How to Identify and Convey Tone in Writing

One of the most difficult literary devices to recognize as well as convey is tone. Helping students identify tone in literature can be daunting, and helping students create the appropriate tone in their original writing can also be a chore. The following are some tips to help students grasp the concept of tone. I have also created some fun, low-cost products for teaching tone. Such as Identifying Tone Lesson Handout and  Using Appropriate Tone in Writing Handout Practice Worksheet to help students grasp the idea of tone; trust me–kids will LOVE this activity!

 The tone of a piece refers to the author’s attitude toward the subject. Finding the tone can seem like a daunting task at first; however, you can ask yourself a few simple questions to help you figure it out. Examples of these questions are: Is it formal or informal? Serious or lighthearted? Is there an emotion attached, such as sadness, anger, lust, love, contentment, or consternation? Is the author taking a humorous approach to the subject? Are they being ironic, sarcastic, witty, contemplative, etc.?  

To find the answers to these questions and properly identify the tone, you have to look at the author’s use of language, including such tools as word choice, phrasing, and use of or omission of details.

The same idea must be used when writing an original piece. It is important for students to use the correct diction (choice of words) to help convey the way they are feeling. Ask students how difficult they find understanding a person’s tone through text messages or emails. Have they ever been confused by what the person is saying? Have they assumed a person was serious when they were actually joking? If the words are not laid out right, we can easily be confused by a person’s writing and get the wrong idea of a person’s intentions or meaning.

Another way to think of tone is like tone being the background paper on which you write a note. For example, suppose you are writing a note telling your mother how much you love her and appreciate her, and in the end, ask to borrow the car keys for the night. In that case, you may want to write your note on a pink, flowery piece of paper rather than on the back of a cardboard pizza box you pulled out of the trash. The choice of paper gives the reader an idea of the message you are sending. Similarly, you don’t want to give someone a note to let them know you would rather just “be friends” on a piece of pink paper with red hearts! The words you choose to use in your writing act like those pieces of paper — you must choose your words wisely to get the right point across.

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