It has been my observation that students cannot identify tone, identify whether or not their writing reflects tone, or understand the importance of what they are saying and how they are saying it. Let's take care of that problem right now.
After teaching students how to write for an audience and with a purpose, how to effectively evaluate point of view, and how to maintain personal voice, I felt good about myself. I called my dad and told him what a smart son he had. Then I realized my students had no idea how to effectively use tone in writing. In shock, I called my dad, advised him to uninvite me to Thanksgiving dinner, and cancelled the appointment with my spiritual advisor. I was way too stressed.
I had work to do. I had to devise a lesson plan that helped students use tone in writing. Here's what I came up with.
Write the following definition of tone on the board (courtesy of Susan Geye, Mini Lessons For Revision, a true inspiration): "Tone is a particular way of expressing feelings or attitudes that will influence how the reader feels about the characters, events, and outcomes. Speakers show tone more easily than writers because they can use voice tone, gesture, and facial expressions. A writer must use words alone."
Show sample passages. I recommend two to three from familiar pieces of literature with similar themes. If you wish to cut and paste, try these: How to Organize a Hot Dog Eating Contest and Unforgettable Independence Day Celebrations.
- Assign students in to groups of 3-4.
Give each group a card with one of the following tone words written on it: sadness, courage, tension, sympathy, love, happiness, pride, sarcastic, excitement, hate, fear, anxiety. Encourage thesaurus use.
- Invite each group to write a description of a dog walking in the park, conveying the attitude on the card. They may not use the word written on the card in their description.
- When writing is complete, instruct students to determine which tools were used to show tone in writing.
- Instruct each group to read the description.
- Instruct class members to guess the tone.
- Instruct successful writers to share their tools with the class.
- If using this lesson for revision, invite students to read through their rough draft and ask: Did you demonstrate tone in your writing? How do you know? What tone did you convey?
- Instruct students to highlight at least one passage to rewrite in order to enhance the effectiveness of their tone in writing.
- Share rewrites with the class.