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Lessons Using Poetry to Identify Tone & Mood


Tone and mood play a large role in poetry and can be understand from life experiences on a very personal level. For example, people understand tone of voice easily when a dad is yelling at his teenage daughter, and the mood she is in because of the tirade. Poets write with a certain tone, and through that tone hope to create a mood in both the piece of writing and the reader. To understood tone, students can analyze the author's words, phrases and images, as well as the way the author puts these elements together.

Creating Personal Poems

Tone is the author's attitude toward what he or she is writing about. An author might have a sarcastic or biting tone, or a compassionate and loving tone. According to the Wadsworth Anthology, "Tone is the manner in which a poet makes his statement." Famous American Robert Frost said, "It's tone I'm in love with; that's what poetry is, tone." Students can begin by reading "The Pasture," a poem in which Frost starts with a lighthearted tone by writing "I'm going out to clean the pasture spring." He ends in a reassuring way with "You come too." Students can create a copy change of this poem to understand tone. They keep the form and the same lighthearted tone, but students choose their own subjects to explain. By writing themselves, students will understand that tone is created through specific word choice and imagery.

Mapping Tone

Another lesson starts by having students read Frost's "Mending Wall." This poem shows a more biting, yet wistful tone. The speaker recounts, "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence. / Something there is that doesn't love a wall." The speaker starts with a fun-loving tone about walling in and out, then turns more sharply in the last two lines. Because the poem's tone changes throughout, students would benefit from creating a map. Students can use words and pictures on a poster board to visually understand the movement of tone. Representing each line through words and/or pictures in a map will denote the place in the poem where the tone changes. Posters can be hung throughout the room as a visual learning tool.

Dramatizing Mood

Mood is the atmosphere or feeling the author creates in a poem, through words, symbols, and description. Mood has to do with emotions, and a piece of writing could be described as having a happy or relaxed mood, or a scared and anxious mood. Langston Hughes created various moods with his poetry works. In "One Way Ticket," he uses the repetition of "I pick up my life and take it with me," to show how the speaker wants to get out of his current situation. Students can dramatize mood by creating a pile of emotion cards on the desk. They can take turns writing words such as "happy," "despondent" and "terrified." Students come to the front of the room to demonstrate what each mood looks like, based on their own life experience. Afterward, they can work in small groups to describe the mood of "One Way Ticket."

Creating a Poster

Another example of mood can be found in Hughes' poem "Dreams." For instance, Hughes says "Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly." This shows that Hughes' mood is very hopeful and positive about dreaming. Dreams keep him afloat. Students can create a personal poster to depict their own dreams to better relate to the mood of the poem. Posters can include words and pictures and must stick to the hopeful and positive mood. They can discuss their own dreams using the Socratic method or in small groups to solidify understanding of mood and relate it to their own lives.

About the Author

Kathryne Bradesca has been a writing teacher for more than 15 years. She has also contributed to newspapers and magazines such as "The Morning Journal" and "The Ignatius Quarterly." Bradesca received a master's degree in teaching from Kent State University.

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