of literature.

Resources for Teaching Tone and Mood

There are many lesson plans online and pre-made curriculum resources to help you teach mood and tone. Many are created for older children, such as high school students, and rely upon horror or fantastic literature where mood and tone are the most obvious. Some use creative techniques such as art and activities for younger students to introduce the topic earlier than high school.

Lesson Plans Online

  • Sometimes introducing literary techniques through the visual arts works well for students who may be visual learners. Try this lesson from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which helps students understand mood and tone in paintings and art. This lesson may then be transferred to literature.
  • Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms offers a short lesson mood which has students identify the mood of the poem "Madam and the Rent Man." An accompanying lesson on tone uses the same poem to illustrate the difference between tone and mood.

Curriculum Resources

  • Lesha Myers' Windows to the World features a unit on tone that includes the classic short story "The Open Window" by Saki and activities on pinpointing and creating tone in stories.
  • Stobaugh's language arts curriculum features lessons on tone and style as part of the "Skills for Literary Analysis" course.
  • The Institute for Excellence in Writing offers a literary analysis course which you can use as a stand alone curriculum.
  • Movies as Literature is a great curriculum geared towards homeschoolers that covers all the literary elements.

Literary Analysis Starts with Great Literature

Whether you're teaching tone, mood, or another literary element, you'll find teaching to go much easier if you choose books that are both classics and are interesting to your student. If you're not sure what would fit the bill, you can use Scholastic.com's Book Wizard or ask your local librarian.

Teaching Tone and Mood in Literature