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Detective Work

Detective Work: Mood and Tone Contributors: Emma Lunbeck and Eleanor Liu

To help students identify tone and mood through word choice “clues”; to have students look critically at authorial intent; to give students an easy, amusing strategy for analyzing literature. Optional Free Write: Write about a mystery.

Crime Scene Investigation This works well to get kids invested in picking apart a reading.



Step One: Explain that a piece of writing is like a crime scene. It’s filled with clues that

tell us what the author is trying to make us feel. Every piece of figurative language, in fact every descriptive word, is like a fingerprint that we can use to uncover the tone and the mood of the passage. Note: This is a good place in the lesson to define tone and mood with your students, but once you have defined them, I would suggest setting these terms aside until the end of class. Unfortunately, words like tone, mood, and theme often limit students. When you ask students what the tone of a piece is, they stop asking questions like “What is this about? How can I relate to it? What can I learn from it? What does it make me feel?” and start asking questions like, “Is this the right answer for ‘tone’? Am I done yet?” To discuss tone, mood, or theme using the official terminology, I suggest bringing it up at the very end of the discussion, after the answers have already been arrived at organically, if not yet officially named. For example: “So, guys, we’ve realized that Hamlet talks a lot about how he feels like a coward for not killing himself and for not killing Claudius. We’ve come up with a lot of ideas of what Shakespeare is trying to say about cowardice. Could we call cowardice a theme of the play? Is it something really important that Shakespeare is trying to tell us about?”


Step Two: Explain to students that they must take three steps to analyze the evidence: 1. Find an example of figurative language and decide: what is being compared to what? Be as explicit as you can. 2. Describe what you see or feel. Use sensory details to zoom in on images and comparisons. 3. Ask yourself: Why does the author include this detail here? Does it make us feel frightened? Happy? Disoriented? Tranquil? What is this clue trying to tell you?

The Cure for IDK  
The Cure for IDK  

The Cure for IDK isn't a typical lesson book. It is frank, funny, and full of lessons that are simultaneously entertaining and challenging....