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Close reading - tone and mood made easy!

I’d rather clean the house, iron, grocery shop…anything other than clean my car. It’s too exhausting, there are too many tools to get out, there’s too much unpacking to do first, and I don’t have time. So, avoiding it makes life easier. And anyway, it’s not important. Everything still works.

I’ve always felt the same about adding ‘tone’ and ‘mood’ to my teaching of close reading. My excuses:

  • Tone and mood are about purpose and audience, and I cover that without having to mention them.

  • They’re just little add-ons that students don’t really need.

  • They’re too abstract to delve into.

  • Time is tight baby! Keep it simple!

The other, more honest, reasons:

  • I can never remember the difference between tone and mood and I’m sick of looking it up.

  • I’m not sure how to approach it.

  • Brain...full.

Binge-thinking (thinking - I said thinking. LOL) about close reading recently, I began with the writer. I imagined them at their desk. I wondered why they were there, what experience had inspired, even forced them to write. Previously, I’d always looked at what idea the writer wanted to illustrate as my first base. But when I really pictured that writer at work, I realised:

  1. They weren’t there because of the idea formed about that experience.

  2. They were furiously beavering away because of the feeling they got from it.

That feeling was the keyboard catalyst.

It’s the feeling that’s behind the lines we should tap into more. Often, we intuitively pick up that feeling because we hear the tone. We feel the vibe of the thing (thanks to The Castle for that fantastic phrase). We don’t consciously analyse the language to get that. I say, give your students a chance to give their gut reaction before you begin all that annotating.

writer's tone and reader mood - close reading

Introduce tone to your students via an easy text. I’m a fan of Patricia Grace’s “Beans” for this because you can’t escape the “joyous” tone. (If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know why I put “joyous” in quotation marks!) Here’s the sequence:

  1. First ask students for their gut reaction about how the writer sounds. That is, what tone is the typist using? (Eg: aggrieved, joyful, desolate, sentimental.)

  2. Then, annotate the text to find examples that help us ‘hear’ that tone.

  3. Next, move ‘behind the lines’ to consider (or research) what the writer has experienced (reflected in the text) and how they feel about that experience.

  4. Consider the idea(s) the writer is conveying.

  5. Speculate on purpose. This is all about the effect the writer is wanting to have on the audience. What does the writer want the reader to feel/understand/do? Why does the writer feel it’s important that readers are affected this way? So, what’s the writer doing here? (Cue the WIPE acronym: to warn, inform, persuade, entertain.)

  6. Finally, back to feelings, but this time the students’ when they ask, how do I feel? What was my mood as I read this? Did my mood change part way through? What’s my mood now? How would other readers feel and why?

Bookending the close reading of a short text with the feelings – starting with the typist’s tone and ending with my mood’ -

close reading - tone and mood

helps students better understand the writer’s purpose. That’s why tone and mood are important!

If the reasons you avoid tone and mood are the same as mine were:

  • Remember: The typist creates the tone, and it affects my mood.

  • Your approach: Use a text with an obvious tone for you and your students to practice with and bookend your study with tone and mood.

  • That busy brain will cope because now you have a plan!

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