Mood vs. Tone in E.L.A.: Activities to Help Middle Schoolers
Updated: Sep 15
Mood and tone are two key literary elements that start popping up a lot more in middle school. I've found that students often have a difficult time telling to the two apart. Read about how I help them distinguish the two from each other!
The very first thing you need to do is be sure to help students understand what mood and tone actually mean. My 6th graders ALWAYS struggle with telling the difference between a character's mood and the mood of the setting.
I always start with a read aloud. Use whatever book you are reading with them and find a page where the mood of the setting is a particular way. Easiest is a scary mood...they always catch onto that mood immediately, but if you want to challenge them, try to find a scene that may be something else (welcoming, carefree, anxiety-ridden). Simply start with modeling what this scene looks like visually. You can even draw it for them (or have them draw it with you).
To continue with drawing, I present them with a setting such as a forest. I tell them to sketch what a forest that is welcoming would look like and a forest that is scary. It's fun to see how different their scenes are.
After these initial activities we dive into the work. First, I start with character feelings vs. atmosphere. I use a clip from This is Us to work on this. They have to identify the characters' feelings and how those feelings create feelings for the reader/viewer...THAT contributes to the mood. The characters' moods are a reaction to the setting which in turn, creates a mood for the reader/viewer.
I then have the students read two passages. They must highlight with a purpose. First, they highlight the mood of the setting in green and the mood of the characters in read. This helps them see how they are two different things. We then discuss how the character's mood contributes to the mood of the entire piece.
Another activity the students complete is a writing exercise. They pull an emoji from the side and write a scene that would represent that emoji in a school cafeteria. They do that for two different moods. We focus on focusing on setting, not character mood.
All of the activities above are done together over a few days, but then they apply it to their own reading. I incorporate it into whatever unit they are doing. Typically, it's just them finding lines from their texts that show mood and they'd have to explain how/why those lines show a mood.
They also do a blackout poetry spin-off. I take pictures of a page they are reading and print the page out for them. They draw a picture OVER the words while also boxing lines/words/phrases that show the mood of that page. It's a nice brain break for them and gets them to be artsy!
I really only dabble in this with 6th, but I think it's something much more important in 7th and 8th. We start with discussing tone in how we speak (like when mom says, "watch your tone!"). They look at a commercial that has the actors saying the exact same phrases but with different tones. It's a fun way to see the difference in tone that way. They also determine why the creator of the commercial chose to present their car insurance in this manner, which then becomes the author's attitude/tone.
Then, they do a writing exercise. They write a letter to the superintendent with two different tones, respectful and annoyed, talking about the same topic. This helps the students see how tone can be done in different ways.
Next, they read two passages highlighting with a purpose again. Both passages are about dating, with two very different tones. One is a humorous look, another is intimidating. They highlight lines to show how the author used those tones in each passage.
Mood vs. Tone
The culminating activity is to allow students to see the major difference between mood and tone. They write two short passages in the same setting but one passage is with a specific TONE and the other is with the same MOOD.
So, for the example you see here, the tone/mood I chose was humorous. They had to write a scene in the cafeteria with a humorous tone and separate scene with a humorous mood. For the tone, they should focus on how the author's attitude about the cafeteria is humorous. For the mood, they should focus on making the setting humorous.
Students really need to know the difference between tone and mood. These activities are a good starting point, but you should always always apply it to their reading, as they should, too. It's super important they find text details and quotes that back up what they feel mood or tone is in their texts. I also find mood is easier with fiction and tone is easier with non-fiction.
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