Hands-On Learning with Tone Severity Charts

I love when students can work hands-on and interact with the text and visuals. I use this lesson as an part of my introduction to poetry. Students often give responses of “the speaker is sad” or “happy” when referring to tone and mood. This lesson helps to give students the vocabulary they need to more thoroughly analyze the work we are looking at.

Quick Intro to Tone Severity

I use this PowerPoint to help students realize how the same subject can have very different tones. For this example I used  a break-up, but I’ve also used different sentences about a girl losing her sister’s sweater. Click here for my quick PowerPoint intro.

Prep for the lesson

This depends on your students and your work load. For some classes I do all the cutting before hand while I binge watch on Amazon Prime. Some classes cut themselves and prefer to do so. Either way, students will need each word, visual, and sentence cut out so they can rearrange them in the correct order according to severity. Click here for the worksheets.

Here’s a picture of what I give to each student.

I bundled each grouping in a paperclip. Each student receives four groups: happy to sad, guilty to innocent, mean to nice, and angry to unemotional. Students will also need glue (sticks or liquid, it doesn’t matter) and a place to glue everything down. In the past I’ve used colored paper and put the finished product in clear paper protectors that then went into their binders. This year I’m using interactive notebooks so students will glue it directly in their notebooks.

Here are photos of the finished product.


Once each student receives their tone papers and has all of the different pieces cut out, I tell them to focus on one group of words at a time. I demonstrate (depending on ability and need) how I would start which is to find the most extreme at each end and then work their way to the center. I suggest using the words and definitions first, then matching the visuals and the sentences. The visuals and sentences frequently go together, so students should be able to easily match them. I also instruct them not to glue anything until they have been checked by me. Tone can be tricky when it gets to differentiating between such closely related words like “teasing” and “mocking.”


What lesson is complete without an assessment? I have the students identify different tones in passages using the new vocabulary they just learned. The links above are all free (and may contain material that has a copyright), but the assessment is at my Teachers Pay Teachers store which you can access by clicking here.


I’m including a few ideas if this seems a little too easy for your students.

  1.  Give the students the words and have them create posters or severity charts themselves. Students can use old magazines and cut out faces to show each tone; they can also create an accompanying sentence that demonstrates each tone word.
  2. Challenge the students to come up with their own words and severity charts for tone words that demonstrate knowing and unknowing (authoritative, gullible, naive, etc).
  3. Have students include colors to show changes in severity.
  4. Have students find quotes from their favorite songs to accompany each tone word and to include on their posters/worksheets.

Good luck!

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