Four Steps to Teach Tone and Mood to Middle School Students

By Lenzi Hart

Tone and mood are difficult literary elements for any age group to grasp. With this lesson, you will not only capture the attention of your students, you will help them establish the difference between tone and mood.

Middle School Students in Classroom Tone and mood are literary elements that are difficult for readers to grasp and retain, at any age, let alone middle school.

The two are often confused, and middle school students can't seem to find a way to differentiate between them, no matter how many times they are told that tone comes from the author/narrator's attitude toward the text and that mood is the reader's attitude toward the text.

Through the wonderful website youtube.com, teachers now have a guaranteed way to make tone and mood "stick" in the minds of their students.

Step 1) Tone and Mood handout

The first step is to pass out this downloadable handout on "Tone and Mood Man." Using the handout, discuss with students that tone is what the author or narrator thinks and feels about a piece, which is why the tone box is located on the man's head. Talk about mood being what YOU feel about the work, which is why the mood box is over the man's heart.

Step 2) Commonly Used Tone and Mood Words

After seeing the "Tone and Mood Man" document, pass out a list of commonly used tone and mood words.

You can access a downloadable tone and mood list at this link, or make your own. Discuss with your students that tone words can be negative, neutral, and positive.

Have them look over the list and review any words that may be unfamiliar and discuss the meanings of those words as a class.

There are also some good suggestions in this lesson plan providing some additional ideas on how to teach a tone and mood lesson. The article gives some suggestions for writing some specific tone words on individual index cards for students to prompt conversations and exercises around getting a feel for the meaning of tone.

Step 3) Use Movie Making as an Example

Explain to the students that even movie makers strive to set a certain tone and mood for their work. Most children identify with movies and will likely be more engaged with the lesson plan.

Just like an author uses word choice and vivid imagery to set tone and mood, movie makers use dialogue, editing, music and lighting to establish a certain tone within their films.

They will watch two video trailers for the movie Mary Poppins. Each trailer has a very different tone, and each will create a substantially unique mood in their audience.

Step 4) Mary Poppins as a Case Study

Go to www.youtube.com. Type "Mary Poppins trailer" into the YouTube search engine or click here to view the Original 1964 Mary Poppins Theatrical Trailer .

Explain to the class that this is the original Mary Poppins trailer that was released in 1964.

  • Using their tone words list, they should first watch the clip and then select three tone words that best represent attitude of the trailer's creators.
  • Pause after viewing the clip and discuss the tone words that the students selected, then have them choose mood words that describe their feelings after viewing the piece.
  • Before showing the next trailer, remind students that the makers of this clip are attempting to take an classic movie, and recut it in a way that represented an entirely new genre of film.
  • Using editing, music, dialogue and sound effects, the makers are attempting to create a completely different mood in the view than the original Mary Poppins trailer produced.

Click here to check out THE ORIGINAL Scary 'Mary Poppins' Recut Trailer, also on YouTube, being sure you have the volume up on your computer! After viewing, do exactly what you did with the first clip, and point out the different ways the makers of this clip relayed tone and established mood.

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