Tone vs. Mood Lesson Activity

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).

While mood and tone are similar, there are differences. Many students become quickly frustrated because they can’t see how the two concepts vary. Here are a few activities I found that really helped my students see the differences.

Ideas for Teaching Students the Difference between Mood and Tone

~~ Definitions ~~

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.

Tone vs. Mood Teaching Ideas 

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

Tone vs. Mood Teaching Ideas


~~ Activity Part 1 ~~

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.

Mood vs. Tone Lesson

If the class has all read the same book, you can select emotional scene from books. 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]

If your class has not read the same book, music works extremely well. I recommend playing a 20 to 30 minute 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 Me

Demi Lovato Let It Go from Frozen

US Soldiers Returning Home

The Best of The Voice Kids (Several Songs)


~~ 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 to concept.


 Here are some good materials to identify tone:

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 message, encouraging, passionate, earnest, and so on.

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”

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

 “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
  • Preamble of the Constitution ~ serious, authoritative, hopeful
  • Paul Bunyan Tall Tales ~ funny, lively, playful

orange ~~ Storing it Away ~~Great Lesson Ideas for Teaching Mood vs. Tone ++ Get the free printable pockets pictured here.

Grab this free printable to turn this activity into an interactive notebook page.

If you need some additional materials to help teach mood and tone, you might like to take a look at Fairy Tales Volume 3 at Teachers pay Teachers. This resource contains a lesson on mood and tone including a foldable graphic organizer, a set of task cards with 40 questions, and a constructive response organizer that may be used for any book:

 Fairy Tales Volume 3 teaches mood and tone, plot (sequencing, summarizing and main idea), and plot devices.

Fairy Tales Volume 3

Gay Miller


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