Building tone in writing is a way of expressing feelings and attitudes that will influence the way a reader feels about the characters and events in a text. Students need to understand that by organising words in a particular way you can create an emotional response in a reader.

Students can:

  • Identify tone by brainstorming and categorising language that depicts tone.
  • Distinguish between and write texts using different tones.

Activity 1

Divide students in to groups of 3 or 4.

Give each group a card with one of the following tone words written on it: sadness, regret, courage, tension, sympathy, love/romance, happiness, pride, sarcastic, excitement, hate, fear, anxiety, nostalgia.

Encourage the use of technology.

Invite each group to write a description of a dog walking in the park, conveying the attitude on the card. (They don’t need to use the word written on the card in their description).

Have the students carefully look at their writing and ask themselves – Did they use tone in their writing? How do they know? What tone did they convey?

Ask students to determine what devices they used to show tone in their writing, eg. words (adjectives), type of language, punctuation, etc.

Each group shares their descriptions with the rest of the class.

Have the class guess the tone of each description.

Ask successful writers to share their devices with the class.

Instruct students to select at least one passage within the group to rewrite in order to enhance the effectiveness of their tone in writing.

Share rewrites with the class.

Activity 2

Have the statement – Don’t Take That Tone With Me! written on the whiteboard.

Ask students how they thought you were feeling when you wrote this. (angry)

Ask them how they think you were feeling if you told them you wrote this as a way of commencing a lesson on ‘Tone’. (witty)

Write the statement – It’s not WHAT we say, it’s how we say it!

Survey the class and ask if they have ever emailed or texted someone meaning one thing, but the person took it to mean something else.

Explain that when it comes to emails or texts you don’t have your voice to help convey the tone of your message, so those on the other side of the screen will read tone into your email/text based on the words, formatting, punctuation, etc. you use.

Provide some examples for students to try and interpret.
Eg. Joshua, hi,
You haven’t answered your phone,
so I’ll try to email you instead.

Ask students how they think the person reading this (Joshua) may interpret the message.
– He didn’t want to answer his phone or he wasn’t able to answer his phone.

Have students brainstorm ways they can add tone to emails and text messages.

Brainstorm a list of words that describe an emotion/tone, eg. annoyed, happiness, unconcerned, sadness, bitter, joyful, direct

See examples of tone words.

Categorise the words into three groups.

  • Positive tone words – happiness, joyful
  • Neutral tone words – unconcerned, direct
  • Negative tone words – sadness, bitter

Students fold a piece of paper into quarters.

Write one tone word in each quadrant (at least one from each column).

Tell students that in each of the quadrants they are going to reply to a Dear Abby/Andy question taking on the tone of that quadrant. They are to give the same advice, but using a different tone.

Teacher models an example for the class.

Dear Abby/Andy,
I’m trying to decide what subjects to take in high school. My parents think I should do Chemistry because it is useful, but I really want to do Art because I like it. What do you think?
From Confused

Dear Confused,

I remember when I was your age, I too had a passion, a dream I wished to follow. My parents wanted me to be a dancer, but I wanted to be a writer. How I wished to write children’s books! To this day, dancing has never satisfied me. I say follow your dreams and become an artist!
Yours dramatically,

  • Ask students what tone was used and how can they tell.

Dear Confused,

You do realise people are starving in this world, right? Get over your whinging and just pick Chemistry.

  • Ask what tone was used here and why they think so.

Dear Confused,

I know high school decision making can be stressful and I hope you end up being happy no matter what you decide to do. Your parents have but you in a tight spot, but they only want what is best for you. Write out a list of reasons why you should do art. If you can show your parents that you have thought about it, I’m sure they will see your choice is a reasonable one.
Yours planning,

  • Ask what tone is being used and how can they tell.

Students can now make up their own Dear Abby/Andy question or use the question below to respond to – using their four tone words.

Dear Abby/Andy,
My best friend in the whole world is moving schools next year. She says we’ll be BFFs, but I know this will end our friendship. How do I stop this from happening?
From Friendless

Have students share their responses in small groups. Each student reads one of their quadrants at a time.

Optional: If your students would like to they can score their groups work. If the group can work out the tone used the student scores five points. If the group can’t figure it out, tell them the four tone words selected and see if they can now pick the tone, this will score them three points. If the group can’t pick the tone, no points are scored.


These worksheets have poems, each with a different tone. Students identify the speaker’s tone in each poem and explain their answers using text, giving students some great practice with tone.

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