Introducing Tone and Mood to Young Readers

My last blog post went over tips for teaching readers to make inferences as well as why it is important to make inferences. This blog post will switch thinking to go over tone and mood within stories. Tips for teaching tone and mood as well as why it is important to teach this will be covered.

What is meant by tone and mood? Does knowing about tone and mood really matter? I believe it does. Knowledge of tone and mood plays an important role whether we are watching tv, playing video games or reading a book.

young boy running through a sprinkler; a happy picture displayed in both tone and mood

Tone refers to how the the setting and the atmosphere are portrayed. The tone set within a story affects the mood of the reader or viewer. Tone and mood are used within any story, whether we are viewing the story as a movie or reading the story in a book.

Mood has to do with how we feel as the reader reading a story based on the atmosphere that is portrayed. 

Put simply, the reader’s mood changes because of the tones set by an author. Mood has to do with how we are made to feel as readers or viewers.

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Example of Various Tones Impacting the Mood of the Viewer

I love introducing tone and mood by using the Nolan Cheese commercial featured below. Pay attention to the music, to how the little mouse is portrayed, and to any subtle changes in lighting. Whether you come from a mouse-loving or a mouse-hating background, I find everyone roots for the mouse in this commercial!

Haha, I’ve had students practically shouting out, asking how I could possibly show them something like this partway through the advertisement. I’ve also heard a lot of cheers at the end of it! We as viewers are quickly captured in by the tones set throughout the ad, affecting our mood.

Using Movies to Enhance Understanding

One of my daughters likes to point out how music and lighting changes within movies as we watch them together. It is like she has a gift for noticing this and remembering exactly when tones are being repeated later on in the movie because of lighting or song changes. Producers use these extra tools to help set the tone, which impacts our mood and prepares our brains for what is to come. We as viewers are made to feel a certain way by the tone set within the movie.

Horror movies will not be effectively scary if lighting and colors are bright and cheerful within the movie. They would not be scary if characters were in the middle of a celebration in which Pharrell Williams was singing “Happy.” This is even true if a monster were to pop out and yell, “Boo!” in the middle of the song.

Add some darkness, tension building and low tones of music, however, and the effect becomes much more profound! These effects set the tone which impacts our mood.

Examples of Two Different Tones

A character whistling quietly while walking down a dark alley alone at night will give the reader a different vibe than if this same character is racing towards a swingset with friends on a school playground in the middle of the day. The reader is not in the same mood. The tone is very different in each scenario.

Yes, the tone can change frequently within a story. This is particularly true the longer a story is. However, the beginning of a story is usually key to first setting a tone that has potential to have a profound impact on the mood of the reader or viewer.

When reading, teaching our readers to do somewhat of a temperature check during and after the first chapter helps build attentive skills. These skills can be transferred to different aspects, such as viewing films or in their own writing.

Taking time to reflect on how your reader is feeling and why as well as comparing it in discussions with how you are feeling and why may help to reinforce tone and mood within stories.

A great video example of two different tones is this Mary Poppins one. Many of us are familiar with Mary Poppins. How can you not love her in the movie, right? Here is the original trailer from the 1964 movie.

Change the tone as the person did in this recut, however, and see how this affects the mood of the viewer.

Warning: Even though this trailer contains video clips from the Mary Poppins movie, it may be scary to young viewers. Please review it and use your best judgment if using it with your child.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be friends with the Mary Poppins from the first clip!

How Do Tone and Mood Play Out in Picture Books?

The tone set by the author can be serious or silly. It can be wicked, suspicious, or peaceful. It truly varies! Paying attention to expressions on faces, words used, colors used and the shades or brightness of the colors, etc. all help to set the tone. It is important to teach our readers to pay attention to these clues. We cannot assume this will all be naturally learned.

Questions such as the following may help:

  • How do you feel looking at the picture on this page?
  • What kinds of things do you notice in the picture?
  • How do you think the characters are feeling?
  • Do you believe this character is kind? Why or why not?
  • Is this a happy or sad story? What makes you believe this?
  • Do you believe the author wants you to feel a certain way when reading this page? What makes you think this?
  • Does the picture match how you as a reader are feeling right now? 

Tone and mood in Chapter Books

How are tone and mood set within a story where there is no music, pictures or lighting in play? This is where some important knowledge comes into play:

  1. Readers need to learn how to determine the tone set within a story based on the setting, a character’s actions, and descriptive words used.
  2. Readers need to learn what to expect within a first chapter when reading fiction. When readers know what to expect, they are then able to look for it. A first chapter generally plays a huge role in setting the tone for at least a strong portion of the novel. Characters are introduced, hints are given as to how others feel about the character(s) or what type of individual a character is. There is often background information provided of a character or setting, and so on.

Characters and the general setting(s) within the story are introduced. Adjectives are used to describe the people, places or things. Adverbs are used to describe actions. The actions a character takes will have the reader reflecting on not only the character’s characteristics but also on the tone the author is using to create the setting and to impact the mood of the reader. Asking your reader to create a vivid visual in his/her mind while reading may help.

young girl reading to teddy bear

Where to Start when Teaching Tone and Mood

I personally like to introduce tone and mood first by using video clips such as the Nolan Cheese advertisement. From there, I prefer to move to picture books and, finally, to chapter books. With this stated, the majority of my teaching reading experience has been working with individuals who range in age from 8-15 years old. If your child is old enough, having him/her change the tone within a movie trailer such as is seen in the one above could be a fun activity to try.

When working with your child, it may not be important to name tone and mood specifically. This is especially true for young readers. The most important part is teaching our children to be attentive to the tools the author uses to help engage the reader or viewer. These are the skills that will transfer as they are able to be used when watching tv or movies, playing video games, or reading. Asking our children how they feel about a character or why they believe good or bad things will happen within the story is a great place to begin. 

Need More Support?

Other posts I have written that may help if your child continues to struggle with reading are 10 Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension and 5 Quick Tips for Fostering a Reading Environment. You may also wish to check out a post I wrote about making inferences with your child. Yet other posts to check out are The Best Reading Comprehension Strategies and Why Teaching Phonics Is Not Enough.

Favorite Tools for Teaching Tone and Mood as well as Teaching Reading Strategies

Comparing stories within The Munschworks Grand Treasury can be effective. If looking for just one picture book to start with for tone and mood, another of my favorites is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

My absolute favorite go-to resource for teaching reading strategies is The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. Each strategy is covered in one page that is easy to find depending on what reading skill you are looking to work on. This book has been an absolute lifesaver for me both in the classroom and at home! I have used it when working with individuals of all ages. It truly has yet to fail me!

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How about you?

Do you have any strategies for helping your child understand the tone set within stories? Do you have any favorite resources for teaching tone and mood? Have you ever felt immediately drawn into a story because the author did such a great job of setting the tone? Please feel free to share in the comments below! 🙂

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    1. Great question! This is where our own tone of voice while reading aloud can play a huge role. Having discussions throughout about how the children feel about certain characters or settings within the story will often help. Were there certain words, actions or discussions within the story that impacted how the children felt about the characters and/or setting? Whether listening to the story or reading it independently, the moods of our children will still be impacted when the author does a good job with setting the tone. Is the mood of the children listening to the story happy/sad, peaceful/suspicious, etc.? Asking them if they believe the author is wanting them to feel a certain way during different parts of the story may also help. Eventually, as awareness increases, they may be able to make note of key words or happenings that took place that led the children to feel how they feel. Again, starting with a video clip such as the mouse one and having some of those discussions around how they feel about the mouse during different parts of the video and why may be a great place to start. I hope this helps!

  1. This is a great resource with helpful tips for teaching young readers about tone and mood. Tone and mood are so important to learn as we are confronted with seeing different tones on tv, in movies and in books every day and different moods based on how they make us feel. Thanks for putting this together!

  2. I thought it was too early to start talking about tone and mood with my child but apparently they’ve already discussed it in school! Thanks for the helpful tips!

  3. I love reading to my daughter, but never thought of formally introducing tone and mood. I really appreciate the question prompts you provided. That’s a great place to start introducing the idea of tone and mood!

  4. I have never known about tone and mood at all when minding my kids and entertaining them through books before, oh how I wish I had known this sooner! 🙁 Anyway, I think it’s not too late. 😊😁

  5. I love this! Tones really help to animate a story and sometimes the tone can get lost. It is important to teach children the different tones happening in each scenario! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  6. Thank you for this, we struggled with my son for a while and we’ve even had to get an evaluation but all worked out and now he’s above grade reading level. Thanks for writing on this to help out parents!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that everything worked out and that your son is now reading above grade level! I love when our kids succeed! Thank you for reading this. 🙂

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