Tone vs. Mood Lesson Activity

Tone vs Mood

Students need to understand mood and tone to fully comprehend a novel. Read definitions, examples, and activities that will aid your lessons. Describing the tone of visual and multimedia elements begins with the following fifth-grade Common Core Student Standard:

Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

Tone Anchor Chart

While mood and tone are similar, there are differences. Many students become quickly frustrated because they can’t see how the two concepts vary. Check out the definitions below.

Following the definitions, you’ll find a few activities I found that really helped my students see the differences.


Definition of Tone

The tone is how the author feels about what he is talking about. A tone can be serious, sarcastic, wicked, proud, sympathetic, light-hearted, or hostile.

Mood Definition

The mood is the feeling the reader gets when reading a passage. The mood is the atmosphere the author creates using descriptive language. To determine the mood think about the setting, actions of the characters, and language.

Activities for Teaching Mood and Tone

Activity Part 1

Sentence Example

Give each student 12 index cards. Have students cut the index cards in half lengthwise making two 5 x 1.5-inch cards from each index card. Students will now have a set of 24 cards. On the first 12 cards, students will write mood words, and on the second set of cards, students will write tone words.

Here’s how it works:

Select four events for students to tell how they felt when the event occurred. Students will think of three mood words for each event and write one on each card. None of the words may repeat in any of the 12 cards. On the reverse sides of the cards, students will write sentences explaining the words selected.

If the class has all read the same book, you can select an emotional scene from a book. For example:

  • How did you feel when Brian Robeson’s plane was crashing into the Canadian wilderness? [Hatchet]
  • How did you feel when Melody learned her teammates left for the competition without her? [Out of My Mind]

Video Alternative

If your class has not read the same book, music works extremely well. I recommend playing a 20 to 30-second segment while students write how the song makes them feel. I have included four YouTube videos here for this purpose.

Connie Talbot singing Let It Be
Play Video about Connie Talbot singing Let It Be

Connie Talbot singing Let It Be

Demi Lovato Let It Go from Frozen
Play Video about Demi Lovato Let It Go from Frozen

Demi Lovato Let It Go from Frozen

US Soldiers Returning Home
Play Video about US Soldiers Returning Home

The Best of The Voice Kids (Several Songs)

The Best of The Voice Kids (Several Songs)
Play Video about The Best of The Voice Kids (Several Songs)

US Soldiers Returning Home

Activity Part 2 

Now have students use the remaining 12 index cards to write tone words.

Here students will describe how the author felt about the topic s/he was writing about. The words will have a different feel.

Examples of Tone Words

  • optimistic
  • formal
  • matter-of-fact
  • angry
  • suspicious
  • straightforward
  • scholarly
  • empathetic

Examples of Mood Words

  • frightened
  • happy
  • mysterious
  • dreamy
  • surprised
  • annoyed
  • gloomy
  • suspenseful

Note: Some words may fit into both the mood and tone categories, but by having students write sentences on the back of the cards explaining the word choices, it will become clear if they understand the concept.


 Here are some good materials to identify tone:

“Sing Low, Sweet Chariot” from Roots
Play Video about “Sing Low, Sweet Chariot” from Roots

The song “Sing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a spiritual full of coded lyrics about escaping from slavery on the Underground Railroad. The tone words would include teaching, sending a message, encouraging, passionate, earnest, and so on.

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”
Play Video about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”

Tone words could include: serious, contemplative, pleased, or satisfied.

“Sick” by Shel Silverstein
Play Video about “Sick” by Shel Silverstein

 “Sick” by Shel Silverstein

The tone is light-hearted. The author is simply trying to share a humorous poem with his audience.

Additional Resources

  • Charlotte’s Web ~ peace, acceptance
  • The Preamble of the Constitution ~ serious, authoritative, hopeful
  • Paul Bunyan Tall Tales ~ funny, lively, playful
Teaching Mood vs Tone
Teaching Mood vs Tone

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Gay Miller

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