Determining Tone in Readings: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Understanding tone is a vital reading comprehension skill. In this lesson, we will discuss strategies for finding the tone of a written work and explore how tone influences content and meaning.

What is Tone?

Has anyone ever told you to 'watch your tone'? Maybe this happened because you were having a bad attitude, rolling your eyes or speaking in a disrespectful manner. In verbal conversation, our tone is easy to hear. Authors use tone in their writing, as well. In books and other written texts, tone can be defined as how a piece of writing makes a reader feel towards a subject. Since you can't hear the author's tone of voice or see his or her facial expression, you have to rely on the writer's choice of words in order to determine the tone.

There are many different types of tone that you will notice when reading. Sometimes, the author's tone is optimistic, or positive, cheerful, or hopeful. In a story, the author might describe how excited the main character is to see someone who knocked at her door. Other times, the author's tone might be pessimistic, or negative, upset, angry, or discouraged. In a different story, an author might detail how annoyed the main character is to see someone who passes by his house. There are several other types of tone besides optimistic and pessimistic. Writing can have a formal or informal tone. It can also have a tone that is playful, sarcastic…the list goes on and on.

Examples of pessimistic and optimistic tones

Purpose of Tone in Reading

'There was a large dog at the end of the street.'

How did you feel when you read that sentence? Didn't feel much, huh? Try this one:

'At the end of the dark, winding road, there was a large, shivering dog with sad eyes.'

Now how do you feel? The second sentence has a more pessimistic tone, with stark adjectives describing both the subject and setting. The tone gives the reader more information as well as more personality, which helps one better understand the text. It's more likely that a reader will continue to read a story if it begins with the second sentence than the first.

Understanding tone makes reading more fun!

Strategies for Determining Tone

Good readers are able to understand what they are reading. Great readers make inferences in order to determine the tone in a reading. There are certain things that you can look for in order to do this: language, diction, details and imagery.

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