Middle- and high-school students often have difficulty understanding the terms "tone" and "mood" in literature and art. As a teacher, you can help kids understand the terms, and the differences between them, using poems, songs, books, video games and artwork. Tone-and-mood activities give students the opportunity to dig deeper to uncover the purpose and meaning behind authors' and artists' works.
Observe and analyze artwork to help your class learn words that describe tone. It's best to start with tone before you discuss mood. The objective is to help students learn to interpret how an artist used color, contrasts, images, faces and shading to express his feelings and emotions. An artist's feeling establishes the tone of the piece, suggests David Sebek, founder of the teachers' professional development website, Creativity 2.0, designed for educators in the Texas Gulf Coast Region. For example, you might discuss how Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" paintings have cool pastel colors and authentic water reflections, creating a serene, somber, refreshing tone. Show your class multiple pieces of artwork by various artists and discuss descriptive tone words for each.
Song Selections or Poetry
Use poetry and songs to convey the difference between tone and mood. Tone is the author's or artist's purpose, methods and feelings for the piece, and mood is how the finished work makes you feel. Divide a chalkboard or a whiteboard in half, creating two columns, and write "tone" at the top of one column and "mood" at the top of the other. Listen to a classical composition by Beethoven or Mozart, and write down words that express tone, such as playful, moody, harsh, gentle or boisterous. Then, discuss how the composition makes you feel, such as happy, cheerful, sad, energized or melancholy. Do the same charting exercise with modern-day, language-appropriate rap or rock songs or famous poems, such as "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.
Follow in the footsteps of Tom Phillips, author of "A Humument," by having your students create their own Humuments so they learn to recognize words and phrases that denote tone and mood. "A Humument" is Phillips' one-of-a-kind literary technique -- a lightly drawn image over a written literary work that represents the piece and highlights chosen words or phrases for emphasis. For example, a student might draw a gigantic letter "A" -- one that looks like it's sad and crying -- over a handwritten or photocopied monologue by Hester from "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The student could make descriptive tone and mood words visible in the white dripping tears.
Video Game, Cartoon or Movie Examples
Pass out 3-inch slips of paper, representing small voting ballots, to your students and ask them to write their names in the bottom corners. Play a selection from a video game, cartoon or movie, and have students write down three tone words and three mood words to describe what they saw. Collect the slips and read them aloud to the class once. Read them a second time and ask your students to vote, with a raise of hands, on the word selection that best describes the video game, cartoon or movie. Announce the slip's owner and repeat the process with additional audiovisual clips and new tone-and-mood observation ballots.
- Photo Credit TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images
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