Teaching Tone in English Language and Literature

I have always struggled with teaching students to correctly identify and apply tone in writing. So, I went on a bit of a research rabbit-hole today, which has informed the resulting rationale (a work in progress), which you can download at the end of this post. This post outlines my thinking and approach to developing a coherent schema for teaching tone. (TL;DR You can download this at the end of the post.)

Initially, I set out to create a meta-mind-map using app.mindmup.com (the start of which is here) of all the key concepts and skills required in the English Language course. This is still very much a work in progress. As I drilled down into subject terminology, I opened a ‘pandora’s box’ of complexity: I hit upon tone. This led me to think – how do we teach tone successfully? What knowledge and skills actually comprise this domain within English?In an attempt to list types of tone, I came across this mind-boggling list.  The list of 155 adjectives to describe tone made me want to distil these ideas into something that might actually be accessible and practicable for teachers and students within the context of KS3 and KS4, so I settled in to create a knowledge organiser, that would hold a comprehensive overview of the terms, concepts and skills that students would need to be successful at analysing and applying tone in a variety of text-types by the end of KS4.

The idea was to map an approach that teachers might take to scaffold this knowledge in a spiral curriculum, through KS3 and KS4 – what vocabulary would be introduced and when? What different text-types and purposes might present themselves as particularly apt for the target of precision in the selection of diction and syntax that characterises effective tone.  The trouble is, I had no idea where to start! hence, after a day of faffing about, I am still developing what this might look like in a typical knowledge organiser. I attempted to complete the task using the template here from Improving Teaching. 

To decide what should be prioritised in the knowledge organiser, I read a variety of different bloggers’ (interestingly mostly from the US) takes on teaching tone: InspirED written by Paul Emerich, a primary teacher, gave me some interesting ideas about how to get students to use what they already know from their experience of oracy. Then  at Talks with Teachers gave me a foregrounding in common misconceptions. Finally, for a much more detailed an academic approach I read Marva Hutchinson’s  Change Moans and Groans to a Love of Tone: Teaching Students to Listen to Text, which outlines her approach to teaching tone to AP English students (post-16’s). This was really useful, because it allowed me to consider the purpose of teaching tone, and what building blocks we’re developing in students. Her approach, if not the exact texts and academic demands could be used as a way of scaffolding students’ understanding of tone, with the ultimate goal of students being able to transfer their understanding of tone in traditionally spoken or performed texts to written texts. Hutchinson’s carefully researched and considered rationale reminded me of phrases like Frost’s the ‘imagining ear’, which I hadn’t thought of since university, as well as the work of Walter J Ong, whose seminal work Literacy and Oracy I’ve just downloaded to re-read.

In all, I have come up with four primary strategies for teaching tone, and identified assessment strategies and opportunities. This will form the basis of whatever knowledge organiser or SoL I develop around tone, with the intended objective to be a clear overview of what, when, why and how to teach tone.

You can download it right here:  Download: Teaching Tone- A rationale

Creative Commons Licence
Teaching Tone: A Rationale by A Zanetti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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